Sunday, December 30, 2007

Top Syracuse Classes

There is no doubt that Syracuse has a fine freshman class this season. And because of unfortunate injuries to the upperclassmen, the freshman are being given ample opportunity to prove themselves. As a group, they have shown they are indeed a fun group to watch with a lot of offensive talent. They also have some work to do on their defense. How good is this class compared to other classes at Syracuse? How good will the collective talents of Jonny Flynn, Donte Greene, Rick Jackon, Scoop Jardine, and Sean Williams end up being?

Keep in mind, many things can happen. Paul Harris is the only member of his class left, and he’s only a sophomore. There are no players left from Josh Wright’s class. The freshman class starting in 2003-04 included DeMetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts, Louis McCroskey and Darryl Watkins. That class had a lot of potential, but it never quite came together.

But the current freshman class does look very good.

What are the best classes at Syracuse? For purpose of discussion, I’m going to restrict players to the class they first played with, as opposed to the class they were recruited for. That is, if Lawrence Moten goes to prep school for a year to improve his grades, then he is considered in the class of his freshman class, not the class he graduated high school with.

Also, I think it’s important to include the depth of the class, plus their contributions over their entire basketball career, not just one season. Jimmy Lee and Rudy Hackett lead Syracuse to its first final four in 1975; but they were the only contributors from their class, really making that class too small. John Wallace’s class was really just him until his senior year… then Lazarus Sims and JB Reafsnyder got some playing time and the team went to the title game. But I think that’s too little, too late.

So, taking into account the high points, the depth of the class, the number of players in that class who contributed, and for how long, here is how I see it.

The top 10, in reverse order:

At number 10 is the sophomore class of 1954-1955. Freshman were not eligible, so this was the sophomore class of Vinnie Cohen, Jim Brown, Gary Clark, Jim Snyder, Vinnie Albanese, Lou Stark, Jim Roper and Phil Manikas. Cohen, Brown, Clark and Snyder would all start their first year, with Cohen and Brown leading the team in scoring. The team would only go 10-11, but the Orange had been a mediocre team the past few seasons prior. They would improve to 14-8 their junior season, with Albanese joining the starting five, and Brown becoming the sixth man.

In 1956-1957 team would earn Syracuse’s first bid to the NCAA tournament. Cohen set a school record scoring 605 points at 24.2 point per game. Clark would average 17.8 points and 10.8 rebounds a game. Albanese would start at guard, and Jim Snyder would alternate between forward and center. Jim Brown was missing, as a result of personal issues with coach Marc Guley on his playing time. The team would lose in the Elite Eight. The group would go 42-26 in their three years; really not impressive in the scheme of Syracuse basketball, but significant in their accomplishments.

Number 9 is the freshman class of 2001-2002. As this is recent history, this is a familiar class with Hakim Warrick, Craig Forth, Josh Pace and Mark Konecny. This class of course was part of the 2003 National Championship team, with Warrick and Forth both starting, and Pace a significant contributor (Konecny had left school). Warrick would go on to score 2000+ points, Forth would start all four years, and Pace would start his junior and senior seasons. They would win the Big East Championship their senior year. The squad went 103-33 over their four years.

Number 8 is the freshman class of 1913-1914. This class consisted of Wilbur Crisp, Elias Raff, Billy Rafter, Art Osman and Ralph Keefer. Crisp was one of the best shooters ever at Syracuse and would lead the team in scoring his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. The team would go 12-0, their freshman year, with Crisp being the only significant contributor. They would go 10-1 their sophomore year with Rafter joining Crisp in the starting five. Overall they would go 44-7 in their four years at Syracuse.

Number 7 is the sophomore class of 1928-1929. This is the legendary class of the ‘Reindeer Five’, which included the four fleet footed Tuppy Hayman, Dan Fogarty, Ken Beagle, and Ev Katz. Warren Stevens and Fred Bromberg were also part of that class. This group would go 45-10 in their three years with records of 11-4, 18-2, and 16-4. Hayman, Fogarty, Beagle and Katz would start all four years. Hayman was the best shooter of the group, Fogarty the best defender, and Katz the best overall player.

Number 6 is the sophomore class of 1963-1964. This is Dave Bing’s class. As freshman, they were better than the Syracuse varsity. The class included Bing, Norm Goldsmith, Sam Penceal, Jim Boeheim, Frank Nicoletti, Dick Ableman and Rex Trobridge. Bing, Goldsmith and Penceal would start their first year as Syracuse went 17-8 (they had gone 8-13 the year before without them). The team struggled its second year going 13-10 after an abysmal 2-8 start. Bing was dominating, but the team was lacking defensive effort.

Their senior year the team had its offense in full gear, and tried to become the first college team every to average 100 points a game (they fell just short). Bing, Penceal and Boeheim started, but coach Fred Lewis was doing a lot of rotations so everyone contributed. Bing averaged 28.4 points per game with 6.6 assists and 10.8 rebounds. The team reached the NCAA tournament, losing to Duke in the elite eight. Over their three years, this class went 52-24; their disappointing second season kept them from being higher.

Number 5 is the freshman class of 1976-1977, also known as the Bouie’n’Louie Show. Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr and Hal Cohen comprised this class. This is a small class, compared to the others, but their impact was so significant that I felt they had to be considered. Bouie started all four years; Orr was the sixth man his freshman year, and a full time starter his last three. Cohen was part of a three guard rotation throughout his career providing excellent mid range shooting. All this trio accomplished was going 100-18 over four years. If this class had been bigger, and a little more successful in the post season, they would’ve ranked higher.

Number 4 is the freshman class of 2002-2003. This of course, is the class with Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, Billy Edelin and Matt Gorman. This group, the first three, were major contributors to Syracuse winning the national title in 2003. Melo led the way with 22.2 points a game and 10.0 rebounds; Gerry McNamara was hitting all the open jumpers, scoring 13.3 points a game, playing the point, and shooting the lights out at the free throw line (90.9%). And Billy Edelin was spelling GMac at the point, providing some great playmaking when it was needed.

Melo would leave after his freshman year; Edelin had personal problems off the court and would miss part of his sophomore year, and end up leaving during his junior year. McNamara would stay all four years, lead Syracuse to two Big East titles, and score 2000+ points, and become the schools all time three point shooter (by far). They team would go 103-32 in its four years. I would’ve moved them higher if Melo had played more than one year, or if Edelin and Gorman had really contributed after the freshman year. As it was, Edelin was more a distraction than a help, and Gorman never developed as a player. So with only one guy (GMac) being a contributor more than one season, its tough to rate the ‘class’ higher.

Number 3 is the freshman class of 1986-1987. This was the wonderful class of Derrick Coleman, Stephen Thompson, Matt Roe, Keith Hughes and Erik Rogers. This class almost accomplished what the 2002-03 class did; they came within a Keith Smart basket of winning the National Championship. Coleman would go on to be the NCAA’s all time leading rebounder, and score 2000+ points. Stephen Thompson would electrify fans as the recipient of Sherman Douglas alley-oops, and Thompson would score 1,956 points. Matt Roe was a deadly three point assassin his sophomore and junior seasons. Hughes was a talented big man, stuck behind a more talented Coleman. Rogers never developed.

This group would go 113-31 in four years, play in the national championship, win one Big East regular season championship, one Big East tournament championship, and remain a top 5 caliber team all four years. They would have been number 1 on the list if they had all stayed together. Roe would leave and star at Maryland his senior year; Hughes would leave and star at Rutgers his junior and senior seasons (and would be drafted in the 2nd round of the NBA draft). As it was, this was still an extremely strong senior duo with Coleman and Thompson.

Number 2 is the sophomore class of 1931-1932. This class consisted of Lou Alkoff, Johnny DeYoung, Skids Sanford, Don Pickard, Joe Vavra, Alton Farnsworth, and Gerald Pentz. Alkoff, DeYoung and Sanford would start their first year, and Pickard was a sixth man. The team would go 14-2. Their second year together the team would go 15-2, with Alkoff, Pickard and Sanford starting, and DeYoung, fighting injuries, the 6th man. Their senior year they would go 15-2 again, this time with Alkoff, DeYoung, Sanford and Pickard all starting. This group would go 44-6 in three years, an outstanding 88% winning percentage. As a side note, Joe Vavra, while never becoming a basketball star, did become the collegiate heavyweight boxing champion, and earned letters in four sports (boxing, football, track and baseball). That was quite a class.

The Number 1 class in Syracuse basketball history, really is not a contest, if you know your Syracuse history. The 1924-1925 sophomore class had Vic Hanson, Gotch Carr, Charlie Lee, Max Boxer, Lynn Follett, Milburn Rosser, Peter Tengi, and Charley Cook. Hanson, Carr, and Lee, often referred to as the Three Musketeers, started their first season, and led the team to a 15-2 record. Hanson set the school record for scoring with 205 points, a 13.5 point per game clip, and was one of the best basketball players in the country.

Their second season, this trio led Syracuse to a 19-1 record, and a mythical National Championship (mythical because it was voted upon by the Helms Foundation, as opposed to won on the court). Hanson would set another scoring record with 282 points, and a 14.2 point average, with Lee and Carr major contributors.

Their senior season they would go ‘only’ 15-4, with Hanson again putting up solid numbers at 277 points, and 14.6 points per game. Lee was a major contributor all year; Carr would miss some time due to academic problems. They would go 49-7 in three years of college basketball.

This same class of players would also play on the Syracuse football team, and go 23-4-3 in three years. Hanson, Lee and Carr each started all three years in that sport (Hanson and Carr also lettered in baseball multiple times).

So how good will this year’s freshman class eventually be? We’ll have fun getting to watch them play, and we’ll know within four years. Now we know what to measure them against.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Syracuse 2007-08 Milestones

The 2006-2007 season was a fun one to follow from a milestone perspective as it was a veteran team with three senior starters, and opportunities for Syracuse milestones. This season does not have any senior starters, and with four new starters in the line up, career milestones would be very unlikely this year. However, there are several excellent opportunities for Freshman marks to be challenged.

