Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Going To Be a Rough Year

Here's where the 2013-2014 Syracuse Orange are, summed up fairly well by a man who should know:
"This isn't like the last six years. We're going to struggle to win a game. We're going to struggle to win a game, any game that we play. This game is not going to beat anybody that's any good if they don't play better. That means all 18 games in the ACC. I don't care if somebody thinks, oh, they're not that good. They're good enough. Trust me. We have to play a lot better, we have to get better and we have to figure that out and we'll see. Again, I don't know, I wouldn't want to be overly-confident about that right now because we're not talking about the difficult things we'd like to try to do. We're trying to get the basic essentials down and that's not good at this stage."

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim at the Louisiana Tech post game press conference, December 14th, 2014.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Flash of GMac

For at least one night, Trevor Cooney did a very good Gerry McNamara impression.  I am not referring to his three point shooting, though he was 4 for 8 from three point range.  I am talking about how all the elements of the game against Louisiana Tech were similar to GMac.

Gerry McNamara was a terrific shooter out of Bishop Hannon High School in Scranton.  Shortly before the 2002-2003 season began, Syracuse's projected starting point guard Billy Edelin found out he was ineligible for the first 12 games of the season.  McNamara assumed that role, and became the de facto point guard for the Orangemen.

McNamara would drive to the hoop, he would get the ball into the Carmelo Anthony, and let Anthony make the play, or get himself open so that Anthony could kick it back out.  McNamara had a knack for jumping the lane and getting the necessary steals.  During the closing minutes of close games, McNamara would hold run the clock down, often forcing opposing teams to foul him so that he could got to the free throw line with his 90% accuracy and seal the game.  

Trevor Cooney played that type of game against the Bulldogs earlier today.  The 25 point effort and the four of eight three point shooting are the obvious highlights.  The three steals and the 5 of 5 from the free throw line were critical.  Cooney brought the ball up the court during most of the games crunch time, taking the pressure off of freshman Kaleb Joseph, who struggled with eight turnovers.  

Cooney had no turnovers.  He demonstrated leadership on the court, provided a steady hand, and was the vocal encouragement on the court.  

There were some mistakes in the evening for sure.  And the Orange still had to come down to the wire to win the game.

But for one night this season, I felt like I was watching Gerry McNamara on the court. And that was a nice thing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Missing Grant

A front line of Rakeem Christmas, Jerami Grant and Chris McCullough would be quite impressive and formidable.  The Orange could have had the line up if Grant had not jumped early to the NBA last June.

That would have provided a front line with a lot of length, quickness and vertical space, perfect for Jim Boeheim's zone defense.  Grant was improving offensively last season, and with the improved offensive skills for Christmas plus the arrival of McCullough, there would have been a lot of ability to score up front.  It would get crowded at times, but I think McCullough would have been comfortable drifting a little further away from the hoop.  Plus, with the foul trouble Christmas has had each game, there definitely could never be too much depth up front.

The presence of Grant would not help the perimeter situation; with the exception of Cooney who draws a lot of defensive attention, most of the perimeter players are seeing good three point opportunities frequently.  But I think the addition of Grant on the back line would allow for more steals and force turnovers, and that would improve the fastbreak opportunities.

I had mentioned back in June that I thought it was a mistake for Grant to leave early.  I believe he left a lot of money on the table.  I would imagine that his family is not in dire financial need, as his father is former NBA player Harvey Grant.  Another year of college would have given him more time to improve his draft stock and more playing time per game to work on his skills.

An early season injury hampered Grant's start this year in the NBA.  He is healthy now, and playing for the worst team in the NBA in the Philadelphia 76'ers (and one of the worst in NBA history). He's playing 9-12 minutes a night, which isn't bad... but he could be playing 35+ minutes for Syracuse.  And again, I'll go back to my original statement... it's all about the money.  He was worth more if he stayed.

I wish I could argue that Tyler Ennis should have stayed. Without a doubt he would be helping the Orange out early this season. He would bring in another perimeter shooter, and he would run the offense, and let Kaleb Joseph mature and learn.  Ennis did tend to have a tendency to play it safe too much, and I think he missed opportunities to push the ball, but the results last year were pretty good.

