Friday, April 25, 2008

SOBs - Most Surprising Player of the Year

The 2007-2008 season for Syracuse was full of surprises, most of them in the negative. Injuries galore and several blown leads of immense proportion. There were some positives to the season, and a couple of surprising players. The SOB voters got together and tried to determine the most surprising player of the season.

Justin Thomas, the backup point guard (bet you didn’t even know we had one with Flynn playing every minute of every game, or close to it), received one vote.

“Justin Thomas. I didn't even know he was on the team until Josh Wright left for parts unknown.” – Matt, HoyaSuxa

Donte’ Greene also received one vote, which proves different strokes for different folks, as he also received a few votes for most disappointing player.

“"Donte' Greene. I was under the impression that he was going to come
in and score a lot down low and be a great rebounder who could shoot
the three if he had too. Turns out he was the complete opposite." – Jameson, CuseAdelphia

Greene’s classmate Jonny Flynn received a vote.

“Jonny Flynn. Yes, I know everyone knew he had talent. But how many talented players can then take a team that has been undermanned for most of the season and bring them within 1 win of going to the NCAA Tournament as a freshman? What "surprised" me is that for most of his game Flynn played a smart game and did what he knew he could do. If you notice, the games where Flynn tried to do "too much" are the games where SU either lost or was in a close game.” – A.E.M, Orange Squeeze

The runner up for the most surprising player of 2007-2008 went to the big guy in the middle, Arinze Onuaku, who received 3 votes.

“Arinze - while we expected him to be solid in the middle, he surpassed expectations” -- Three Idiots on Sports

“Arinze Onuaku. He did not play that much his freshman season (243 minutes), and missed all of last year with injury. I thought he was going to be a big body in the middle, someone to bang around, plug some holes, and give some fouls. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that he had developed a good inside game and some strong rebounding skills. He showed he could play with the best big men in the country. My knock on Onuaku was that he was inconsistent, and would disappear for entire games, which is hard to do when you’re 6’9”, 260 lbs.” – yours truly at OrangeHoops

“I can't go with Ongenaet because as a JuCo transfer who had averaged a double-double for both his freshmen and sophomore seasons, I expected him to be able to contribute. To me, he was a major disappointment for most of the year, until he finally showed up. So, the winner here has to be Arinze Onuaku. We all knew he was promising, but to go from nothing to 13 points and 8 rebounds per game, virtually overnight, is astounding. We haven't had a center put up those kinds of numbers in almost a decade. I thought it
would take him until next year to be this kind of contributor.” – Syracusan, Cuse Country

Well, with Onuaku the runner up, the winner is probably obvious to most Syracuse fans. The Belgian wonder, Kristof Ongenaet earns the honors.

“If someone other than Kristof! wins this, every other blogger who voted in this thing should be banned from writing for a month.” – Brent, The Axeman

“The Belgian Waffle plays some of the best defense on the team and is just the kind of scrappy, hard working player that the Syracuse fan base loves. While he was not the biggest offensive threat, he certainly kept us in a few games with his rebounding, shot blocking, and stealing. For a JUCO transfer, this kid is a welcome addition to the Orange.” – Brian, Orange44

“Kristof Ongenaet: Injuries forced the Orange to use Ongenaet, and he played with heart. He did have 147 rebounds, which was fourth on the team. As a role player, Ongenaet did his job the best he could." -- Howie, Sports Night With Howie Mansfield

“KRISTOF! - He was "deer-in-the-headlights" before New Year's but showed a nice blend of hustle, responsibility, game smarts and a feel for the big moment late in the year.” – Nick, Nick's 2 Cents

“K-Ong. Preseason he figured to be this year's version of Matt Gorman circa 2003. The first month or so, every time he got on the court he looked like he'd just been dropped off in a strange, exotic land without any knowledge of the local language, customs, or topography. But by the end of the year he'd become a real contributor and (dare
I say it) glue guy. If Donte' leaves, he's got to be the frontrunner to start at power forward next season." – Josh, Cuse Country

“I fully expected Kristof! To be the next Bill Celuck. At times, he can be. But Kristof brought something to the team I never expected…emotion. For his dunk against Marquette alone he may have won this award for me but that was a culmination of his effect on the team all season.” – Sean, TNIAAM

Now KO has set up some big expectations from Orange fans for next year. Perhaps even a starting gig? I’m personally hoping to see more of his coast-to-coast jams.