The top 10 scoring freshman for Syracuse are:
Carmelo Anthony 778 pts
Lawrence Moten 583 pts
Billy Owens 494 pts
Gerry McNamara 467 pts
Pearl Washington 460 pts
Derrick Coleman 453 pts
Eric Devendorf 428 pts
Dale Shackleford 331 pts
Roosevelt Bouie 326 pts
John Wallace 321 pts

After the first 11 games for 2007-08, freshman Donte’ Greene has 215 points. Assuming Syracuse will play 35 games, Greene will finish the year with 684 points, 2nd all time. He would need to score at 23.5 ppg clip to break Melo’s freshman record. He would have a better shot at the freshman record if Syracuse played a few extra post season games (say 38) and he increased his points per game to 20.5.

Classmate Jonny Flynn has 157 points; at his current pace he will have 500 by seasons end, good for 4th all time. It’s possible with the shifting of the lineup due to Eric Devendorf’s injury that Scoop Jardine or Rick Jackson could increase their playing time significantly, thus impacting their season statistics dramatically.

Paul Harris had 302 points his freshman year. Lawrence Moten holds the standard after a sophomore season with 1,101 points. Harris has scored 137 points so far this season; he would need to score at a 27.5 ppg clip to set that record, so Moten seems secure there.

Twelve freshman have scored in double figures for Syracuse in the past:
Carmelo Anthony 22.2 ppg
Lawrence Moten 18.2 ppg
Pearl Washington 14.4 ppg
Gerry McNamara 13.3 ppg
Billy Owens 13.0 ppg
Eric Devendorf 12.2 ppg
Billy Gabor 12.1 ppg
Derrick Coleman 11.9 ppg
Dale Shackleford 11.4 ppg
John Wallace 11.1 ppg
Roosevelt Bouie 10.9 ppg
Erich Santifer 10.7 ppg

Two are on pace to do that this season with Greene at 19.5 ppg, and Flynn at 14.3 ppg, which would be the 2nd and 4th best freshman efforts ever, respectively. Greene would need to increase his pace to 23.4 ppg for the remaining 24 games to break Melo’s record; a feat the high scoring Greene is capable of doing.

The top 10 freshman assists are:
Pearl Washington 199
Jason Hart 184
Michael Edwards 168
Adrian Autry 164
Gerry McNamara 155
Billy Owens 119
Eric Devendorf 82
Ross Kindel 79
Carmelo Anthony 77
Greg Monroe 71

Jonny Flynn has 69 assists so far (just outside the top 10). He’s on pace to finish with 220 assists, which would break Pearl’s freshman record. Jardine and Greene both have a shot at cracking the top 10. The freshman record for assists per game is 6.2 by the Pearl; Flynn is currently on a pace of 6.3 per game.

The top 10 freshman rebounds are:
Carmelo Anthony 349
Derrick Coleman 333
Billy Owens 263
Dale Shackleford 256
Paul Harris 248
Roosevelt Bouie 242
John Wallace 221
Rony Seikaly 198
Louis Orr 194
Lawrence Moten 192

Greene currently leads the way with 90, and is on pace for 286, 3rd all time. Paul Harris had 248 rebounds after his freshman season; by the end of his sophomore season Derrick Coleman had 717 rebounds. So Harris would need 469 rebounds this season to catch DC. Right now Harris has 105 rebounds; he would need 364 more, at a 10.4 rpg pace. It is possible for Harris to catch Coleman, though the possibility of him seeing more backcourt action could hurt his numbers. The freshman record for rebounds per game is 10.0 by Anthony. Greene leads the way at 8.2 rpg, so that seems safe.

The freshman record for blocked shots is 91 by Roosevelt Bouie. Greene is currently on pace for 83 blocks.

The freshman record for free throws made is 168 by Anthony. Flynn is on pace for 118.
The freshman record for three point baskets made is 85 by Gerry McNamara. Greene is on pace for 95, which would set the record.

The freshman record for three point field goal percentage (minimum 50 attempts) is 37.6% (50-133) by Devendorf. Flynn is shooting a blistering 43.2% (16-37) and Greene at 39.0% (30-77) this season.

The freshman record for free throw percentage is 90.9% by Gerry McNamara (minimum 50 attempts). That record seems safe, with Flynn tops this season at 80.4%.

The freshman record for field goal percentage (minimum 100 attempts) is 56.5% by Louis Orr. Rick Jackson is on pace to shatter that at 67.6% (25-37). Note that technically, Andre Hawkins could be considered to hold the freshman field goal percentage. While he failed to meet the minimum number of attempts (60-96), if you gave him four misses, he still would have made 60% for the top mark.

Eric Devendorf started his junior season with 945 points, 227 assists, 180 rebounds, and 104 three point field goals. The Pearl had 637 assists after his junior season, and Coleman had 1,139 rebounds at that point, and McNamara 297 three point field goals; Devo was not going to threaten any of those records. Billy Owens had 1,840 points, and Devo had little chance of catching him; he would’ve had to have scored at about 25.5 ppg for the season.

As it was, Devo did reach a personal milestone by notching his 1,000th career point, before injuring his knee, becoming the 49th Orangeman to do it. With the knee injury, Devo is now stuck at 1,115 points, putting him at #43 on the all-time list, just behind Jimmy Williams with 1,119.

Ironically, the knee injury, which will definitely cast some doubt on Devendorf’s pro future, may also put him into a better position to set the Syracuse all-time scoring record. Lawrence Moten holds that distinction with 2,334 points. Prior to this season, Devo was 1,389 points short; with an estimated 70 collegiate games left, he would have had to have averaged 19.8 ppg his last two seasons. That’s not an impossible number, though it is a tough feat; there have been only 20 times an Orangeman has done that in a given season. Further making it difficult was Coach Jim Boeheim indicating that he thought Devo was going to leave early for the NBA after his junior season.

However, Devo had played 10 games this season, and scored 170 points. If he is granted a medical redshirt, he will pick up two more seasons of eligibility, thus making those 170 points ‘bonus points’. Plus with the knee injury, and the time to recuperate, he will likely need to play two years of college basketball to convince the NBA he is completely healthy. So Devo will enter his junior season (of eligibility) next year with 1,115 points (which is 14 more than Moten had entering his junior year). Devo would need 1,219 points with an estimated 70 collegiate games left. He would then need to average 17.4 ppg; he was averaging 17.0 this season, so that number is reasonable.

Now there’s a lot of “if’s” involved. He is very likely not to be up to speed come next December, which would definitely hurt his performance. If Flynn stays in college, the backcourt will be very crowded with Flynn, Jardine, Andy Rautins (who will be 5 months ahead on his rehab of his knee) and Devendorf. Devendorf’s style of play involved a lot of driving to the hoop, and that may be hampered by the injury.

There still over 2/3 of this 2007-08 season to be played. But clearly a lot of the freshman records are in a position to fall. That’s what happens when you give talented freshman a lot of playing time.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Devendorf Out

Junior Guard Eric Devendorf is now out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee that occurred in the lopsided win over East Tennessee State on Saturday night, per a report by Donna Ditota in the Post Standard.

This means that Syracuse now has five new starters from last years team. Making things worse is the apparent loss of Josh Wright from the team, along with losing Andy Rautins last summer with his own torn ACL injury. Think how quickly things turn. Last May the Orange had three returning guards with a lot of experience, plus two extremely hyped freshman coming into the squad. Much of the talk was about who would be the starting two, and message boards had mixed results with any combination of the five being projected. Everyone acknowledged how crowded it was going to be.

Well, seven months later… and Syracuse is down to only two guards, both freshman. Syracuse has already been playing with a very thin rotation; now it is even thinner.

The knee jerk response is to now say Scoop Jardine will start at the shooting guard. And that may very well happen. Unfortunately, Jardine is not a perimeter shooter… he’s more of a drive to the hoop player. It may be possible that the coach Jim Boeheim does the following: move Paul Harris from forward to shooting guard, shift Donte Greene from the power forward to the small forward, and insert Rick Jackson into the starting five at the power forward.

That would give Syracuse a big team on the court, and Jackson has played well as of late. Greene really is more of a small forward in a big body, much like Carmelo Anthony was in 2003. I haven’t seen Jackson play enough to comment on his defensive abilities. Harris at the guard position would be an upgrade to Devo on defense. Perhaps this injury makes the Orange a stronger defensive team.

It clearly hurts the Orange on offense. Devo provided leadership on the court, ball handling, and was able to score from the perimeter and drive to the hoop. Anytime you lose your 2nd leading scorer, that’s going to hurt. And regardless if he starts or not, Jardine is going to see significantly more playing time, so let us hope he is ready.

The thin bench does beg the question of what Boeheim is going to do about his redshirt players. Devin Brennan-McBride hasn’t played in the regular season because of a shoulder injury and the team wanted to hold Sean Williams out so he could develop. I’m not sure if Syracuse can afford to have that luxury. Mike Williams did come over from the football team, and join the squad to help give some much needed depth at guard. I don’t know if the football squad has any more former high school basketball standouts, willing to commit some time to basketball or not.

I do think that Boeheim is going to have to find some bodies somewhere, even if it is just to have enough guys to scrimmage in practice. If the team were to get in foul trouble in a game, it wouldn’t have enough guys to even put out on the court.

Syracuse will have a couple of weeks of play in its remaining out of conference schedule to put some rotations together. It will definitely be an interesting time.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Who Needs a Bench?

Wednesday’s win over Virginia was a good win for the Orange, on many levels. It really does not matter how good or how bad Virginia is, the win was a good one. The young Syracuse squad played on a hostile court in a state other than New York, the ebb and flow of the game was back and forth, and the Orange had to come back and take a lead, and then hold on to it down the stretch. Those are tremendous confidence builders and even though the Orange did make some mistakes down the stretch, it did show a lot about the young men representing Syracuse.

The Orange, who have been a week rebounding team this year, out-rebounded Virginia 39-36. This is the same Cavalier squad that out-rebounded their opponents by an average of 17 points a game this season. My only concern with SU’s rebounding would be that of the 34 live rebounds they got (5 were dead ball), 33 came from the front court. Eric Devendorf had only 1 rebound, and Jonny Flynn none, despite the fact that both played almost the entire game. And, the Orange were playing a 3 point shooting team which typically means more long rebounds. So I think the guards need to pay a little more attention to getting those loose balls.

