Thursday, December 29, 2011

Melo's Sophomore Surprise

Fab Melo had a dominating defensive effort against Seton Hall last night, something Syracuse fans have waited for just over a year. Melo delivered more than anyone could have expected with a school record 10 blocks, coupled with 12 points (a career high). More importantly, he helped hold Seton Hall’s star center Herb Pope to 4 points, and the entire starting front line for the Pirates struggled to score against the Syracuse defense, getting only 13 points on 5 of 26 shooting.

Melo has definitely improved this year from last. He’s playing nearly 23 minutes a game this year versus only 10 last year. His scoring is up to 6.8 ppg, and rebounding 5.5, along with 2.9 blocks per game. Melo is making 53% of his field goal attempts, and following a strong Syracuse tradition of struggling at the free throw line hitting only 54%.

How does he compare to other sophomore centers at Syracuse? The average sophomore Syracuse center since 1965-1966, including bench players, shoots 53.4% from the floor, 58.8% from the free throw line, has 5.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg. This is based on 759 games played by true centers (i.e. not forwards who played some center) as sophomores.

The better standard is how is Fab Melo doing compared to the top 10 scoring sophomore centers in Orange history:

Bill Smith stands above the rest as a sophomore in terms of offensive production. At 6’11”, Smith was much taller than most his opponents in that era, and he was able to dominate offensively with 19 ppg and 11.6 rpg. As dominating as Smith was, Syracuse only went 9-16 his sophomore year.

Etan Thomas and Roosevelt Bouie were probably the best all-around sophomore centers, both known more for their defensive presence than their offense, though they both did score double digits.

Arinze Onuaku, whom I have thought has always been highly underrated at Syracuse, actually was the third best scorer with 12.7 ppg, and 8.1 rpg combined with a 62.8% from the floor.

Wayne Ward was a highly thought of center with a strong body and nice shooting touch. He would get into some legal problems after his sophomore season, and leave school, thus ending a promising career.

Danny Schayes makes the top ten even though he backed up Roosevelt Bouie. Jim Boeheim toyed with playing with two centers to get Schayes on the court more, but that experiment failed.

The rest of the list consists of three undersized but muscular hustling centers: Bob Dooms, Otis Hill, and Andre Hawkins.

Bouie was the only one of the group to score in double figures his freshman year. Smith, Dooms and Ward played in an era where freshman did not play on the varsity. Seikaly, Thomas, Hawkins and Hill played a lot their freshman seasons, but were in a lot of foul trouble and were raw. Schayes was on the bench, as was Onuaku. Onuaku has the numbers closest to Melo’s freshman year. Like Melo, Onuaku had a lot to learn about conditioning and he greatly improved in that area each year in school.

Melo has already improved a lot from last year. I would not expect him to average double figures in scoring for the season, even as he continue to improve. The schedule is getting tougher, and more importantly, Syracuse has a very deep squad with a lot of players who can score. There just is not going to be the need for him to score that much each and every game.  However, I would expect him to score in double digits a few times this year, and would not be surprised to see a 20 point effort pop up.  I would love to see some double digit rebounding efforts.
Melo will likely move into the top 10 scoring for sophomore centers, ending the year somewhere between Bob Dooms and Roosevelt Bouie in terms of points; playing in 35+ games helps you that way. 
My hat off to Melo for the effort last night. Hopefully the first of many!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Perfect from Three

There is a lot of talk around the water cooler and online in blogs about Syracuse walk-on Matt Tomaszewski’s three point shooting. In case you have not heard, Tomaszewski is four for four from three point range this season, and a perfect seven for seven in his Syracuse University career.

It is a impressive feet to go seven for seven, especially considering that he always does it after sitting for the first seventy to eighty minutes of a game; real time, not game time.

At the same time, a lot of the talk is getting carried away, with fans wondering if Tomaszewski would get more playing time because of his shooting, and if coach Jim Boeheim would use him in crunch time for a desperation three point effort.

The answer to both those questions would be ‘no’. Tomaszewski, now a senior, is not the best three point shooter on the team. That would likely be James Southerland, Brandon Triche or Mookie Jones; that’s not counting red-shirt freshman Trevor Cooney. As we all know, Jones barely plays, because the rest of his game is not strong enough to warrant the playing time. The same with Tomaszewski.

