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.


KW said...

Yeah they definitely had me worried with the terrible free throw shooting and the inferiority of their rebounding in the first half. Johnny Flynn is amazing...

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