The Orange also hit 91% of there free throws, 10 for 11. Now that’s a small sampling, but you can’t complain about those results. They also held a good three point shooting Cavalier team (44% from three for the season) to 34.4%. Of course, when the zone is played well, that’s exactly what it does… it tempts teams to take three point shots since they seem so inviting, not realizing that they are further out than normal When the zone is played poorly, those shots are taken much closer and the shooting percentage is much higher.

There is a trend this season that I have not been able to fully grasp yet, but I’ll throw it out there. Jim Boeheim is always known for his short benches, with only a few seasonal aberrations in his 32 years to indicate otherwise. His theory has always been to ride his star players as long as he can. I know I’m in the minority here, but as a fan, I’ve always liked that style.

But typically, in the early season, Boeheim starts with a longer bench, and then shrinks it come Big East time, as he sets his rotation. Much of the off season this year was how deep and young this team was, and that there were going to be a lot of guys getting minutes. Injuries have removed some of those players; Andy Rautins is out for the year and he would have had significant playing time, and Devin Brennan-McBride is battling a shoulder injury (though I doubt he would have many minutes anyways).

At this point in the season, the Syracuse starting five are averaging 174 minutes a game; Donte’ Green 37.2, Devendorf 36.9, Paul Harris 35.8, Arinze Onuaku 32.5, and Jonny Flynn 31.9. To give you some perspective how significant that is, that is the most minutes per game for an Syracuse starting unit since 1982-1983 (the first year I have minutes played for the players). And it’s not even close. The second highest on the list is the 1997-1998 Orangemen with 167 minutes a game.

The 1997-1998 squad was two solid seniors in Todd Burgan and Marius Janulis, and three talented sophomores in Jason Hart, Ryan Blackwell and Etan Thomas. The bench had junior Elvir Ovcina and freshman Allen Griffin who got some playing time. Freshman Eric Williams was disappointing in his efforts, and sophomore LeSean Howard didn't get much time either. The team would go 26-9 and go to the Sweet Sixteen.

Anyhow, I am amazed at how much playing time the starting five are getting, even by Boeheim’s standards. I’m not sure the driving force for that decision, though I can think of a few options.

Close Games: The games have been close, and Boeheim always likes his best starting five on the court when the game is close.

Little foul trouble: These Orangemen have stayed out of foul trouble, with the exception of the most experienced player, Eric Devendorf. And Devendorf plays even when he’s in foul trouble. I had expected Onuaku, Harris and Greene to possibly have foul trouble, but that has not been the case.

Defensive struggles: I think this may be the biggest reason why Boeheim has not changed his lineup as much. The Orange have played poor defense more often than not this season, and I think that he’s trying to get them as much playing time so they can learn through experience. And I think he’s really trying to drive the zone home with them.

Boeheim loves his zone, but he does mix it up with occasional man-to-man and full court presses. Against Virginia, the Orange never pulled out of their zone the whole game. I think Boeheim is trying to send a message to the guys that they had better learn to love it, to live and breath it, because they are going to learn it, whether they like it or not.

Poor Efforts by the Rest: Boeheim has made it clear over the years, that he evaluates players on how they play in practice, and he could care less what a player’s pedigree is before they put on that Orange jersey. They need to show to him that they deserve the minutes in the game. I don’t see the practices, so I don’t know how they are performing. But if the highly taughted Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson aren’t getting the playing minutes, then perhaps their practice efforts haven’t earned it yet.

For whatever reason, the starters are getting a lot of playing time and a lot of experience. The bench players aren’t getting that experience. The ‘experts’ will tell you that will hurt the Orange come post season; you want those bench players to be ready to play if the moment arises when a starter gets in foul trouble or has an injury. I disagree.

I think most college teams shrink their rotations in the post season, start giving more minutes to the stars, and relying less on the bench players. I recall in the 1995-96 tournament how everyone was amazed at how deep the Kentucky Wildcats were, playing 10 guys every game. Yet in the championship game against Syracuse, 3 Wildcat players had more than 35+ minutes of playing time; Rick Pitino hid his bench in that game.

The advantage the Syracuse squads have is come March, the starting five are quite used to player a significant amount of the game. They aren’t going to feel as tired, and when they get tired, they know how to play through it because they’ve been doing it all year. They know they need to stay out of foul trouble, so they learn to play with fouls.

If you have 10 All-Americans on your team, and the 9th player is as good as the 2nd player, then sure… mix them up, spread out the playing time. But if your top 4 are significantly better than your next four, why share the time? I also think you should rotate players if you have guys on the bench who have specific skills that some of your starters don't. If you have a great perimeter shooter on the bench, or a defensive specialist, that makes sense to rotate him in... change things up.

As mentioned earlier, Donte Greene is averaging 37.2 minutes a game. Which Orangemen has the highest average for a season?

It should come as no surprise. In 1990-1991 junior Billy Owens averaged 38.0 minutes a game, carrying the Orangemen through the season. The second highest is Dave Johnson, his senior year in 1991-1992 where he averaged 37.9 minutes a game. Overall, there have been 23 different times a player has averaged 35+ minutes a game (since 1982-1983); this was accomplished by 16 different players. Gerry McNamara is the only Syracuse player to ever average 35+ minutes in each of his four seasons; nobody else has ever done it more than twice. Hakim Warrick is the only player to average 37+ minutes a game for two separate seasons (his junior and senior seasons). And the 2001-2002 Orangemen had three players average 35+ minutes a game: Preston Shumpert, Damone Brown, and Allen Griffin.

We’ll see if December 2007 reduces some of the playing time for the big five this year.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Defense? We don't need no stinkin' defense.

UMass 107, Syracuse 100. At least the Orange are making it more fun to lose this year. There’s no doubt that this year’s team is running the best fast break seen on the Hill since the Sherman Douglas era, and that does bring excitement for the fans. Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn are providing some outstanding offensive efforts to please the fans.

But the Orange sure don’t know how to play defense. According to the Post Standard’s Mike Waters (via Donte Greene), Jim Boeheim believes this team to be “The worst defensive team in Syracuse history”. I’m not sure I would go that far (yet), but clearly it’s not a good defensive team. The only sign of strong defense I’ve seen was a few stretches in the Washington game where Syracuse forced several turnovers. Even in that game, they were inconsistent.

Boeheim does know a little bit about defense. And I hope the players are listening.

"It's been obvious all year to me that we cannot guard whether we're in
man-to-man or zone,'' Boeheim said. "We just cannot defend people. We couldn't
defend St. Joe's or Siena. We couldn't defend Ohio State. We couldn't defend
Washington and we can't defend UMass.'' (Post Standard)

I’m not going to get too focused on Syracuse giving up 77 points a game, as an indicator of how ‘bad’ the defense is. When you play an up tempo offense, you are going to score more points and have more shooting opportunities. The same will be true for your opponent; they will have more shooting opportunities than if you played a slow down deliberate offensive style. I would be concerned on the opposing field goal percentage. Allowing UMass to make 52% of its field goal attempts is not good.

Also, keep in mind the offensive talent of the team is going to be somewhat inflated statistically. If you’re taking more shots a game, you’re going to score more points, regardless of how talented you are. If you average 100 points a game, instead of 80 points a game, your stats are inflated 25%. A player with a 16 ppg average suddenly becomes a 20 ppg player. So let’s try not to get too enamored by the offensive output of our freshmen (yet).

So it’s going to be a disappointing season for the Orange if they don’t solve this problem. They’ll definitely win their share of games. They’ll be able to run some teams right off the court; probably enough of them to get 20+ wins and finish in the top 6-7 in the Big East. But it’ll be a short post season if you can’t stop your opposition.

The UMass game featured four Syracuse players scoring 20 or more points: Eric Devendorf with 23, Arinze Onuaku with a career high 20, Flynn with 20, and Greene with 20. I do not have complete records of all the box scores of games Syracuse has ever played, but I do not think they’ve ever had four players scored 20+ points in one game. That is an impressive feat. The 1965-1966 Syracuse team, led by Dave Bing, averaged almost 100 ppg, and they never accomplished that feat. The Bouie & Louie show never did, even though they had a 144 point effort versus Siena. The group most likely to accomplish that feat would have been Sherman Douglas, Stephen Thompson, Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly, and they did not either. The closest I found was the foursome of Tony Bruin, Erich Santifer, Leo Rautins, and Gene Waldron who all scored 19 points in a 91-85 win over Ohio State on 12/14/1982.

Added bonus last night was a 12 assist effort by Flynn, 10 rebound effort by Onuaku, and 11 rebounds by Paul Harris.

It’s going to be a fun team to watch this year, no doubt about it. Hopefully success will join in with the fun.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Defending Boeheim's Legacy

Apparently some journalists decide its never important to have an original thought, and would rather jump on the bandwagon and state what they believe is the obvious, without actually doing any real research or paying attention to the facts. Then again, why pay attention to the facts when they get in the way of your story, right?

Fellow Orange blogger Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician found a blog called the 'Meaningfull Collateral'. Apparently these guys are just the types of guys I referred to in the first paragraph. And they are taking the wrath of the 'Cuse blog collective. Good work by Cuse Country, Orange44, and State of the Orange in their respective responsives.

I've defended Syracuse's scheduling in the past and I'm not going to go into detail on that again. Though, as a reminder to those of you not familiar with the geography of New York State, Syracuse is 4 1/2 hours from New York City. Most of the teams in the original Big East are closer than the Orange to Madison Square Garden.

Rather, I'd like to focus on Boeheim's record, which was ripped by those who did not due their homework at Meaningful Collateral. They make a statement that Boeheim's tradition has been
"Win all these games at home against mediocre squads, go .500 in your
conference, be on the bubble every season
First of all, Syracuse's record in the Big East (which is all under the tenure of Jim Boeheim) is a win/loss of 64.7%. The best in conference history... no where near .500. In 28 years of the conference's history, Syracuse has played .500 basketball only twice (1996-97, and 1981-1982). Only two other times did the Orange have a winning percentage less than .500; 1980-1981 and 2005-06. So in 28 years of league action, only 4 times (or 14% of the time) have the Orangemen played .500 ball. From that the writers at Meaningful Collateral determine a 'tradition'? Egads.