Tomaszewski does not have the pedigree for being a great three point shooter. He began his college career at the University of Tampa. As a Division II player, he took a lot of three point shots, and made 36 of 115. That is 31.3%. Granted he has likely improved in the three years since then, but also likely not that much.

Would Boeheim want to bring Tomaszewski in for a desperation three point shot? Boeheim is going to want a player who can get open for a shot, and who has experience playing in the clutch. Right now Tomaszewski is making all his three point shots in the waning minutes of games, when there is no game pressure, and against the opposition’s weakest defense. That would be a long stretch to then assume that he could come off the bench cold, against a first team defense, find a way to get open, and then calmly make the pressure shot. I am not saying he could not make it, but those are significantly different game circumstances for him.

The likely five players on the court in such a scenario would be Triche, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph and James Southerland. Boeheim would likely play non shooters like C.J. Fair or Michael Carter-Williams in that scenario before he would bring in someone cold off the bench. They have some experience handling the ball in crunch scenarios. And if Boeheim had to pull a player cold off the bench, I would guess Mookie Jones would be the man.

You could end up with a strange scenario like Syracuse’s memorable six overtime game against UConn, where Justin Thomas had to come in during the last overtime. But that was one of those once a lifetime type scenarios.

Tomaszewski is a decent shooter, and at 6’8” he does have a good view of the basket from the perimeter. Right now he is 53rd all-time at Syracuse in made three point baskets. I would love to see him finish his career at Syracuse with a perfect three point percentage. I will keep cheering for him to hoist them up and see what he can do.

Perhaps he can end his Syracuse career hitting 100% of this three point attempts, joining David Patrick and Mike Williams, both one for one, with that designation.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Twas The Night Before Christmas

The following is a Christmas poem by Joe Bufano, a reader and fan of the Axeman (Brent Axe).  I thought I would share it in case you missed it, to spread a little holiday cheer.  Merry Christmas to you all.

'Twas the night before Cusemas, and all through the Dome,
every fan was watching, in fact none of them were home.
The stands were filled by the court with many chair,
No UCONN fan would attend, would they even dare?
The players were dressed all snug in their threads,
while visions of victory danced in their heads.
Best friend in their jersey and I in my cap,
had just settled cheers during a long scoring lapse.
When out on the court there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my seat to see what was the matter.
Down to the court I flew with a dash,
tore open my camera, and took a big flash.
The tune to the rest of our ears did we know,
gave the muster of a scoring drive twenty to zero!
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a re-energized Jim Boeheim and five starters to his rear.

With a snick and a yell, so lively and quick,
Jim Calhoun called “Time Out” in one seconds tick.
More rapid than eagles, SU’s field goals they came,
the fans whistled and shouted and called them by name:
"Go Southerland! Go Joseph!
Now, Baye, Triche and Scoop!
On, Melo! On,Waiters!
On Rakeem, to the hoop!
To the top of the key!
To the three point line!
Now Shoot away! Shoot away!
Shoot away fine!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the hoop their courses they flew,
with their minds full of a win, and Jim Boeheim, too!
And then, in a twinkling, I watched with a poof
Joseph’s three pointer sent the fans to the roof!
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the court C.J. Fair came with a bound!

His jersey was white, from his head to his foot,
and his head band was covered in sweat and soot.
A bundle of energy, Dion passed the ball back,
and C.J. dunked it with authority, a potent attack!
Boeheim’s eyes--how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and his shine on his head was as bright as the snow.
The grin of a lead he held tight in his teeth,
and the fans cheered crazily as UCONN fell beneath.
He had a happy face and a firm little belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was tall and didn’t slump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, he signaled time out,
”We want walk ons!” the SU fans did shout!
And pointing his finger, up in the air it rose,
signaling “We’re number one!” Now every one knows!
He sprang to his feet, as the ref blew the final whistle,
And away they all flew to the locker room like a missile!
But I heard him exclaim, As he ran out of sight,
"Happy Cusemas to all, and to all a good night!"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Orange Should Move to Number 1