My thanks and apologies to the rest of the SOB group, for missing my turn in the action. Sometimes life gets in the way, and the fun times get disrupted.

Back to TNIAAM for the closing ceremonies.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Onuaku Shoots for a Few Records

Arinze Onuaku was the most surprising player for Syracuse in the 2007-2008 season. Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene came with high pedigrees, Paul Harris was a known quantity, and Kris Ongenaet was a solid role player. Onuaku was expected to provide a big body down low for solid defense and rebounding. He did both of those things, and also brought an added dimension of outstanding scoring ability.

Onuaku showed himself to be very light on his feet for a man listed at a very solid 260 pounds. He showed a soft shooting touch near the hoop, and made 62.8% of his field goals on the season for the Orange, making 186 of 296 attempts. This ranks him as the 4th best in Syracuse history for players with 100 or more attempts.

The top five now are:

Roosevelt Bouie 65.4% in 1979-1980 (189 field goals in 289 attempts)
Stephen Thompson 63.9% in 1988-1989 (297 field goals in 465 attempts)
Roosevelt Bouie 63.1% in 1978-1979 (176 field goals in 279 attempts)
Arinze Onuaku 62.8% in 2007-2008 (186 field goals in 296 attempts)
Etan Thomas 61.7% in 1998-1999 (148 field goals in 240 attempts)

That is a couple of nice centers to be in company with (Bouie and Thomas), and Stephen Thompson was one of the most dynamic scoring players in Syracuse history. Illustrious company. Onuaku had a chance to be #2 on the list shooting at 64.1% entering the last game of the season (177 field goals out of 276 attempts). Unfortunately a very poor night of missed easy shots against Massachusetts left Onuaku going 9-20 that night, dropping his percentage to 62.8%. Onuaku has a couple more seasons to go for the record, and he may well do it.

The career field goal percentage for players with 200 or more attempts is by Jeremy McNeil. McNeil did not shoot very often (only 251 attempts in his career) and was not a good shooter, but he knew how to dunk the ball when given the chance. McNeil made 68.5% of his career field goal attempts. Onuaku is currently second on that list with a career mark of 62.0%. Third on the list is Etan Thomas at 60% (495 field goals in 895 attempts), followed by Bill Smith at 59.6% and Bouie at 59.3%.

Unfortunately, Onuaku is also attempting to enter another well known and illustrious group at Syracuse, the worst free throw shooting list. He made a strong bid this year to break Terrence Roberts 2005-2006 record for worst single season free throw shooting. Roberts shot 42.1% that year (56 of 133). Onuaku had his chances but finished the year at 44.5% (73-164). Four more misses would have tied him with Roberts. Let us hope Onuaku never has another chance at that record.

Onuaku does however officially hold the worst career free throw shooting (minimum 200 attempts), taking that distinction from Terrence Roberts who set the mark just last year at 48% (176-367). Onuaku has currently made 85 free throws out of 191 attempts in his career for a 44.5% career effort. Onuaku does not have the minimum 200 attempts, but even if you assume he shot nine for nine to get him to 200 attempts (making him 94 for 200), he would have a lower percentage than Roberts.

Onuaku, welcome to that elite club along side Terrence Roberts, Stephen Thompson, Herman Harried, and Derek Brower. As previously mentioned, you have two more years to improve that shot, so let us hope you are just visiting the club, and not accepting a lifetime membership.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Farewell Donte

I am sad to see Donte' Greene declare early for the NBA draft, but I also believe it is the right move for him. I do not think Greene is ready to play in the NBA, but staying in college is more of a risk than a benefit to him at this point, and with the basic guarantee of millions on dollars it would be foolish for him to risk it.