Financially, Ennis made the right move. He is not getting the playing time, but he is getting the practice time.  He definitely would have improved with more playing time at Syracuse, but his draft stock wasn't going to change significantly in my opinion.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Shooting Woes

The Orange seemed stunk in a season long slump with their three point shooting, with a 20.9% accuracy for the season. The Syracuse team has not been shy about shooting beyond the arc, having taken 129 shots over the first 8 games, an average of 16 a game.  Unfortunately, they are making about 3.3 a game.

Trevor Cooney has been the lightning rod for the most criticism.  In part that is fair, as he is a junior, one of the most seasoned players on the team, and came to Syracuse with a reputation of being a perimeter shooter.  His bombing of Notre Dame last season showed he could do it when he lit up the Fighting Irish for 9 three point baskets on 12 attempts on his way to a 33 point night.  Cooney has hit only 13 of 46 attempts this season, for a success rate of 28.3%.

Cooney is, however, the best three point shooter on the team.  I am not just talking from a observation perspective.  Statistically, his 28.3% is the best on the team... and by a large margin. Here is the rest of the crew:

B.J. Johnson:   5 of 23 for 21.7%
Kaleb Joseph:   3 of 14 for 21.4%
Michael Gbinje:   3 of 21 for 14.3%
Ron Patterson:   2 of 18 for 11.1%

As a group, that foursome is 13 of 76 for 17.1%.  

All hope should not be lost.  It is highly unlikely that the Orange as a team are that bad at shooting the three, and things should come around.

Here are a list of the five worst three point shooters in Syracuse basketball history, minimum 30 attempts:

Paul Harris:  22 of 98 for 22.4%
Damone Brown:  20 of 89 for 22.5%
Elvir Ovcina:  37 of 153 for 24.2%
Louis McCroskey:   36 of 141 for 25.5%
Josh Wright:  34 of 120 for 28.3%

To give some perspective of how bad those five were as three point shooters, consider that Stephen Thompson, one of the all time great Orangemen, but a horrendous three point shooter, is only 9th worst at 30.3% (26 of 86).  So the five worst shooters are pretty bad.  

Right now, ALL five Syracuse perimeter shooters would be worse than #5 Josh Wright, and four would be worst than Paul 'I couldn't hit the broadside of a barn' Harris.  So unless Jim Boeheim coincidentally recruited the five worst shooters in Syracuse history at the same time, it is highly unlikely the shooting performance is indicative of their actual ability.

Trevor Cooney is an enigma. He is a 34% career shooter, and has been a disappointment for all three seasons, with high expectations based on Boeheim's comments about his ability.  Opposing defenses are keying on him, but even when he gets open, his shot is not falling. 

We would expect the Orange shooting to start to regress to the mean at some point. They aren't likely to ever be a great perimeter shooting team, but they should be in the 30-33% range, at a minimum. Just keep taking the shots.

Or, perhaps give walk-on Carter Sanderson more playing time (playfully said).  Sanderson is a graduate student at Syracuse, and is on the team because he still had a year of eligibility left after completing his undergraduate work at Lipscomb University.  Sanderson made 32.4% of his three point shots at Lipscomb, 55 of 170.  

Anyhow, there will be a brighter future in the team's shooting. I just hope it is sooner than later.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

I would like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for having the privilege for being a Syracuse basketball fan, and for all the high and low moments every year.  There is joy in watching the team grow and develop each year.

I am thankful to have had the privilege to see Syracuse win a National Championship in 2003, and to see Hakim Warrick fly out of no where for one of the greatest game winning blocks ever.  I am thankful to have been able to watch the team win a dramatic 6 overtime game against UConn in the 2009 Big East Tournament, with players on both teams playing their hearts out.

I am thankful to have been able to attend the Syracuse / Boston College game with my dad on January 21, 1984, and watch a dynamic freshman Pearl Washington sink a half court shot to beat Boston College.

I am thankful for having been able to go to the Syracuse / Georgetown game in 1990 with my good friend Vady, and watch the Orangemen storm back from a big half time deficit to beat the Hoyas in overtime 89-87.  That may have been the loudest game I have ever attended at the dome.

I am thankful to have watched the 1996 Championship game with John Wallace carrying the Orangemen in the post season.  The Orangemen lost the game, but I was able to view it with my 3 month old son sitting on my lap.

