Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

For Christmas this year, I want for the Syracuse Orange:

Twelve plus Big East Wins
Eleven more years of Boeheim
Ten threes for Andy
Nine blocks for Arinze
Eight wins in January
Seven steals for Jonny
Six NCAA Tourney Wins
Five Final Four Appearances
Four thunder dunks for Paul
Three points at ease
Two good halves of hoops nightly
And a NCAA Championship to go with 03

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years to you all. I hope you have a wonderful time with family and friends, and my this be a jolly and blessed time for you all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Overrated, not!

I have been seeing a lot of posts on Syracuse message boards that the Cleveland State loss showed the Orange are overrated. I would beg to differ; in college basketball, particularly 10-12 games into the season, the rankings are typically ‘earned’ not ‘given’. Syracuse is (was) ranked number 11 because they earned it. They started the season not among the top 25 teams in the country, and clawed their way up.

They beat solid Kansas (7-2) and Florida (7-2) teams in the CBE tournament, and beat an Atlantic Ten foe Richmond (5-5) and an ACC foe Virginia (4-3). Now Kansas and Florida probably were overrated at the time Syracuse played them, and both have dropped out of the top 25 (though they are still hovering around in the ‘also receiving votes’ area). But a single loss, on a half court shot by Cleveland State does not negate the resume Syracuse has put together so far. A few more losses like that would hurt, but the CSU game alone is not going to make a difference.

The Memphis game has loomed big on Syracuse’s schedule since the pre-season, but the Memphis has taken some lumps and is currently 5-2, ranked #23. Ironically, if Syracuse beats Memphis, that team will also likely drop out of the top #25 (leaving Syracuse with no current top 25 victories… ironic, isn’t it?).

The loss of Eric Devendorf to a suspension for six games will hurt the Orangemen; he is definitely the sparkplug on the team. For tonight’s game against Memphis, an injured Jonny Flynn is going to make the competition even that much tougher. One thing is clear, the Orange are going to need several players to step up during the next six games.

On one hand the Devendorf suspension could not have been timed better. The six game suspension will force him to miss the Memphis and Coppin State games, and then the first four Big East games: Seton Hall, South Florida, DePaul, and Rutgers. There is no such thing as an easy Big East game, but the first four games of Syracuse’s schedule is the softest part of their Big East schedule for the year.

The Orange can little afford to lose those first four Big East games; wins in the conference are going to be tough to come by. Devendorf in the lineup would make that task much easier. Syracuse needs Andy Rautins to step up his play, more specifically his shooting. Rautins has been shooting poorly for most of the season, from every point on the court and from the free throw line. And Syracuse really needs to have a ‘sniper’ out there. Rautins has been playing very well in other aspects of the game, with solid ball handling, good defense, and some rebounding. He may be handling the ball (at least in terms of minimizing mistakes) better than anyone on the team; however, the Orange desperately need him to start shooting.

Arinze Onuaku has to start asserting himself. He has the skill and the size to have some 25 point games, and Syracuse could use a few of those, particularly now. Rick Jackson has been playing better lately, and Syracuse needs the play to keep at that level.

Kris Ongenaet has been invisible most of this season. Nobody expected him to put up big offensive numbers, but he’s offering virtually no offense at all. His rebounding and defense have not been the same contributions as last year, and Syracuse needs that.

The freshman Mookie Jones and Kris Joseph are starting to get the experience on the court, and develop the comfort that comes with that. With Devendorf out of the lineup, Jones and Joseph will likely have the opportunity of more playing time, and they need to take advantage of that time. Jones missed some early season action due to injuries, but has been impressively lately. He’s shooting 40% from the three point range in limited attempts (15); let us see if he can have a big night from three point range and bring Syracuse that other perimeter player they desperately need.

Joseph showed early in the season that he has a strong slashing move to the basket, something Syracuse really has missed for a few seasons. I would love to see him and Flynn get some good chemistry together, so that Joseph can move to the hoop without the ball and get the good feed when needed.

Paul Harris has to continue to be a monster on the boards. He still has not learned to temper his athleticism, and frankly scares me every time the ball is in his hands. Syracuse needs him to be strong to the hoop, and get all those rebounds. A gained rebound is just as important as a made basket; it’s another opportunity for Syracuse to score (and one less for the opponent).
Devendorfs suspension ends right before Syracuse begins its the murderous 10 game stretch that is going to make or break their season. If the rest of the Orange can learn to play without Devo for those six games leading up to then, perhaps the Orange will be a stronger team as a result.

