Monday, January 21, 2008

Starting from Scratch

Syracuse is now 13-7 on the season, 3-4 in the Big East. The Orangemen are talented but youthful and inexperienced, and that is showing on the court. The loss of an upperclassman on the court is slowing down the development of the squad, the need to leadership and guidance apparent in the Orange’s recent losses.

We should not be surprised by what we are seeing on the court. The Orange does have five new starters on the court, and only go eight scholarship players deep (and really, Sean Williams was never counted on for this season, so it’s realistically seven).

History has shown mixed results for the Orangemen when a season has five new starters in the lineup. It has happened five times before: 1939-1940, 1944-1945, 1945-1946, 1961-1962, and 1968-1969.

The fall of 1939 saw the Orangemen with a new starting five after the graduation of five seniors from the previous year’s squad that went 14-4. This included losing the team’s top five scorers. The fall of 1939 would see juniors Stan Kruse and Paul Kartluke in the backcourt, senior Dick Jensen and forward, and sophomores Dud Thorne and Gene Berger at forward and center. The Orangemen would struggle that season, going 10-8. Kartluke emerged as a star, leading the team with 14.4 points a game, threatening Vic Hanson’s season scoring record, and breaking Hanson’s single game scoring record with 27 points against St. Lawrence. The Orangemen struggled early that season starting out 3-5, before finishing a stronger 7-3.

The fall of 1944 saw Syracuse resume their basketball program, after suspending it one season as a result of World War II. None of the starters from the previous season played (1942-1943) were back, and Syracuse fielded a team of first year players, freshman and sophomores in college. The team could best be described as rag tag, as players continued to return to college as their service ended. Doc Acocella, who would become a star at wide receiver and shortstop, was one of the guards, while Bill Hennemuth occupied the other starting guard position. Bill Dickie was one of the forwards. Gangly ‘Long John’ Ludka, all 6’11” of him was the starting center. Ludka was extremely awkward on the court, more of an oddity than a player. Freshman Francis Miller was the best player on the team, leading the team with 156 points. The team would struggle all season long finishing at 7-12.

The fall of 1945 continued to see the program rebuilding as young men returned from the war and completed their military service. None of the starters from the previous year would be on the team in 1945, with exception of Ludka. Hennemuth and Miller both would leave school for a year of military service. Acocella would focus on football and baseball, and Ludka would lose his starting position to a more talented Royce Newell.

Several veterans had returned, with Billy Gabor now a sophomore. Gabor had led the Orangemen in scoring before he went off to war. Lew Spicer, Roy Peters and Andy Mogish were men who had seen the war, and were ‘old’ college players, in their early twenties. Royce Newell was the lone freshman in the bunch. The combination of players proved to be very successful for Coach Lew Andreas as the Orangemen went 23-4 and made the first post season appearance in school history, going to the NIT tournament. Gabor would lead all scorers with 15.4 per game, and fellow freshman Ed Stickel would provide a lot of scoring from the bench. The combination of maturity of the war veterans with the talent of these two players made a tough squad for the Orangemen.

The 1961-1962 squad was an unexpected turnover in the starting five. Three players from the 1960-1961 starting five had graduated, including the team’s leading scorer and rebounder Pete Chudy (20.8 ppg, 8.0 rebounds per game). Starting point guard Billy Conners and center Loren James were both expected to return. However both participated in YMCA games in the off season, and were ruled ineligible to play in 1961-1962. The team was struggling at 4-19 with the talent they had that year, and none of it was returning.

Sophomore Carl Vernick would be the star of the team averaging 16.5 points a game. Seniors Steve Dodge and Fred Machemer would also start, after having been role players the past few seasons. Junior Herb Foster would play forward, and undersized 6’5” Manny Klutchkowski was at center. The Orangemen were short on height and short on talent, and a 2-22 season ensued, the worst year ever on the Hill. Syracuse lost their first 22 games, before winning the last two to put some wins into their record. Coach Marc Guley announced his resignation in February, effective the end of the season.

The last time Syracuse had a complete change in the starting lineup was 1968-1969, a talented squad that somehow only went 11-14. Syracuse graduated three valuable players from the previous season. Gone was the steady ball handling and outstanding free throw shooter of Rich Cornwall, the dependable perimeter shooting of George Hicker and the outstanding rebounding and inside play of Vaughn Harper. Star sophomore guard Ernie Austin would be academically ineligible the first semester, and injured for part of the second semester. And center Wayne Ward had been arrested (and later convicted) of robbery. Making things more difficult was the resignation of head coach Fred Lewis.

In the fall of 1968 Roy Danforth would be the new head coach. Big Bill Smith (6’11”) would join the team and be the dominant player he had shown he was on the freshman team, scoring 19.0 points a game along with 11.6 rebounds. Senior Bob Kouwe, who had often missed playing time in the past for injuries, played the whole season and provided solid scoring. The back court was junior John Suder and junior college transfer Gerry McFadden, and fellow junior Bill Case was the other forward. The team would struggle to find consistency all season, and would end a disappointing 9-16.

The 2007-2008 Orangemen do have a lot of history to fight against; five new starters with Jonny Flynn, Scoop Jardine, Paul Harris, Donte’ Greene and Arinze Onuaku. Not only is it a new starting five, but a very young squad with three freshman, and Onuaku had no playing time last season due to injury (and limited playing time his freshman year). Harris is the only player with noteworthy experience, as the sixth man last year.

The Orange has shown the inconsistency that could be expected. They are absolutely a talented team. Success for this season will depend on how much they can grow as a unit. History shows us that a turnover in the starting five is not a good thing. Four of the teams struggled, and were worse than the previous season. The 1946-1947 team is the exception, but that was a rare combination of factors as mentioned earlier. To use that squad as a blueprint for building another squad would be very difficult.

I think the Orange will do fine this year, but they are currently two games behind the pace that I believe they would need to get an NCAA tournament bid. They need to start putting some big wins on their resume, along with just some wins in general.

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