Second, Syracuse rarely is on the bubble to go to the NCAA. If anything, they have a reputation (whether or not it is true... that's a discussion for another time) of being a higher seed that does not deliver. I doubt most casual fans in the country would ever consider Syracuse a perennial bubble sitter.

Third, 25 times in Boeheim's 31 years the Orangemen have made the NCAA tournament. Once they were banned by the NCAA. So that leaves five seasons where they did not make the tournament. That's 1/6 times the Orange don't make the dance, not the 1/4 the authors at Meaningful Collateral suggest. Of those five seasons, Boeheim complained in three of them: 1981 (where Syracuse won the Big East Title but the conference had no automatic bid), 1996 (where Syracuse with 19 wins became the first Big East School with 18+ wins not to make the tournament) and last season where everyone in the country already knows the details.

Meaningful Collateral... you are entitled to your opinion. Freedom of speech is a right and privilege in this great country of ours. With that freedom comes some responsibility, and that responsibility is to tell the truth. Your version of the truth can differ from mine, because we can interpret the facts differently. But it does nobody any good if you misrepresent the facts.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

2007 Orange Debut

The youthful Syracuse basketball team is off to a solid start, going 3-0. The wins against Siena, St. Joseph, and Fordham probably aren’t going to be impressive come March Madness selection time (though Siena did just beat #20 Stanford), but these are the games you must win so you 1) don’t have those bad losses come March, and 2) advance into the NIT semi-finals where you can meet higher quality opponents and improve your schedule. I don’t want to but too much weight into what I’ve seen so far this season, but it is always a good sign when the statistical indicators are positive, regardless who you are playing.

The Orange offense looks to be clicking well behind freshman star Jonny Flynn, who is averaging 7.7 assists a game. Flynn made me nervous after his first game with five turnovers. But he seems to have tightened up his game with fourteen assists and 1 turnover in the last two games; those are impressive numbers regardless of whom you are playing.

Donte' Greene has clearly established himself as a big time scorer early in the season, averaging 19.0 ppg, along with 8.0 rpg. While he had a high school reputation for shooting three point shots, I thought coach Jim Boeheim would want to keep Greene near the hoop to get the rebounds and inside points. So far, it appears I was wrong, as Greene has taken 19 three point shots, making 8 of them. With Eric Devendorf, Greene, and Flynn (7 of 10 from three) shooting well from perimeter, perhaps my concern for perimeter shooting will be non-existent.

Devo has been ‘quiet’ so far, putting up a very solid 16.0 ppg, with 3 rpg and 4 apg. It looks like he is fitting in well into this new group of players. He’s a proven player, and its comforting to know that he’s not having to carry the team early in the season.

Paul Harris, as we all knew, is showing the rest of the world that he is a rebounding monster, with 11.7 per game, including 15 and 14 in his first two games. His ball handling as been sloppy with 13 turnovers, and his shooting off at 44.4%.

I had been concerned that Arinze Onuaku was going to get himself into foul trouble often, but so far that has not been the case. He’s been positioning himself well in the low post, making 2/3 of his shots, and scoring 13.7 ppg. His rebounding totals are a little low, but then again, if Greene and Harris are getting a lot of them, there is not a lot left to pick up.

The Orange do need to focus on cutting down the team turnovers. Flynn has protected the ball well two out of the three games, which is very positive from your top ball handler. The team, however, had high turnover counts in the first two games, and that almost cost them against St. Josephs. For all the spectacular plays Greene has made so far, he needs to cut down on his 10 turnovers (too high of a number for a power forward), and as mentioned before Harris has been sloppy too.

The Orange have had breakdowns on defense, and appear to have some difficulty adjusting to Boeheim’s schemes. Fortunately, that one of the benefits of the out-of-conference schedule, where you can work out the kinks in your game.

The team needs to pay more attention to Boeheim, who after 31 years as a head coach. Apparently at the end of the St. Joseph’s game, a couple of subtle breakdowns occurred. Boeheim had wanted Harris to miss his last free throw, so time would expire before St. Joe’s had time to get the rebound and take a shot. Instead, Harris made the shot. This may have been more of a case of poor execution instead of not listening; Harris may have accidentally made the basket. After the made free throw, Boeheim had also instructed Jonny Flynn to foul St. Joe’s so they could not get a three point shot, but that two did not occur. But these are things the players will hopefully learn and grow from.

Speaking of a debut for the freshman, Jonny Flynn and Dante Greene both had impressive efforts in the opening game versus Siena. Greene had 14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 blocked shots, while shooting 5-10 from the floor. A very solid first game for the frosh.

Jonny Flynn had the single best debut of any freshman in Syracuse history. His 28 points was a record for a freshman debut (eclipsing Carmelo Anthony’s 27 in 2002). He shot 10 of 13 from the floor, and an outstanding 6 of 7 from three point range. Oh yeah, he also added 9 assists and rebounds to the effort. The only blemish on his debut was the 5 turnovers.

Flynn’s effort was the best ever for an Orangemen in his debut. How have other Orangemen done?

Carmelo Anthony played very well in his first game, leading the Orangemen with 27 points and 11 rebounds. His shooting was off, hitting only 10 of 23 points, and making only 5 of 12 free throws, which proved to be costly in the loss to Memphis 70-63. But a strong effort none-the-less.

Gerry McNamara debuted in that same game, and he too had mixed results. He scored 14 points, but was 4 of 15 from the field, including 4-13 from three point range. He did have three assists and only one turnover in his unexpected debut as a point guard.

Preston Shumpert came off the bench and played only 15 minutes in his first game back in 1998. He made the most of it with 15 points, shooting 4-8 from the floor (2-4 from three point range), going perfect in his five free throw attempts, and getting 5 rebounds.

The much hyped Pearl Washington did not disappoint fans in 1983, when he went six of eight from the floor to score 16 points, and added 6 assists, all in only 25 minutes of play. George Papadakos, who would have a disappointing collegiate career, started out strong with 10 rebounds and five points in his debut.

Lawrence Moten came off the bench in 1991, and quietly, as he always did, put up 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in 17 minutes of play. His much ballyhooed classmate Anthony Harris had a strong debut with 14 points on 6-7 shooting.

Roosevelt Bouie and Louis Orr started their era off in style back in 1976 showing flashes of what would make them dominant college players. Bouie had 7 blocks and 10 points in his debut versus Harvard, while Orr pulled down 9 rebounds with 7 points (from the bench).

Derrick Coleman had a strong start in 1986, with 13 points in 26 minutes. DC shot 5-10 from the floor and had 7 rebounds. Stephen Thompson did not fair as well that game going 1-3 from the floor, and 1-6 from the free throw line (this latter stat an unfortunate indicator with how his charity shooting would be for his career). In 9 minutes of play, Matt Roe would score 9 points that day, as would fellow frosh Keith Hughes.

Billy Owens would play only 22 minutes in his debut in 1988, and had a quiet 9 points, 6 rebounds, on 4 of 5 shooting.

John Wallace made some noise in his 1992 debut, with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He would shoot 7 of 13 from the floor that day.

In 1996, the big freshman debut was LeSean Howard for scored 12 points and had 6 rebounds and 5 assists in 20 minutes from the bench. Jason Hart had mixed results that day with 7 assists and 7 points to go with his 4 turnovers. Etan Thomas played only 16 minutes that day, and had 6 rebounds, 8 points, and 3 blocked shots.

Michael Edwards came off the bench in 1989 and had 10 assists and 5 points in only 24 minutes of play. It would take until middle of that season until he would earn a starting berth. In 1990 Adrian Autry had a solid debut with 11 points and 3 assists.

Paul Harris gave us a blueprint of his early career in his 2006 debut. Harris would scored 6 points, with 11 rebounds and 4 turnovers in 22 minutes of playing time.

Erich Santifer and Tony Bruin had strong efforts in their 1979 debut. Santifer had 12 points and 3 rebounds on 6 of 10 shooting, while ‘Red’ had 15 points, also going 6-10 from the floor, plus 3 of 4 from the charity stripe.

Many freshman had trivial debuts, in many cases because they were unheralded reserves or had little playing time. Andre Hawkins started in 1981, but split time with Peter Wynne, and Hawk ended up with 7 points and 4 rebounds. Raf Addison had 4 points in his debut in 1982, and classmate Wendell Alexis had 6 pts.

Dale Shackleford put up 7 points in his 1975 debut, and Otis Hill 8 pts in 1993. In 1997, Eric Williams had 6 points, Damone Brown played 2 minutes and Allen Griffin played 1 minute, as both went scoreless. Eric Devendorf scored 6 points on 1-7 shooting in 2005.

In 2003, DeMetris Nichols, Darryl Watkins and Terrence Roberts all went scoreless in their debut, each with limited playing time. Roberts had a pretty poor debut: in eight minutes, he picked up 4 fouls, had 2 turnovers, shot 0 for 3 from the field, and had 3 rebounds. Syracuse would lose that game 96-92.

Hakim Warrick would score 2 points in his 2001 debut, which lasted 13 minutes and included 5 turnovers. Craig Forth would give the Orangemen 5 blocked shots, 5 rebounds, and 5 points that same day.

So there have been some big freshman debuts, and many not-so-memorable. Jonny Flynn made sure his was the best.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day 2007

On this Veterans day, I would like to thank all those who have served our country, putting their lives on the line to do those tasks that need to be done.

The Orange basketball team has had its share of veterans over the decades. And I would like to recognize those former basketball Orangemen who did serve. I acknowledge this is not a complete list; only those I know of. I imagine more Orangemen were in the service that I am omitting; if so, please post a recognition here! Also please feel free to recognize any other veterans in the comments.

In World War I, the following served:
Albert Ackley
Ed Cronauer
John Cronauer
Charles Fasce
Russ Finsterwald
Ken Lavin
Walter ‘Dutch’ Notman
Elias Raff
Billy Rafter
Courtland Sanney

In World War II, the following served:
Jim Ackerson
John Balinsky
Dick Casey
Larry Crandall
Wilbur Crisp
Dan DiPace
Les Dye
Alton Elliott
John Emerich
Bob Felasco
Paul Ferris
Billy Gabor
Ed Glacken
Joe Glacken
Marc Guley
Lew Hayman
Bill Hennemuth
George Jarvis
Jim Konstanty
Stan Kruse (Kruszewski)
Saul Mariaschin
Tom McTiernan
Francis Miller
Andy Mogish
Roy Peters
Hank Piro
Phil Rakov
John Schroeder
Bob Shaddock
Wilmeth Sidat-Singh
Red Stanton
Mike Stark
Joe Sylvestri
Charles Taggart

In Vietnam, the following served:
Rick Dean

The following were veterans who served but were fortunate to miss a war era:
Roy Danforth
Ronnie Kilpatrick
George Koesters

Three of the aforementioned players deserve special note, as they sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.