Hey, I love the fact that Syracuse is currently 10-1. If you had shown me their schedule and told me they would be 10-1 by December 19th, I would have been ecstatic. 11-0 would have been better, but 10-1 is what I had hoped for.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

9-0 and unstoppable Onuaku

Arinze Onuaku is off to terrific start to his junior campaign. He is averaging 13.3 points a game, with 7.8 rebounds, despite playing only 27 minutes a game (and typically not for foul trouble, but just to get some rest). However, those aren’t his impressive numbers. 79.4% is the number to look at. That is Onuaku’s field goal percentage for the season. When Onuaku gets the ball inside, he is virtually unstoppable, and for his last 17 attempts he has been, making each and every one of them (credit Brent Axeman for noting that one).

At Onuaku’s current pace he would shatter the Syracuse single season field goal percent record. The current record is 65.4% by Roosevelt Bouie in the 1979-1980 season, when he made 189 of 289 attempts. Onuaku’s effort is especially noteworthy because Syracuse has been playing some tough basketball teams this early season. They have not faced any dominant centers like they will in a few games this Big East season, but there are not too many players in the country with Onuaku’s build, so those types of matchups are going to be rare not matter who they play.

That’s not to suggest that Onuaku is Superman. His kryptonite is the free throw line, where he continues to challenge Terrence Roberts for the distinction of being the worst ever for Syracuse. However, I did question earlier this year why Syracuse was not feeding Onuaku the ball more often, instead relying on the three point shot or driving the lane from the perimeter. It would seem to me that you would want to feed Onuaku as much as you could, which should soften up a lot of defenses.

I know there have been some occasions where Onuaku has not played aggressively and has not worked to get open inside. Notably, he took some flak in the Cornell game for getting outhustled down low (though it we need to be fair and report that he was 5-5 from the floor that game). But there are a lot of moments in the game where Syracuse does not appear to be trying to work the ball down low. That comes under the responsibility of the point guard.

Let’s look at the numbers of two Syracuse players this season, both prorated to 40 minutes of playing time.

Player 1:

14.5 points, 5.8 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 2.6 steals, 32% from 3 point range, 70% FT pct.

Player 2:

21.5 points, 5.8 assists, 3.6 turnovers, 1.9 steals, 41% from 3 point range, 74% FT pct.

Which of those players is the point guard, and which is the shooting guard? It’s a little obvious if you’ve been watching Syracuse basketball this year; Jonny Flynn is player #2. A little less obvious is player #1 which is Andy Rautins. However, doesn’t it seem like player one has more of the stats of a point guard? Clearly a better turnover to assist ratio, and more steals, along with a lower scoring average.

I had mentioned earlier this year that I was concerned that Flynn was leading Syracuse is scoring every single game. Don’t get me wrong; Flynn is having an outstanding early season, and is a very special player. He has been making the clutch shots, and Syracuse is 9-0. But Flynn came to Syracuse with a reputation of being a strong playmaker, and I’m not seeing a player like that right now.

I remember the legendary Magic Johnson was always credited with sacrificing his own scoring to make sure his teammates scored. If Magic was on a fast break with an easy layup, he would always dish the ball off to a trailing teammate to reward his teammate for hustling down the court with him. I have not seen that selflessness from Flynn yet. I segued into this earlier by stating I did not think the team was getting the ball to Onuaku down low enough. And that responsibility falls on Flynn.

Flynn had an off shooting night against Long Beach State on Saturday. I have no problem with that; those nights occur. But Flynn ended up with only two assists. I would have expected my team’s point guard to have a big assist night, a big playmaking night in a game where he realized early he wasn’t shooting well. And he did not end up having that night.

Syracuse could go quite far this season, particularly with Flynn playing the way he has been playing. I am just of the belief that the primary job of the point guard is to elevate the play of all his teammates. It does bring concern to me that he is not developing that reputation right now in games that do not require him to score for Syracuse to win. There will be more than one game remaining this season where Syracuse will need Flynn to be the hero to win. Letting his teammates be the hero for some of the other games would pay big dividends down the stretch.