Sunday, November 20, 2011

How Deep in Deep?

How deep is the real depth of Syracuse’s basketball team in 2011-2012?  Two things validate that it is indeed a very deep squad.  Mookie Jones, a senior who has a lifetime 41% three point shooting percentage isn’t even part of the ‘second team’ (i.e. the first five bench players).  Freshman Trevor Cooney, who some have said is the best pure shooter Syracuse has ever had, and surprised many with all-around game in practice and in the exhibition games is going to redshirt the year because he would not be in the top 10.

So there is a lot of depth.

Further bolstering the perception of depth is that three of the bench players easily could replace a current starter on the Syracuse lineup. C.F. Fair has an excellent all around game and could be one of the starting forwards, though Rakeem Christmas does offer the bigger body up front.  Dion Waiters is probably the most explosive offensive player on the team, and it is easy seeing him replace either Scoop Jardine or Brandon Triche.  Baye Keita actually outplayed Fab Melo for most of last season, and played far more minutes than Melo.

James Southerland, buried deep on the bench, is one of the team’s top scorers four games into this season, and has one of the sweetest three point shots on the squad, on top of a very athletic 6’8” frame. 

Freshman Michael Carter-Williams is a McDonald’s American, with tremendous size and reach for a guard (6’5”), and a reputation for a complete game at guard.

Unlike many other seasons, I expect that Jim Boeheim will not shorten his bench too much. I think situational play may dictate who plays in which games, and how many players see action each game.  The five ‘reserve’ players all have their strengths, and also have their weaknesses.

Waiters was a tad bit selfish last year, and was not committed to the defensive scheme.  Fair had no perimeter shooting.  Keita was very raw on basketball fundamentals, especially on the offensive end of the court.  Southerland was woefully inconsistent. And Carter-Williams is a freshman with no NCAA experience.

The starting five for Syracuse has a lot of experience, especially by today’s standards.  Brandon Triche is a third year starting guard. Senior Scoop Jardine is a 2nd year starter who is in this fifth year in the program. Senior Kris Joseph is a second year starter who has logged three seasons worth of starting time. Fab Melo has a year under his belt. Rakeem Christmas is the inexperienced player as a pure freshman, though with a McDonald’s All American pedigree, that is the best type of freshman to have.

However, Syracuse has a lot more ‘potential’ this year than ‘actual’ on the court.  This year’s team could be great.  As fans we can dream about how good each of these players would be if they reached their potential.  Some of the players have shown that they have improved upon their weaknesses from last year; but we need to see this play out over several more games.

The starting five for Syracuse this year is talented, and the bench is very deep. But I don’t think, right now, there is a starter as talented as the 2008-2009 Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku or Wes Johnson. Nor anyone as talented as the 2009-2010 Rick Jackson.  At least not yet.

And because of that, it makes it easier for Boeheim to go to his bench. The drop off from the starter talent level to the bench talent level is not that great.  I do not think there is one starter on the team that would be a devastating loss to the Orange if an injury were to occur (unlike the loss of Onuaku in 2008-2009 to the team).  A loss of any player hurts a team, but many can be overcome with other players stepping up and I believe this year’s team has that ability.

Boeheim has had other deep benches before.  The 1977-1978 squad had senior forward Kevin James on the bench, with sophomore guard Hal Cohen, freshman center Danny Schayes, and freshmen guards Eddie Moss and Marty Headd. 

The 1979-1980 squad, that went 26-4 and won the first Big East regular season title, may have had the deepest bench in Syracuse’s history.  Senior guard Hal Cohen was on the bench, along with junior Danny Schayes (who would play in the NBA for 17 seasons), sophomore forward Ron Payton, highly touted freshman forward Tony Bruin, and junior forward Chris Jerebko.

The 1987-1988 team did not go ten deep, but the first four off the bench were pretty impressive led by sophomore guard Earl Duncan and sophomore forward Keith Hughes.  Junior forward Herman Harried and senior Derek Brower rounded out the bench. Both Duncan and Hughes would transfer to Rutgers and start for the Scarlet Knights.

The 1992-1993 team had the shot blocking junior Conrad McRae, the dynamic freshman guard Anthony Harris, the sweet shooting freshman forward Glenn Sekunda, former starting point guard junior Michael Edwards, and freshman forward Luke Jackson.

The 1999-2000 team went nine deep, but bear mentioning as the four off the bench included sophomore swingman Preston Shumpert who scored in double digits, dynamic freshman guard DaShaun Williams, former starting point guard junior Allen Griffin, and freshman swingman Kueth Duany.

The 2003-2004 team had five guys who were going to have to sit and bide their time as the starting five were young and entrenched.  That bench included freshmen DeMetris Nichols, Louis McCroskey, Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins, and senior shot blocking center Jeremy McNeil.

The following year the bench may have been stronger (for a while) with Nichols, Roberts and Watkins now sophomores (McCroskey was now a starter), the enigmatic junior Billy Edelin, and freshman guard Josh Wright.

In hindsight, some of these benches do not look as strong today as they seemed at the time; in some cases they look stronger then they actually were. That is one of the realities of college basketball, in that you most separate the expectations from the reality, along with recognize the opportunity.

I do think we will see a deep bench this year, not because Jim Boeheim has changed his coaching philosophy, but rather because that is what the composition of his team dictates.  He has ‘flawed’ players throughout the lineup, and match-ups will matter. He has a lot of talent on the bench, and the starters are not significantly better, so the replacement value difference is not too costly.

I think as the season progresses we may find a couple of the bench players become more significant, especially if their game has truly improved. If Waiters plays hard on both ends of the court, he would be tough to keep off the court.  Especially if Jardine starts showing his ‘Scoop moments’ late in the game, or Brandon Triche gets in a funk.  If Rakeem Christmas struggles, and James Southerland continues to play consistent basketball sticking his shot, and playing solid zone defense, I would not be surprised to see him leap over many others to start.

I have no expectations about who will do what in 2011-2012. I do like the prospect with so many guys with large upsides, that the competitive factors between the players will drive some to realize their potential, and some true stars will emerge.

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