Wilmeth Sidat-Singh was a member of the Tuskegee Airman, and was killed in a training accident when his plane crashed into Lake Michigan in 1943.

Charles Taggart was a member of the US Navy serving aboard the USS Frederick C. Davis, and was killed when his ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat on April 24, 1945. Taggart and 115 crew members perished.

John Cronauer was killed in World War I in 1918.
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On a personal note I would like to recognize my wife’s uncle. Stanley ‘Pete’ Kocher was a Piper Cub pilot during World War II, flying recognizance and other low level air duties. He was involved in D-Day at Normandy, and would later earn a Silver Star for his efforts in stopping two allied units from firing upon one another.

Pete Kocher worked as a proof reader for the Johnstown Tribune Democrat for most of his professional life. In retirement he was a volunteer around Johnstown, including the local area hospital. He passed away this past August 3rd, as a result of injuries from a fall in his room.

We often take for granted the freedoms we have in this wonderful country. As events unfold around the world, right now with the focus in the Middle East and Iraq, we can see that we do live privileged lives with many things we take for granted. Let us not forget the efforts that these veterans, and others, have put to help bring peace and justice into this world.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Four New Starters

Four new starters. That is what Syracuse has in front of it for the 2007-2008 season (24-11, 10-6), with Eric Devendorf the lone returning starter. Terrence Robert, Demetris Nichols and Darryl Watkins have graduated from last year’s squad, and Andy Rautins is out for this year with a torn ACL.

I am excited to watch this year’s team play. I do not know how good they ultimately will be, but they do have a lot of young talent coming into the program, and several flashy players. I’m betting that even when they lose, the Orange may have some fun moments.

There are two areas to the 2007-2008 squad that I am concerned about. First, there is a lack of experience up front with the big men. I’ve seen a lot of chatter from fans who are confident in Arinze Onuaku being able to be a dominant big man. I think he has the size and skill to do that, but does he have the experience? He has played only one season of college basketball, where he played only 243 minutes. His production for those minutes was impressive: 80 rebounds and 58 points, which translates into 13 rebounds and 9.5 points per 40 minutes. But he also had 31 fouls, or one every 8 minutes, so he may have a tough time staying on the court long enough to be productive. And he missed last season due to injury, so that’s always an unknown.

Donte’ Green has a lot of potential, but he is a freshman. Syracuse did pick up junior college transfer Kristof Ogneaet which should help a lot. Freshman Rick Jackson also should contribute up front. The only other big man on the roster is Devin Brennan-McBride, who would need to make big strides from last year to be a contributor this year. So the Orange do have some depth up front. Hopefully the number of bodies and the raw talent of the unproven players will overcome the glaring lack of experience, especially in Big East play. Paul Harris should continue to be a monster on the boards, and probably will average double digits, but at 6’5”, he’s overmatched by big men in the Big East down low, and we need the other players to contribute.

My second concern on the team is the lack of a perimeter shooter. Devo can shoot from the perimeter, but who will compliment him? Rautins is gone for the season, and there’s no doubt the Orange played better last year when Rautins was shooting well. Paul Harris? Did he actually develop the jump shot this summer (and confidence with it) that we’ve heard about? More importantly, has he learned to play without the ball in his hands?

I’ve heard Donte’ Green has a nice outside shot, but Boeheim isn’t going to want his 6’11” rebounding forward to be roaming the arc. Especially on a team with possible questions up front. I haven’t see Jonny Flynn or Scoop Jardine in real games yet, so their outside shooting is going to be a big question mark. Lack of outside shooting always hurts, but will particularly hurt the 2007-2008 Orange squad. Both Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf love to drive the paint, and it’s going to be very crowded in there if there is no perimeter shooting to loosen it up. Plus, if Devo drives the paint, and the defense collapses on him, who is he going to kick it back out to?

The good sign for the Orange this year is they are unranked in the preseason. As all Orange fans know, Jim Boeheim does his best with underrated teams, and all four Syracuse Final Four teams fell into that category.

The bad sign is having four new starters. I know this is a new era of college basketball, where you can expect more from your freshman class and there is less dependency on experience. I’m not sold on the concept though, and I like to have some experience on the court. I think having a couple of seasoned players in the right positions mixed with some raw talent is a good combination, if you are lucky. Having wholesale turnover on the starting five, or close to it, is scary.

Only three times in Boeheim’s career has he had four new starters for a season. The first time the results turned out pretty good. In 1995-1996 Syracuse lost starters Michael Lloyd, Lawrence Moten, Luke Jackson, and J.B. Reafsnyder lost his starting position. The lone returning starter was John Wallace; but he was a huge return, as it turned out. And none of the new starters were freshman; they all were experienced players who finally had the opportunity to play. Lazarus Sims at the point, junior college transfer Jason Cipolla at the shooting guard, sophomore Todd Burgan at the swing position, and Otis Hill at center. This team would have a solid regular season, going 10-6 in the Big East before making a run in the NCAA tournament, and losing the finals to Kentucky. But this was a special situation: lot’s of veteran players seeking an opportunity to start and a senior college superstar in John Wallace, who had passed up leaving early the season before.

The second time Boeheim had four new starters was in 2000-2001. The Orangemen had gone 26-6 the year before (13-3 in the Big East), and lost seniors Jason Hart, Ryan Blackwell, and Etan Thomas, and sophomore Tony Bland transferred. The 2000-01 squad would go 25-9 (10-6 in the Big East) as Allen Griffin returned to the starting lineup (he started his sophomore season), sophomore DeShaun Williams got the start, and the previous seasons’ sixth man Preston Shumpert got his starting berth. Freshman Jeremy McNeil was the only raw player on the squad, and he played only 542 minutes because of foul trouble and inexperience. Junior Billy Celuck would split the center position with him.

The third time was very recent history, the 2005-2006 season. Josh Pace, Hakim Warrick and Craig Forth graduated, and Louie McCrosky transferred, leaving Gerry McNamara as the lone returning starter from a team that went 27-7, (11-5 in the Big East). Three juniors would step into the starting lineup with Demetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins, and freshman Eric Devendorf would join GMac in the backcourt. The Orange would finish 23-12 overall, and a disappointing 7-9 in the Big East. Only a fantastic Big East tournament salvaged the season.

I don’t see the ‘John Wallace’ type player returning from last year’s squad. Paul Harris does fall into that valuable sixth man role getting his chance to start, the role that Shumpert and Roberts had held in their prior seasons. Devo, as the lone returning starter, falls into the “McNamara-lite” category.

Since I know some of you are thinking of the 2002-2003 squad, keep in mind that the Orange that year had only two new starters. Kueth Duany and Craig Forth were starters all the previous season, and Hakim Warrick had locked down the starting position late in the previous season. You had experienced players like Josh Pace and Jeremy McNeil off the bench. Three very special freshman came into that mix with Carmelo Anthony, McNamara and Billy Edelin. They had some veterans around them to help out, especially Kueth Duany who’s impact on that season goes greatly unnoticed. So I do not think that the 2003 National Championship team is similar to this year's squad in any analogous comparison.

I think the Orange will do well this year, and finish the season somewhere between #11-15 in the country, and in the top 4 of the Big East. They'll win 20+ games (as usual). I would love to be pleasantly surprised, but a lot of ‘ifs’ are out there. Ask me again in January... I'll have a much better idea then.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Selfless vs Selfish

Reader CK Dexter Haven raised a good question in response to the article on the Best Syracuse Freshman ever. He thought that Billy Owens was too selfless, and that Carmelo Anthony was far more confident and selfish. I agree that those are both accurate descriptions of the two players.

We would never know how the two players would have done if they switched places in time. But we can take an educated guess.

I think Billy Owens, if put on the 2003 Syracuse basketball team, would have been a similar player to what Syracuse saw with Owens his junior season (1990-1991). Owens would have pulled down 20 points a game and ten rebounds because he would’ve been the most talented player on the court for Syracuse (and possibly the most talented player on the court in most games Syracuse would play). But Owens being Owens, would have made sure the ball was distributed throughout the team. He likely would not have demanded to be the man in crunch time, and Syracuse would have not had the giant ‘go to’ guy each time down the court. Owens made sure he was part of the game, part of the team. Syracuse trailed 15 games that season in the second half, that they managed to pull off a victory in. Would they have been able to do that without a demanding presence on the court? It surely would have been tougher, that’s for sure.

I do know that the 1990-1991 post-season ended poorly for Syracuse with disappointing losses to Villanova and Richmond in the first round of both tournaments. I think it would be fair to say that in both cases, a little more Billy Owens would have helped. If he had asserted himself some more, perhaps the Orangemen would have pulled out those narrow defeats. Tough to criticize Owens there. He had 17 points and 22 rebounds in the loss to Villanova; hardly a slouch. Against Richmond he had 22 points and 7 rebounds; again a solid night but it could have been better. In a tough game like these two, a 25-30 point effort may have been required.

Owens was actually the perfect type player to be a freshman on the 1988-1989 team. With the dominating upperclassmen, a well rounded freshman with a ton of talent who was willing to fit into the team, was exactly what the Orangemen needed. He brought the talent to the team and didn’t ruffle the egos of Derrick Coleman, Stevie Thompson or Sherman Douglas. I’ve contended before that I thought the 1988-1989 team was the best team in the history of Syracuse Basketball.

Carmelo Anthony thrived in the environment he ended up on. A team devoid of talented upper classmen, Anthony could be ‘the man’ the day he stepped foot on campus. Kueth Duany was an excellent captain, a great team player who complimented the team well in all facets of the game, but he was never a star. Anthony had the offense flow through him throughout each game. He could take the shots when he thought he should take the shots and pass off when he thought he should pass off. When Syracuse needed the big basket, Anthony would not hesitate to take the shot. Ironically, Gerry McNamara was on that team, and so Syracuse had two big time clutch shooters on the court at the same time. It made those second half comebacks much easier to do.

