Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Syracuse has done itself a big favor and virtually guaranteed itself a berth in the NCAA tournament this year, barring a complete collapse by the team. It’s only November, but the wins over top 20 teams Kansas and Florida can not be underestimated in their importance for the total value of the season. These are two neutral court wins (though Kansas was hardly on a neutral court) against ranked teams from major conferences. Add in the win against Richmond, and that is three wins that look good on the ledger come selection time.

More importantly, Syracuse has shown that they have the ability to both hold a lead and to come from behind, a missing element from last season. Florida made a strong run for the lead in Tuesday’s game, and Syracuse withstood that storm. Kansas had Syracuse on the ropes, down by 12, in front of a hostile crowd, and Syracuse came back and won that game. I believe these will go a long way in building confidence for the team.

Here’s three things I really liked about last night’s game:

1) The Orange played some inspired man-to-man defense to get back into the game. They hustled, they stayed focused, and they did not give up. I’d like the players to be less resistant to the zone, so they could be more versatile of a team, but as long as they are playing some defense, it’s an improvement.

2) Arinze Onuaku showed me some defensive hustle last night in the critical moments of the game. I think Onuaku is often too quiet on the court, but his two lightning quick blocks on the Kansas shot and the put back really sent a strong message to Kansas. And 12 rebounds to go along with it.

3) Andy Rautins seems to have found his shooting groove. I believe he can be a 40% shooter from three, and a few more nights like the games he had against Florida and Kansas, and he’ll be set. He also played some inspired defense.

4) Jonnny Flynn has elevated his game to the next level. He still tries to do too much at times, but when the game is on the line, he does have that knack for making the basket.

Now for the bad:
1) Far too many stupid turnovers. Many of these are unforced, and we’re seeing them from everyone. The Orange have got to take better care of the ball.

2) Paul Harris, I love his hustle (when it’s one of those nights he decides to hustle), and there’s nobody I would prefer to have get a crucial rebound than him. His man-to-man defense is spectacular at times. But on the offense, he’s a liability. Harris seems to be a turnover waiting to happen, a bull in a china shop. And Harris has to learn that he is not ‘the guy’ when it comes to crunch time in the game. Syracuse is blessed to have both Eric Devendorf and Jonny Flynn, and Harris is going to have to learn to defer to them. There’s a reason the opposing defenses are leaving Harris open for three during crunch time.

3) Free throws. Yeah, this is Syracuse basketball. No lead is too safe to protect from the Orange woes at the charity stripe. Even our good shooters Flynn and Devendorf are missing the clutch free throws (perhaps they should take a lesson from Onuaku who went 3-3 last night!). Flynn and Devo are good free throw shooters, so make the shots and ice the game

4) The bench looked weak. Rick Jackson looked lost in both the Florida and Kansas games. Kris Joseph looked good against Florida, but like a newbie in the Kansas game. Rautins is playing well, and that’s about it. Nobody else off the bench is getting any real playing time.

And one last thing. Flynn is playing very well right now, and I’m glad to see him step it up. I would feel happier if he wasn’t the leading scorer for each of Syracuse’s first 5 games. He is the point guard, and a few more assists, a few less points, would probably be beneficial to Syracuse in the long run. Flynn needs to make sure his teammates are always involved, and he needs to sacrifice a point here and there to get an easy assist. He’s the floor general and he needs to run that offense and make sure all the parts are running well.

Now, we are 5-0. A much better start than probably most Syracuse fans expected (I must admit I thought the team would need to develop more). It feels very good to be 5-0 at this point, with two very good wins under the belt. 5-0 starts aren’t as easy in recent times as you may think. In the six previous seasons Syracuse has gone 5-0 only twice (see list below). Four times they had lost a game by the fifth game, including the 2002-03 championship season, where they lost the season opener.

The recent trend of an early season loss is rare for Syracuse. From the 1984-85 season to the 2001-02 season, Syracuse went 5-0 14 times; only four times in that 18 year span did they fail to reach that mark. They had matched that failure rate four times in the past six years. And it is not like they played all easy early season games during that 18 year span. They beat teams such as Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Tennessee, Southern California and Boston College, among others, in those first five games. Syracuse used to bring home a lot of trophies in the early season from the pre-season NIT, the Great Alaska Shootout, and the Maui Invitiational. So it is refreshing to see the Orange settle back into familiar country.

Here’s how Syracuse started the first five games for each season from 1984-85 through this year:

1984-85 5-0
1985-86 5-0
1986-87 5-0
1987-88 3-2
1988-89 5-0
1989-90 5-0
1990-91 5-0
1991-92 5-0
1992-93 5-0
1993-94 4-1
1994-95 4-1
1995-96 5-0
1996-97 3-2
1997-98 5-0
1998-99 5-0
1999-00 5-0
2000-01 5-0
2001-02 5-0
2002-03 4-1
2003-04 4-1
2004-05 5-0
2005-06 3-2
2006-07 5-0
2007-08 4-1
2008-09 5-0


Anonymous said...

With their win over Virginia Friday night, things are looking pretty good. Looking ahead to December and the remainder of their non-conference schedule, team just has to avoid losing a home game in what appears to be a less than stellar schedule. A loss at Memphis mid month won't cost them in the long run because of the victories over Florida and especially Kansas.-Kevin B.

Josh said...

I share your concerns about Paul Harris but only because he seems to have lost the offensive flow that he'd achieved by the end of last season. He had found a place where he could regularly hit mid-range jumpers and also do some good work in the post. For some reason he is forcing the issue now and just wants to drive through double-teams or hoist threes. I worry that the next couple weeks of "creampuff" games won't disabuse him of this habit.

OrangeRay said...

I think that Harris playing the shooting guard last season allowed him to have the ball in his hands more, and thus he felt more comfortable. Now that he's the primary small forward, and sometimes the power forward, he rarely gets that same opportunity, and so he forces it.

I agree that these creampuff games could definitely reinforce a bad habit for him.