The last time the Orange played a game ranked #1 was March 6th, 2010 against Louisville. They had moved to #1 that season with a victory overVillanova on Saturday February 27th, and the polls on Monday hadthem #1.
A much different path for the Orangemen to reach the top ranking that year. The team started out unranked, and had to go 27-2 with 6 wins against top 10 teams before they got that recognition.  Two years later, the team started the season ranked #5, and are currently 10-0 after beating George Washingon rather easily tonight 85-50.  With #1 Kentucky losing to unranked Indiana, and #2 Ohio State losing to #13 Kansas, the two teams ahead of the Orange stumbled.  Kentucky and Ohio State were already splitting the #1 votes, so neither was a consensus #1. 
I do not think the Orange are the best team in the season, but, the beauty of college basketball is that you get the opportunity to prove it on the court with a post season tournament.  Meanwhile, rankings during the season should be based on how teams have done, not on how good you think they might be, and at this point, the Orange are unbeaten with a top 10 win under their belt, plus the NIT Pre-Season championship.  The Orange schedule after ten games spots wins against the SEC, Pac 10, ACC and Conference USA.
Some will knock the Orange’s early season strength of schedule.  For one thing, the Orange cannot help who they play in the NIT and the teams there were down this year.  They do have a SOS rank of 244 (based on prior to tonight’s game).  But I don’t hear anyone complaining about Kentucky’s SOS being # 170, or Ohio State at 306, Wisconsin at 204, Missouri at 300, Louisville at 236 or Baylor at 339. Michigan State usually has a killer early schedule with Tom Izzo as the head coach; they are ranked #228. 

It’s early in the year, so I do not take much stock in the SOS, nor should anyone else. 
Anyhow, congratulations to the Orange for overcoming some mighty distractions early in this season, and getting some recognition as #1 (I am assuming that this will happen).

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Fun Win

The Florida - Syracuse game was a fun game to watch, one of those games that if Syracuse had managed to lose the game, I likely would have still enjoyed the viewing experience.  I wouldn't have been happy with the outcome, but it would not have been a wasted evening.

The Orange played well as a unit for most of the game.  Scoop Jardine had far more highlights than lowlights, and made a strong positive difference in the game.  Fab Melo had a coming out party in the first half of the game, though he was strangely silent in the second half.  Brandon Triche played a strong all around game, as did C.J. Fair, and Kris Joseph was a typical solid Kris Joseph.

We did have James Southerland tossing up a donut despite having plenty of opportunity in the game, and Dion Waiters struggled offensively.  Rakeem Christmas disappeared again, and the nature of the game kept Michael Carter-Williams on the bench the whole game. 

The beauty of a deep squad is that if your best offensive player (Waiters) struggles, you have three other guards to turn two, and four or five other offensive options.  If a freshman like Christmas doesn't develop quick enough you can count on a C.J. Fair (11 rebounds) to help out.

The game was fun. Syracuse had a strong defensive effort for most of the game, and Florida played well on their end.  The Gators made some long range three point shots to keep the game close until about 5 minutes to go, and the game could have go either way.  But it came out in the Orange's favor. 

So what makes a game fall under the 'fun' category, when winning isn't necessarily required as the final outcome?  Typically, I think the following criteria come into play (this isn't a conscious criteria by the way):

  1. The game has to involved a ranked opponent so that the game has some value in that both teams are perceived to be good teams.
  2. The game has to have no meaning regarding the final outcome of the season. That is, it cannot be an NCAA tournament game, where a loss ends the Orange season. Nor can it be a Big East tournament game.  The Orange aren't going to win every game of the season, so I can accept losses, under certain circumstances. 
  3. The game cannot be against UConn, Pitt or Georgetown.  Nope... losing to a hated rival, regardless how we played, is never any fun. 
  4. The game has to be competitive.  That is, both teams have chances of winning the game in the second half.
  5. The game has to have some bright offensive moments and bright defensive moments.  The game has to have a good flow to it.  Moments of the game where you can just enjoy the effort by both teams and really appreciate it.
Keep in mind that all games do have 'meaning'.  A win against a top 10 team surely helps in the NCAA seeding time, and a loss likewise can hurt. But I think you can appreciate what I mean by it having no meaning (or perhaps I should say lower meaning). 

Anyhow, the Orange have passed their second big test of the early season. They won the NIT for their first test, and now took out a top 10 team from a major conference.  A few more challenges come up before the Big East season begins.

Let's go Orange.