How would Carmelo have done in the 1988-1989 team? As CK Dexter Haven stated, Melo would have tried to have taken the most shots if he was on the 1992 Dream Team (with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan). I don’t know how happy Melo would have been on that team. It was the General’s team to run, and Douglas decided who got the ball, where, and how. The chemistry between Douglas and Thompson was undeniable, and Coleman was going to get his shots (another article for another day, but I contend D.C. as a junior was a better player than Melo as a freshman). So Melo could have been fourth fiddle on that team, the role that Owens willingly took. Would it have worked? Or would the team have imploded. Coleman definitely had the ego, so I don’t know how smooth it would have been.

I think, as fortunes would dictate, that Owens and Anthony both ended up in the right situation for each of them. Both could have played well in the other situation, because they both had the talent; but ideally, where they ended up was best.

It leads to a corollary thought. I would contend that a player like Carmelo Anthony can take a mediocre or good team and make them very good, all by himself. He can demand the ball, and make things happen with it. He has the talent to carry a team by himself and win some big games. Guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan fall into this type of player. Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant are modern day versions, though not as successful. You put those types of players onto star studded teams, things may fall apart.

Chamberlain accepted his role with the Lakers in 1971-72 with Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, and one of the greatest single seasons occurred. People knock Kobe Bryant for being selfish. Yet, I think it’s the same characteristic that Michael Jordan had. How often did Jordan ever pass the ball when the game was on the line? We expected him to take the shot; he did, and he usually made it.

Jordan was a great team player on the 1992 Dream Team, but that was a special event, short season. It would have been interesting to have seen Jordan play three or four seasons with a Shaquille O’Neal or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Would he have liked having to defer on a regular basis to another player? Have offensive plays designed for other players? We’ll never know… it would have been interesting.

I think the style of player like Billy Owens has a tougher time raising the level of an average team. However a player like Owens can take a good team and make them great. He’s that missing component, that brings all the other parts together, and adds a ton of talent to the court without disrupting things. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Isaiah Thomas are examples of these types of guys (but with a lot more talent!). They worked to make their teammates better all the time. Yes, they had egos and wanted the ball at times, but they often reduced their own efforts to make sure their teammates were better. Remember how often you’d see Magic Johnson ease up on a fast break to make sure that he gave the ball to a trailing teammate. He made sure they were rewarded for their hustle down the court.

James Worthy and Scottie Pippen are good examples of guys like Owens. Outstanding players, who can shine at moments in the game, but truly excel in the team environment.

So if I were building myself a team of great players, I’d want Billy Owens on my squad. But if I were starting from scratch, and I wanted a team to build around a player, I’d want Carmelo leading the way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Greatest Syracuse Freshman

Jim Boeheim does play his freshman. I hope that I dispelled the rumor that he doesn’t, back in February 07. He is a coach who likes to put the best talent on the court for 40 minutes, if at all possible. And more often than not, a 3rd year junior or 4th year senior is going to be a better basketball player than a 1st year freshman, no matter how much raw talent that freshman has. Experience does matter, and a guy who has already started two seasons obviously has some talent to start with.

Boeheim has stated more than once that he makes his evaluations on how guys perform in practice. I know when I was growing up there were always two dictums from my coaches: “Practice like you play” and “Perfect practice makes perfect”. One thing a lot of freshman have a problem with is learning how to practice. Many of them have had been more talented than their teammates that they could get by on talent alone. But at a major college program, talent alone doesn’t get you the job. You need to understand the game, understand your responsibilities, and learn to play within yourself.

Syracuse has been blessed with some of the best freshman talent over Boeheim’s tenure on the Hill. Talented freshman like Roosevelt Bouie, Carmelo Anthony, Pearl Washington and Dale Shackleford have graced the Carrier Dome and Manley Field House.

Freshman were allowed to play at Syracuse up until the mid 1920s, and then again in the 1940s (because of World War II). But freshman players, as we know them today, were not allowed to play on the varsity until the 1973-1974 season. The freshman on that team were Jimmy ‘Bug’ Williams, Larry Kelley, and Bob Parker. Coach Roy Danforth was reluctant to play freshman, and so the threesome saw little playing time, with Williams getting the most.

If we use the 1973-1974 season to mark the point we will count freshman players, who have been the best freshman for the Syracuse Orangemen?

I’ll start out by giving honorable mentions to Erich Santifer, Louis Orr, John Wallace and Jason Hart, who all had very good freshman seasons. But they do not make my top 10.

So here are my top 10. I thought this might be an easy list, but I was wrong. I found the picks 10-7 rather straight forward, and 6 and 5 kind of fell into place, but 4 through 1 was tough.

At number 10 is Adrian ‘Red’ Autry, 1990-1991. Autry was a big guard with a deliberate style, and the ability to post up smaller guards down low. He ran the offense efficiently his freshman year, guiding the team to a 26-6 record, with 5.3 assists per game. He was not a big scorer with 9.7 points per game, but he was solid with 71% from the free throw line and 32 % from three point range.

Number 9 is Eric Devendorf, 2005-2006. Devo was a slashing trashing talking shooting guard, with a great move to his left, and an awkward spinning perimeter shot. He supplied some desperately needed balance to the guard scoring by averaging 12.2 points a game, shooting nearly 38% from the three point range. He’s obviously still fresh in all our mind.

At number 8 is Roosevelt Bouie, 1976-1977. Bouie was a 6’10” raw talent his freshman year. He was highly unpolished on the offensive end of the court, yet still managed 10.1 points a game. His impact to the team was on defense with 91 blocked shots and 8.1 rebounds a game, helping to lead the Orangemen to an impressive 26-4 records (and the birth of the Bouie’n’Louie era). He even managed to shot 83.6% from the free throw line, an aberration from his career mark near 60%. He was a victim of foul trouble which kept him off the court, and kept some of his numbers low. Imagine that.

Number 7 is Dale Shackleford, 1975-1976. Shack was a 6’5” all-position player, who played power forward and center for ‘Roy’s Runts Revisited’ his freshman year. Shack was a solid ball handler and explosive leaper with impressive dunking ability. He would average 11.9 points a game his freshman year along with 8.8 rebounds as the team went 20-9.

Number 6 is Gerry McNamara, 2002-2003. GMac was a clutch shooter from the beginning, thrust into the starting point guard position the first game with the suspension of Billy Edelin, and keeping that position all season as the Orangemen went 30-5 and won the National Championship. McNamara scored 13.3 points a game with 4.4 assists, and hit a blistering 91% from the free throw line. He would hit 36% of this three point shots that season. He hit big shots all season long, including a huge basket to beat Notre Dame at the buzzer, and of course his 6 three point baskets in the National Championship game against Kansas. I would have loved to put him in the top 5, but you know what… the top 5 are pretty darn good.

At number 5 is Derrick Coleman, 1986-1987. DC was a rebounding machine from his first day at Syracuse with 8.8 rebounds a game. He was a lean player that season (he would bulk up over four seasons), and was all over the court defensively and for rebounds. While he was not a polished offensive player, he did have some nice low post moves and he averaged 11.9 points a game. He also contributed an impressive 68 block shots. But what he really did was get the big rebounds all season long. In the National Championship loss to Indiana he pulled down 19 rebounds.

Number 4 through 1 are very tough, and I struggled with this. I could have argued for any one of these four to be the best freshman in Syracuse history, but I had to make a choice.

So at Number 4 is Dwayne ‘The Pearl’ Washington, 1983-1984. The Pearl was electric from his first day at the dome; he was one of the highest profile players Syracuse had ever recruited, and he came as good as advertised. His playground moves, the shake and bake, his drives to the hoop, all were crowd pleasing. The Pearl would occasionally play out of control, getting more offensive fouls than he should have. But he could also single handedly break down an opposing defense. His performance in the Big East tournament that year was legendary, especially against Georgetown. And of course, the highlight of the Pearl’s freshman season was his half court shot against Boston College to win the game at the buzzer. With the confidence the Pearl had, he headed straight to the locker room after he released the shot… and the crowd went wild. And the legend was confirmed. The Pearl would finish that season with 14.4 points a game and 6.2 assists. He would shoot 54% from the floor and guide the Orangemen to a 23-9 record. More importantly, the Pearl gave the Orangemen marketability in the Big East, and built the platform for the future success.

At number three is Lawrence Moten, 1991-1992. Moten is perhaps the most underrated player in Syracuse history. He was a quiet man on the court, who played within the flow of the game, was always in the right position, and had a high basketball IQ. And he possessed all those characteristics his freshman year. I don’t know how many fans really appreciate how much Moten meant to the Syracuse program. His freshman year the team was under investigation from the NCAA (and would get probation the following season). All Moten did was average 18.2 points a game and 6.9 rebounds, helping the Orangemen to a 22-10 season.

So now we’re down to the top two. Alphabetically (last name) they are Carmelo Anthony and Billy Owens. I know a lot of you younger fans are going to scream it is no contest, that Anthony was the best Syracuse freshman ever. But I submit it is not that clear.

Both Owens and Anthony came to Syracuse as one of the top two high school recruits in the nation, after outstanding high school careers. Both would end up playing small forward their freshman season, though Owens was probably better suited to play power forward. Both were great all around players, capable of rebounding, shooting from the perimeter and shooting from the free throw line. Owens was a bit more muscular, Anthony a little more athletic… but neither had a significant edge over the other. Both were somewhat quiet personalities.

The primary difference in their statistics, I propose, is the opportunities given to them. Billy Owens came to a Syracuse team with NBA caliber juniors and seniors entrenched in the lineup. Sherman Douglas would average 18.2 points that season, Derrick Coleman 16.9, and Stephen Thompson 18.0. Junior Matt Roe, the deep threat, would get 11 points a game. Owens came onto that team, and fit right in, doing his part. He would get ‘only’ 13.0 points a game, 6.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists (as if those were paltry numbers by themselfs). In the context of who else was scoring around him, that is pretty amazing. Against Georgetown that season, he hit two free throws with time expired to send the game into overtime, in front of what was the largest NCAA crowd in history at that time. The Orangemen would have a disappointing loss in the Elite Eight that season; the 1988-1989 squad was probably the best Syracuse team I ever saw. They did not just beat their opponents all season on the way to a 30-8 record; they crushed them.