I am thankful for having a wonderful family and having the time to share with them.  I am thankful that I have a home to live in, and always have food on the table. That I have friends to share the good times with, and those to support me in the bad times.  I am thankful the bad times are so far and few. I am thankful to have the lord in my life to provide me with inspiration each and every day.

Thanks thanks to all the Syracuse fans out there.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Searching for that Big Time Scorer (30 points)

Amidst Syracuse’s scoring woes in this young season, I find myself longing for a big time scorer on the team.  The type of player who could carry the team for a night, with a 30+ point effort.  It may seem that Syracuse does not have that type of player right now, but that would only be if you have a short memory.  Trevor Cooney bombed Notre Dame for 33 points last February 2014 as he hit 9 of 12 three point shots.   Of course, we all know that Cooney can shoot; it is just that he can be very streaky and inconsistent and he is currently in the middle of a long slump.

Overall, 58 different Orangemen have scored 30+ points in agame; this has been accomplished 179 different times.

The first time was in 1904 when George Kirchgasser scored 30 against Jenners Prep.  Kirchgasser scored all 30 from the floor; he took no free throw shots in the game.  Because it was an earlier era, it isn’t recognized today as an official accomplishment.

The first official 30+ point game by an Orangemen occurred in 1943 when Bob Shaddock scored 30 over rival Colgate.

The Syracuse record for points in a game is 47 by Bill Smith.  Smith shot 17 of 23 from the floor, and made 13 free throws in a high scoring game against LaFayette.

Dave Bing scored 30 or more points in 20 different games, or roughly 26% of the varsity games he played at Syracuse.  That’s just in case you ever really wondered about the greatness of Bing.

Sharpshooting Greg Kohls is next on the list with 14 games with 30+ points.  The amazing thing about Kohls was that he barely played his sophomore season (freshman couldn’t play in his era).  He played 54 varsity games his junior and senior season as like Bing, scored 30+ in 26% of the games. Kohls was a terrific perimeter shooter; who knows how many 30+ point games he would have had if there had been a three point shot in that era.

Billy Owens is third with 10 games with 30+ points.  Owens was the first player under Jim Boeheim to average 20+ points a game. 7 of those 10 games occurred his junior season, after Derrick Coleman and Stephen Thompson had graduated.

30 point games have occurred everywhere.  94 times they have occurred at home (53% of the time).  59 occurred at the opponent’s home court.  8 occurred in a mid-season tournament, 2 in the post season NIT, 1 in the ECAC, 7 in the Big East tournament and 8 in the NCAA Tournament.

It may be surprising to see what players never accomplished the feat.  Derrick Coleman, Syracuse’s second all-time leading scorer never scored 30 points in a game.  Part of that reason was that Coleman was always surrounded by other great scorers in Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly, Stephen Thompson and Billy Owens.  But Douglas, Seikaly and Owens all did it.

Stephen Thompson, Syracuse’s 7th all-time leading scorer never hit 30.  I’m sure besides playing with other great scorers, that the inability to make free throws and a three point shot kept Thompson from that mark.  Thompson was a great scorer though; I’m not sure if there was ever a better scorer in the Boeheim era.

C.J. Fair, who finished as Syracuse’s 15th all-time leading scorer, never did it. Nor did Brandon Triche at #17 (though his uncle Howard did it), or #18 Todd Burgan, or #22 Jason Hart.
There have likewise been some surprising players who have had the unexpected big nights.

NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown had the talent on the basketball court, as well as the gridiron and the lacrosse field. He was second on the team in scoring his sophomore season with 15 ppg, and he would score 33 against Sampson Air Force Base that winter. 

In January 1952, Bucky Roche scored 35 at Cornell.  The senior guard was second in the team in scoring with 14 ppg; but he had scored only 121 points in his career before his senior year.

In December 1962, sophomore guard Phil Schoff would score 30 points against Cornell in a big loss.  Schoff would finish the season as the teams third scorer at 10.4 ppg.  Schoff would lose his starting position his junior year with the arrival of Dave Bing, Sam Penceal and Chuck Richards, though he would remain a valuable reserve.

In December 1986, senior forward Howard Triche would score 31 points in win over Northeastern. Triche was the fifth leading scorer on the team that year, and that was the only time in his career he would lead the Orangemen in scoring for a game.

The most surprising was probably Gene Waldon.  Waldron put up 40 points against Iona in the 1983 Carrier Classic. Waldron did this in the non-three point era.  He was the fifth leading scorer on the team that year, averaging 9.2 ppg and Waldon had never been a big scorer before.