The possibility of injury does exist at the college level, and Greene was well aware of this past season with teammates Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins both having devastating injuries, and Devan Brennan-McBride basically having his career ended due to shoulder problems. If that were the only risk, I think he should return to college. The number of Syracuse players who have had their career cut short by injury is very short (as a mentioned a few months back). Greene, however, faces more a more serious risk.

Donte' Greene’s value is the big ‘P’: “Potential”. He has a 6’11” frame and a very nice shooting touch from the perimeter. That “potential” is going to earn him a lot of money in the NBA draft, as general managers and scouts imagine ‘what if’. Each year Greene plays in college, his potential decreases and his actual skills become more defined.

Greene showed flashes of being a great perimeter shooter. Early in the season, he was shooting about the 40% mark from the three point range. He has a quick release and loves to catch and shoot. He averaged 7.2 rebounds a game, and scored 17.7 points a game. Nothing earth shattering, but at the same time, numbers that showed he could play at the college level.

Greene had his weaknesses. He could not, or would not, play defense. He did not like to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop, and he did not like to play near the basket. He could rebound, but for his size, you could expect more. If he came back his sophomore season, he could work on improving those weaknesses and his stock would increase.

But what if he couldn’t improve? It is possible that Greene does not have the aptitude to play defense, or the mental toughness to play in the paint. Another season of college ball might expose his inability to improve in those areas. He started his freshman season off by shooting very well from the perimeter, and finished by shooting very poorly. What if the second half of the season was more true to form that the first half? Greene could not afford to prove any of those assumptions.

My guess is that he could improve in all those areas, and that he has the ability to succeed. He will likely go on to a very solid NBA career. But he is smart to not risk it in college, not when the money is there waiting for him.

Some will argue that he needs to have the time to develop in college and that he will be leaving money on the table by leaving early. I disagree on both points. The NBA team that drafts him will make sure he gets plenty of time in practice to learn the game, and they will make him work hard for they will have a sizeable investment in him.

As for leaving money on the table, it may be true that his initial contract could be less than he could get if he stayed another year. But you need to factor in that if he stayed in college for 2008-2009, he would have $0 income, whereas he will earn at least a few million by going professional. Plus he will likely have a three year deal, meaning he would be a free agent after the 2010-2011 season. Assuming he would play until the same age in either scenario, he is picking up an additional year of salary, and becoming a free agent on year earlier.

It is a shame that he is leaving Syracuse early. He will just be a footnote in Syracuse basketball history, really nothing of tremendous significance. He did score 620 points, the second most ever in school history for a freshman. But you get the sense that was more a product of him being the top option on the team, rather than excellence. Greene did not give Syracuse fans any magic moments to remember. No 30 point games, no game winning 3 pointers, no playoff dramatics.

In fact, Greene’s team blew a large lead in the Big East tournament to Villanova, and failed to win a Big East tournament game. The team did not go to the NCAA tournament, lost more games than any Jim Boeheim coached team, ever. Lost more games than any Syracuse team since the 1968-1969 season. The team blew a 20 point lead in the NIT tournament to bow out in the quarter finals. No, there are no heroics for Greene in his college career.

He scored 17.7 points a game and had 7.2 rebounds a game. Solids numbers, but not record breakers. He’s unfortunate to be compared to Carmelo Anthony, as all future Syracuse freshman always will be. Anthony averaged 22.2 points and 10.0 rebounds. Lawrence Moten, who came to Syracuse unheralded, averaged 18.6 ppg and 6.0 rpg.

Greene did set the Syracuse freshman record for 3 point shots made with 90, breaking Gerry McNamara’s record of 85. But GMac had a knack of making very memorable shots, game breakers. McNamara made 35.7% of his shots, Greene 34.5%.

I’m sure that if Greene has a great NBA career (quite a possibility) fans will reminisce about how great he was to watch at SU. Revisionist history always prevails. I am willing to post right now, however, that it really was not that memorable. And that’s unfortunate.