Carmelo Anthony came to Syracuse on a team that was lacking upper classmen, on a team that failed to make the NCAA tournament the season before. There was an opportunity for a talented young player to come in and take center stage, and Anthony took that role and thrived in it, something that your everyday player could not do. He would average 22.2 points a game, 10.0 rebounds a game, shoot 34% from the three point range, and of course, lead the Orangemen to a National Championship. Outstanding numbers, outstanding final results. The Orangemen that season had tremendous poise, winning 15 games that they trailed at some point in the second half, on their way to a final record of 30-5.

I would propose that if Owens had been in Anthony’s position, he would have put up similar numbers, with a similar results (obviously, he could not have bettered the championship). And if Anthony had been on the 1988-1989 squad, I am sure he would have deferred to the more talented upper classmen.

As great as Anthony was in 2002-2003, he needed help from his teammates to win it all. If Josh Pace and Billy Edelin don’t have heroic efforts earlier in the NCAA tournament, the Orangemen never make it to the championship. If Gerry McNamara doesn’t score 18 points from the perimeter in the first half, the game would have been much tighter going to the second. Anthony (similar to Derrick Coleman in 1987) missed a crucial free throw in the last minute of the game, allowing Kansas the opportunity to win it all. Fortunately Hakim Warrick was there instead of Howard Triche, and ‘the block’ sealed the win. The point I’m making is that Carmelo Anthony was the reason Syracuse won it all in 2002-2003, but so was Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Josh Pace, Kueth Duany, Billy Edelin, and yes, Craig Forth.

Owens would injure his knee is junior season, and then more severely in the NBA, reducing his overall effectiveness and shortening his career. Anthony is rocketing through the NBA right now. Neither of these points is relevant to how good they were as a freshman, but it does impact our hindsight of the players.

I watched them both play. I saw every home game Owens played in person, and I saw most of Anthony’s games on television. Both were great freshman players. I could choose either one of them as the best Syracuse freshman ever, and feel happy with it.

Ultimately, I’m going to take the young man who won it all and brought the trophy back to Syracuse, New York. Carmelo Anthony at #1 and Billy Owens at #2.

But if the quarter had fallen the other way…


If you like to rank things and make lists, try to figure out who is the greatest, the best, the most popular, then I know of a website that may be just what you are looking for. It is called Rankopedia, and it is a website of Rankings. Rankings of any and all topics, some with large lists and some with very short.

I'm sure as you probably have guessed from my past blogs, a site like Rankopedia is of great interest to me. I have been a member since February 2007, and the site began in June 2006. Membership is free, and you can vote even if you are not a member.

I have put some rankings out there before for Syracuse sports, and I'm sure some of you have voted in them.

The site also has a discussion / forum section where you can explain in further detail your opinions. As with any site, some of the discussions are great, and some are mundane or poor.

Anyhow, I thought I would throw in a plug for a site that I enjoy, especially during these off season days, waiting for basketball to begin.

Monday, September 03, 2007

OrangeHoops and The Hall of Fame

A Hall of Fame should honor the greatest of the greatest. Simply meeting a set of statistical criteria should not ‘earn’ an individual into their sport’s Hall of Fame, nor failure to reach those statistics deny them entry. Statistics should not be ignored; they are valuable and they do tell a great story when interpreted properly. But they are only one important part of the picture. Greatness is about how a player dominated a game, what he/she accomplished, and what impact they had on their game.

I would like to comment on the baseball Hall of Fame, as an example, if only because it is the Hall I am most familiar with. Bill James, the guru of all baseball sabermaticians, has written extensively about his opinions on that Hall of Fame. He believes, correctly, that Hall of Fames are ‘self-defining’. They are defined by the people enshrined in them. If Phil Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame, then he IS a Hall of Famer. Others with similar characteristics, accomplishments, become candidates for the Hall of Fame.

What I believe happens over time is the Hall of Fame starts to water down its candidacy, as the borderline players are added, they then become the new standard for what is acceptable. People then err when comparing that player to another player, and the process keeps going down. And that is a shame.

I think the simple litmus test for deciding if a player should even be considered in the Hall of Fame is are they universally considered a great player. These are guys like Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Henry Aaron, Roger Clemens. When these people played, fans, teammates and opponents were aware these were great players.

Don Sutton was a very good pitcher for many years. He was consistently good for a long time, and ended up with a couple statistical landmark accomplishments: 300 wins and 3000 strikeouts. But I do not think Sutton should be in the Hall of Fame. And that is not meant to be a slight to be excluded. If the Hall of Fame was truly about the greatest of the greatest, you should be slighted. It is an honor to be elected; it is not a disgrace to not be there.

I was a huge Steve Garvey fan in the 1970s and 80s. He was consistently one of the best players in the National League, always getting his 200 hits and 100 rbis while hitting .300. He made the All-Star team every year, led his team to the playoffs almost every year where he always played well. He won several Gold Gloves, and he was a very popular fan. And as much as I am a Garvey fan, I do not think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was a very good player.

Nolan Ryan, who has been my favorite player since he came to prominence in the early 1970s is an interesting case. His career won-loss record belies him. But here is a man that I think if you ask any player who faced him, any fan who watched him play, they would say he is a Hall of Famer. He was dominating, unhittable (7 no-hitters), and revered. He does have 324 wins, he does have his 5714 strikeouts, the numerous complete games (222) and shutouts (61). I think he is one of those players that is clearly considered great and I would put him in the Hall of Fame. But, I can buy an argument that he may not belong. And that’s where I think the line should be drawn for the Hall of Fame; that high of a standard.

So how do you keep a Hall of Fame from getting away from the truly great? Again, I’ll steal a page from Bill James. James suggests that you limit the number of inductees into the Hall of Fame to a small fixed number of recipients, say two each year. Voters can consider any player that qualifies to vote for, and they can vote for as many as they want, and the top two get in. And if you are not one of the two best eligible for a given year, then you don’t get in that year. Each year, more players will become eligible as they have retired five years before. If you can never fall into that top 2, you don’t get in. Seems rather simple. If baseball’s Hall of Fame had used that standard since 1934, there would still be roughly 150 players in the Hall of Fame… which seems large, but actually is significantly smaller than the current Hall of Fame (280 inductees as of 2007).

Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician wrote about greatness a while back in his blog; in his context he was talking about Hall of Fames and about retiring basketball uniforms. Following his lead, I have considered creating an OrangeHoops.Org Hall of Fame. And here will be my guidelines, and I’ll explain the criteria.

Player must have last played for the Syracuse Orangemen 15+ years ago. Why this lengthy time frame? I think time provides perspective for which we can truly evaluate a player and his contributions. Carmelo Anthony had an outstanding season with Syracuse in 2002-2003, possibly the best single season a player ever had at Syracuse (I would dispute that it definitively was the best single season ever). One strong contributing factor for Anthony’s greatness is that Syracuse won the national championship that lone year. And he gets a lot of credit for it; and he should. As should his teammates. But what if Syracuse wins a national championship in 2008? Is Anthony as special now? How about if they win back to back in 2008-2009 behind Jonny Flynn? What do you think of Anthony then? So I think he need some time to go by to really evaluate a player. Does he stand the test of time?

One Induction a Year. Only one individual can be inducted into the OrangeHoops Hall Of Fame each year. This helps restrict us to only great players, and we are taking only one great player a year. If there are two great players, one will have to wait until next year. If third great player comes along next year and prevents the second player from getting in again, then perhaps that second player was not as great as originally thought.

No Induction Required. There is no requirement that any individual be inducted into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame any given year. If there are no worthy candidates, then none will be named.

Anyone associated with the program is eligible. The OrangeHoops Hall of Fame will not be restricted to players. Coaches would be eligible as would assistants, trainers, athletic directors, etc.

Coaches can be inducted year after they retire. A coach can be inducted into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame the year after he retires. I think a coach that would be considered worthy for induction (aka Jim Boeheim) would have a long resume that could clearly be evaluated with the proper context immediately. Players have 1-4 seasons to prove themselves, and so time is needed to understand them. A great coach, on the other hand, would have 10 to 30 seasons, and I think a clear picture of the individual is already understood.

Inductions will occur in September. It’s the off season for basketball, and school has just restarted, so I know fans are eager for the upcoming basketball season. It just seems like the right time each year to make the announcement.

So I’ve set my rules for the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame. Who will be my inductees? I’ve decided I want to set up a charter class, and 5 seemed like a reasonable number, and it is symbolic of the number of players on a basketball court. I would have liked to have incorporated the magic #44 into it, but 44 players was too many, and I was at a loss of how else to incorporate it. Given the 15 year rule, players who finished their Syracuse career 1992 or earlier are eligible.

The 5 Initial Inductees into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame are (in alphabetical order):

Dave Bing, Guard, 1964-1966
Derrick Coleman, Forward, 1987-1990
Sherman Douglas, Guard, 1986-1989
Vic Hanson, Forward, 1925-1927
Dwayne ‘Pearl’ Washington, Guard, 1984-1986

I feel these five represent the best of Syracuse University basketball. Their accomplishments are fairly well known. I’ve put the link for each to their information on I also think that given the time period in discussion these are the definitive top five.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What is in a Number?

What is in a number? Players choose uniform numbers for a variety of reasons. Some choose a number because it has a special personal meaning. Others choose a number to follow in a tradition or to emulate a player they admire (think #44). Still some choose a number because they want to be their ‘own man’ and want a number rarely used. Occasionally you will have a player who thinks they do not get enough respect so they will where a 0, or 00, or 13. And then you have those players who just happen to have a number because that is what the equipment manager gave them.

If you were to choose a number for Syracuse basketball, what number would it be? Some players have worn multiple numbers at Syracuse (you will see them more than once below). Virtually all college basketball numbers are restricted to digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. For those of you who ever wondered why, it is so the referee can single with his hands the uniform number of a player. For example, after a foul the referee can hold up a 3 in his right hand and a 4 in his left hand and indicate that the foul was on #34. Hard to do that with 67 as a number.