If not for Waldron, the most surprising may have been senior Allen Griffin.  Griffin would score 31 in a double overtime win against St. John’s .  He as the fourth leading scorer on the team at 10.8 ppg, and had averaged only 3 ppg his junior year.  His method of scoring 31 points was highly unusual too. Griffin only made 5 of 9 baskets that night.  However, 3 of those 5 made field goals were 3 point baskets.  And he was sent to the free throw line 22 times where he made 18 of the them.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014-2015 Season of Questions

The 2014-2015 Syracuse basketball season should be an interesting one.  It has been quite a long time since the Orange entered a season with so much unknown about the team.  The expected departure of C.J. Fair and Baye Moussa Keita, along with the early departure of Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant have left the Orange with a lot to be replaced.

DaJuan Coleman continues to remain hurt, and the most experienced returning sophomore Tyler Roberson only played in 20 of the teams 34 games.  The only 'known' quantities are returning starters Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas, and reserve swingman Michael Gbinije. 

Cooney and Christmas are both inconsistent players, with flashes of outstanding play, and periods of disappointing play.  Normally on any given season, you can find some dependable returning upperclassmen, or at least one star to rally the team around, but that is not the case this year.

The Orange are going to need Cooney and Christmas to both be more consistently good in their play, and Christmas will need to be a bigger part of the offense.  The freshman Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph are going to have to contribute quickly, and the sophomore trio of Roberson, B.J. Johnson, and Ron Patterson are going to have to be ready to play. Those last five mentioned players all have a lot of potential; it will be curious to see who has matured and developed since last year.

The last time the Orange had a season with this much doubt would likely have to be 1983-1984.  This was Pearl Washington's freshman year; in restrospect it seems funny to question that year, but there was concern if the Pearl's playground style would translate to the NCAA, and how good would he really be.  Plus, regardless of his talent, he was a true freshman, and the early 80s was not an era where most freshman excelled.

Syracuse was coming of a good (but not great) 21-10 season, with 9-7 in the Big East.  The trio of Erich Santifer, Leo Rautins and Tony Bruin had all graduated. Those three had been starters since their sophomore season.  Gene Waldron and Andre Hawkins were returning players, but neither was a star. Waldon was a competent point guard, but most of the offense had previously gone through Rautins as a 'point forward'.  Hawkins was limited on offense, undersized as a center, and prone to foul problems.  Raf Addison was the key reserve returning, and he had shown some promise in his bench role; however Addison wasn't a highly recruited player, so there were not big expectations for him

Things worked out well for the Orangemen that year.  The Pearl was as good as advertised, if not better. Addison turned into a star player, and led the team in scoring with a solid game of mid range jumpers and interior play.  Senior Sean Kerins showed that he had learned something after four years on the bench behind Rautins and Bruin, showing a combination of perimeter shooting and rebounding.

Hawkins learned to be comfortable at the post, and became a reliable 10 point scored, and sophomore Wendell Alexis developed into a very important sixth man backing up the forward and center positions.  The Orangemen would go 23-9, 12-4 in the Big East, and actually improved from the previous year.  

You could argue the 2002-2003 season had as many question marks.  The team had lost leading scorers Preston Shumpert and DeShaun Williams, and it was a team that had collapsed and had missed out on the NCAA tournament, having to settle for the NIT.  However, the team did have three returning starters in Kueth Duany, Hakim Warrick and Craig Forth.   Duany was a senior, and Warrick had played very well down the stretch, including in the NIT tournament.  

Plus the Orangemen the highly touted Carmelo Anthony joining the team, along with highly rated Billy Edelin, and a scrappy sharp shooting guard Gerry McNamara.  The team definitely turned out to be much better than anyone could have expected; winning Syracuse's first National Title one season after being in the NIT was definitely a tremendous feat.  Anthony turned out to be as good as he was touted, and Gerry McNamara was much better than anyone could have anticipated.  Warrick had improved tremendously, as had classmate Josh Pace, and Duany was a solid senior.  The Orangemen unexpectedly did not have the services of Edelin for most of the regular season, but the team excelled.

So anything could happen in the 2014-2015 season. Jim Boeheim does have a good track record of exceeding expectations when the team is low rated; they are starting this year at #23 in the country.