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.