If you wanted to honor greatness, 44 is the obvious choice. Not only was 44 legendary for football, but it had its share of superstars for the basketball team too. Consider that Derrick Coleman, John Wallace, Danny Schayes, Marty Byrnes, Pete Chudy, and Mel Besdin all wore 44. So did Jim Brown in one of his seasons on the basketball team. I would rank this as the most significant number for basketball, which is only fitting. Four first round draft picks by the NBA in that group.

If you are looking for a great guard, I might suggest #22. Dave Bing stands out in front, but you have other great guards in Dennis DuVal, Ernie Austin, Jimmy ‘Bug’ Williams and Eddie Moss. That is quite a collection of guards.

Need a three point basket? Might I suggest looking at the guy wearing #3 on the court? That would include Gerry McNamara, Preston Shumpert and Matt Roe, all who could be deadly outside assassins. Greg Kohls, in the era before the three point shot wore 33; I’m sure he would have shaved a 3 off if he played today.

If you are looking for a talented forward, I might suggest #45. That list includes Rudy Hackett, Bob McDaniel, Gary Clark, Wendell Alexis, Otis Hill and Tom Jockle.

It is possible that the reason is it looks good on a big body, but several notable centers have worn #50, starting with Roosevelt Bouie. Joining him is Earnie Seibert, Bob Dooms, Wayne Ward, Manny Klutschkowski and Jim Snyder. Not all were extremely talented, but they were all big.

Number 30 brought some good luck to Billy Owens, Todd Burgan, Tony Bruin, Derek Brower, and a couple of playmakers inJohn Suder and Steve Ludd. Jim Brown wore 30 for one season of college basketball. Though to show there is not magic in every number, Josh Wright has not done too well.

Number 4 has a short but distinguished list of recent players including Demetris Nichols, Otis Hill, Dave Johnson and Rony Seikaly. That is a pretty eclectic mix of talent.

If you were looking for some help on the football field, I might suggest talking to guys in #24. That includes Donovan McNabb and Ernie Davis.

And if you are superstitious, I have a couple of numbers for you to avoid. Number 14 had some guys with great potential in Billy Edelin, Earl Duncan and Carl Vernick, but all disappeared after their sophomore seasons.

But the worst number at Syracuse is the number two below 44. Number 42 has not been kind to Orangemen, in general. Louie McCrosky, Bob McDaniel, John Karpis, Rodney Walker, Ernie Lotano and Ronald Kilpatrick all left school early for academic or disciplinary reasons. Then again, I guess Marius Janulis and Jon Cincebox might disagree about the value of number 42.

It goes to show, to each his own.

I do have to say I am not a fan of retiring numbers. I think a greater honor is achieved by having future players want to wear your number and display it on the court. It is a constant reminder of the number and those who wore it. My exception is to honor a player in a tragic situations, perhaps a player who died during a season, or died heroically shortly after college.

Of course, I state that you can have your number honored by current players, yet none of the incoming freshman are honoring the numbers I have highlighted above (see reference by Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician who commented on uniform numbers a couple of weeks ago). The exception is Ryan Cahak, who is throwing caution to the wind with #42.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Football & Basketball Stars

The two sport star in college athletics has virtually disappeared. Even at the high school level, you are starting to see the multiple sport star disappear, as kids start to focus year round on a single sport at the grade school level. I think overall, the player actually suffers from this as he fails to learn skills other sports stress that could become vital to his continued success is his chosen sport.

Having a basketball star also participate in another sport, especially at the college level, is even rarer. Basketball season overlaps both fall (football) and spring (lacrosse, track, crew, baseball) seasons, so it’s difficult for an athlete to participate in more than basketball, especially if basketball is his primary sport.

Basketball was invented by Dr. Naismith as an activity for his college’s athletes to participate in during the long winter months, between football and the spring sports. So it’s no surprise that in the early years of college sports, there were a lot of football stars who also played basketball. That trend probably held true even in the late 1920’s, and for some football players into the 1930s.

Syracuse has had its share of two sport stars, particularly those who played basketball and other sports. Pre 1930, there’s a long list of ‘Who’s Who’ in Syracuse sports, guys who played both football and basketball. Most noteworthy would be Vic Hanson, who was strong enough at both sports to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame (the only person to have accomplished that feat, and it will probably stay that way with the disappearance of the two sport star). Others included John Barsha (3 sports), Beal Banks (4 sports), Vic Baylock (3 letters in football and basketball), Ken Beagle (baseball and basketball), Gotch Carr (3 sports), Lew Castle (3 sports), Eddie Dollard (basketball and baseball), Bill Eisemann (baseball and basketball), Clinton Goodwin (4 sports), Tuppy Hayman (baseball and basketball), Ev Katz (track and basketball), Billy Rafter (3 sports), Joe Schwarzer (3 sports), Wilmeth Sidat-Singh (football and basketball), and Billy Thompson (3 sports). And there are several others.

Even Jim Boeheim was a two sport star at Syracuse, lettering in basketball and golf.

So on the verge of the 2007 college football season, I decided to focus on putting together the All Syracuse Basketball team, but only include those guys who also played Football for the Orangemen. And, I’m going to restrict myself to having guys who legitimately played both sports, not those guys who ‘drank a cup of coffee’ in basketball (such as J.J. Bedle and Melvin Tuten). Also guys like Rob Moore are excluded. Moore was an outstanding high school basketball player and clearly could have played Division I basketball and been a star, but the fact is that he did not play collegiate basketball.

I’ll admit, this team is going to have some great athletes on it, and a lot of hustle, but will probably lack in height.

I’m going to put 6’2”, 212 lb Ernie Davis on my squad. His football commitments limited his time on the hardwood, but he did average 10.2 ppg (points per game) and 9.6 rpg (rebounds per game) when he did get on the court.

Jim Brown easily makes the team. At 6’2”, 212 lbs, he was a tremendous rebounder and he averaged 13.1 ppg for his career at Syracuse. He played 43 basketball games, so he brings a lot of experience to the squad.

Vic Hanson is hands down on the squad. He was only 5’10”, 175 lbs, but he was one of the top two players in college basketball for his era. As mentioned earlier, he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, so you know he had some talent. Though he played forward, the ball was in his hands an awful lot. He had 14.1 ppg for his career which spanned 54 games.

John Mackey makes the squad, barely. He played only 6 games, but he had significant playing time in those games, and he averaged 4.7 ppg and 4.7 rpg. At 6’3”, 222 lbs, he’ll bring some athletic muscle to the squad.

Maury Youmans, at 6’5”, 251 lbs makes the squad. He was a reserve for two seasons, and while he did not play a lot, he brings some size to this squad.

Xzavier Gaines gets at spot at 6’4”, 198 lbs. He was a reserve for two seasons, appearing in only 11 games in limited time, averaging 0.2 ppg. However, he left Syracuse after his junior season, and he averaged 13.2 ppg for Division II Northwest Missouri State, along with 4.7 rpg, a 38.7% 3 point shooting accuracy, and 73.6% free throw shooter.

Donavan McNabb makes the team at 6’2”, 224 lbs. He was a reserve for two seasons, playing in 18 games, averaging 2.3 ppg. Coach Boeheim always hinted that McNabb could have been a star in basketball if he focused on it, and several players have credited McNabb’s character with keeping the team ‘loose’ during its 1996 NCAA tournament run.

Joe Schwarzer makes the team at 5’11”, 159 lbs. He was a two time All-American in basketball, and captained the 1918 National Championship team. He played center in his era; the center literally was the center of action, and all ball movement went through him, so Schwarzer could handle the ball. He averaged 10.1 ppg his senior season, and was the best free throw shooter on the squad.

Wilmeth Sidat-Singh makes the team at 6’0”, 190 lbs. He was a tremendous defensive force at guard, with lightning quick reflexes and the star quarterback of the football team.

Pat Stark makes the squad at 6’0”, 172 lbs. Stark had 9.7 ppg his senior season, and played two years for the Orangemen basketball team. He set the Syracuse freshman single game scoring record of 28 points (since broken) and in high school scored 78 points for Vocational High School (then a NY state record) and 60 points for Virginia Military Academy (then a Virginia state record).

Malik Campbell makes the squad at 6’3”, 178 lbs. Campbell played 31 games for Syracuse basketball, with 2.1 ppg, and 1.0 rpg.

That leaves one more spot on the roster to get to 12. My last two choices were between Gotch Carr (5’10”, 165 lbs), who letter 7 times in 3 sports, and Pete MacRae (6’1”, 175 lbs). Carr was an outstanding athlete, gifted runner was great speed. He averaged about 4 ½ points a game in college basketball as a starter who focused on defense. MacRae was the starting center for three seasons, had great hands and was one of the teams top scorers his senior season. I’m going to go with MacRae here; the size admittedly helps him, and being an offensive threat helps.

So I’ve got a twelve man squad. I’m going to start the following five: Donovan McNabb and Vic Hanson at guard, Jim Brown and Ernie Davis at forward, and 6’5” Maury Youmans at center. Youmans is going to have a very difficult time at center (he’s going to have to do his best Andre Hawkins impression). Xzavier Gaines and John Mackey are my likely backup centers, based on height alone (at 6’4” and 6’3”). If Melvin Tuten had played a little more college basketball, I would have considered him eligible to pick and he’d be my starting center; but 4 games of scrub minutes isn’t enough time for my qualifications.

My squad is going to be extremely athletic, and very strong. I imagine a lot of hustle, with them all being two sport stars with football experience, and I expect a lot of physical play. I think I’ll have to go with a lot of pressure defense, and hope the guards and forwards can force turnovers; a half court set will kill the team, though we’ll definitely fall into a 2-3 zone once the press is broken. I’ll be able to rotate players through the guard and forward positions pretty easily and pretty much interchangeably, so keeping the players fresh will not be a problem (plus world class athletes like Brown and Davis won’t be tired).

I figure with the proper training, these guys could win maybe half their games in the Big East, and would be a top tier squad in the smaller conferences. They wouldn’t be able to handle the top 40 squads on a regular basis, but the athletic ability and talent is there. I know I wouldn’t want to get into a brawl with these guys.