Thursday, October 30, 2008

2008-2009 - What's in Store

The 2008-2009 season will be a very interesting season to watch play out. Coach Jim Boeheim has a killer schedule, an overabundance of talent at guard, and a team that could not close games last season.

Syracuse lost two players from last season’s team: leading scorer Donte’ Greene jumped to the NBA, and reserve guard Scoop Jardine will miss the season due to a stress fracture. But in return, Boeheim gets back two healthy junior guards in Eric Devendorf, perhaps the best player on the team, and sharp shooter Andy Rautins, the best shooter on the team. The Orange also get two highly rate freshman in Mookie Jones and Kris Joseph. That’s four talented guys joining the team.

More importantly, the rest of the team has aged and matured one more year, so Paul Harris is now a junior along with Arizne Onuaku. Kris Ongenaet is now a senior, and Jonny Flynn a sophomore. Syracuse went from a young team with no experience last year to a team with a lot of veteran players, particularly by today’s standards. When you have a senior, four juniors and a sophomore as your top six players, you have some experience.

Syracuse has a schedule that will test the mettle of the team. Eleven of Syracuse’s thirty one scheduled games are against pre-season top 25 teams; if they meet Kansas in the CBE Classic, that would be twelve games against top 25. Four of those games are against the #2, #3, #6 and #9 teams in the country. Six of those games are on the road, two are at neutral sites, and four are at home. They also play solid out of conference games against Richmond and Virginia. The schedule makers did not do Syracuse any favors.

Then they have the much talked about streak of 10 games from January 14th through February 22nd. That will cover 39 days in which Syracuse will play eight games against top 25 teams (four on the road, four at home). They’ll play four top 25 teams over a 12 day period to start that streak, and they’ll play four top 25 teams over the last 16 days to end that streak; they’ll face 4 top 10 teams in that same 39 game stretch. They get a ‘breather’, if you can call it that, with a road game at Providence, and a home game against West Virginia sandwiched in between.

Syracuse’s schedule breaks down this way. They have 13 out of conference games, three against top 25 teams, two against solid teams, and eight against teams they should beat. They have 18 conference games, with 9 against top 25 teams, and 9 against the rest of the league.

They cannot afford to lose any of the eight games they should win out-of-conference. Any losses there will negate any big wins elsewhere. Even with this difficult schedule, I think they need to win 20 games prior to the Big East tournament to lock in a bid. Anything less puts them on the bubble (other than a BET run), and we know how poorly that has turned out for Syracuse in recent years. If they can go 10-3 in the out-of-conference games (which means win one of the top 25 games, and one of the two against Richmond / Virginia), then they would need to go 10-8 in the Big East. To be taken serious in the post season, they’ll need to go at least 4-5 against the top 25 teams in the conference, giving, them the opportunity to go 6-3 against the rest of the conference. That would put the Orange at 20-11 going into the Big East tournament, with a 5-7 record against top 25 teams. That’s a lock for the NCAA.

A couple of big keys this year will be if Syracuse can win some of those top 25 games on the road; Memphis, Louisville, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova and Pitt are all going to give them a chance. If Syracuse can win two of those games (and those teams don’t slump!), their resume will jump greatly come March.

The Orangemen can definitely do it. The big question hanging over this team, for me, is where the late game collapses last year more a function of the fatigue of the players, or a function of the mindset / caliber of the players on the court? If it was due to fatigue, then this year should be no problem. Boeheim is going to find it tough enough to find playing time for his trio of guards; rest won’t be a problem. If it was due to the mental makeup of the guys on the court last year, guys like Flynn and Harris, then it will be interesting. The advantage this year is that Devendorf and Rautins are around to step in, and we know they play with poise down the stretch.

All in all, it looks to be a very good year for the Orange. They likely won’t be going 25-6 in the regular season; but a 22-9 season would be outstanding for them, and 20-11 very good.

Let’s go Orange.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Best Backcourts Ever

Syracuse has an overabundance of talent at the guard position entering the 2008-2009 season. The starting backcourt at the end of the 2006-2007 season has returned from a season off due to injury (Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins), and the backcourt from last season returns (Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Scoop Jardine). Jardine appears to be heading for a medical redshirt for this season, which will remove some of the clutter, and Harris will likely play his natural small forward position. A remaining backcourt of Flynn, Devendorf and Rautins is still an impressive trio.

How will this year’s backcourt compare to those of Syracuse’s past? The Orange have a long history of outstanding backcourts, and outstanding individuals in those backcourts. Back in October 2006, I had addressed my top five front courts of all time for Syracuse, but I must admit I held off on the backcourts because I found it quite challenging. As a general rule I tried to avoid considering a backcourt with one or two players from another season, but of course, rules are made to be broken. And if three players rotated through the backcourt, I counted them all. That having been said, here is my top 10 Syracuse backcourts, in reverse order:

At number 10 I have the 1978-1979 triumvirate of Hal Cohen, Marty Headd and Eddie Moss. This trio played together for two seasons, but I chose their first season together as their best effort. Eddie Moss was a good playmaker and a great defensive player, Cohen a solid playmaker with a nice jump shot and Headd a tremendous mid range jump shooter. This tri did not do a ton of scoring, but still had decent numbers with Cohen at 8.1 ppg, Headd 12.4 and Moss 6.6 ppg. But they did not need to score much when the front court was loaded with Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr, Dale Shackleford and Danny Schayes. This team would go to a 26-4 record.

At number 9 is the 1973-1974 duo of Dennis DuVal and Jimmy Lee. This team ran a ‘showtime’ style offense at coach Roy Danforth’s request, with DuVal putting the ‘flash’ on things, averaging 20.6 points a game with 3.4 assists. Lee was the perfect compliment, a clutch perimeter shooter with 13.7 ppg along with 4.1 assists; Lee was deadly at the free throw line making 81.3% of his charity shots. I would have ranked this duo higher, but Syracuse finished at 19-7, and the sum of the parts of the whole team did not seem to match that of the individuals.

At number 8 is the 1993-1994 backcourts of Adrian Autry and Lawrence Moten. This was one of my favorite backcourts to watch with the big (6’4”) steady Autry at the point, and the smooth all-around terrific play of ‘Poetry in ‘ Moten at the two guard. Both Autry and Moten could score (16.7 ppg and 20.5 ppg respectively), and both were decent rebounders. Moten’s perimeter shooting suffered that year, though he led the team in 3 point shots made, and Autry hit 37% of this perimeter shots. There was nothing dynamic about this duo, just good solid basketball, and they both racked up a few 30 point games that year.

Number 7 is the 1985-1986 backcourt of Pearl Washington and Rafael Addison. Jim Boeheim had moved the underrated Addison from forward to the backcourt to get Howard Triche into the starting lineup, giving Syracuse tremendous talent in the backcourt. The Pearl was spectacular in what would be his last season on the hill, scoring 17.3 ppg and averaging 7.8 assists, and continuing to prove that he one man press breaker. Addison had a solid season with 15 ppg, 4.2 assists, and 5.6 rebounds, but was hampered by a leg injury during the second half of the season, affecting both his and the team’s play.

Number 6 is the 1965-1966 backcourt of Dave Bing, Jim Boeheim and Sam Penceal. Coach Fred Lewis employed a three guard offense most the season with Bing playing more the small forward than guard position. However, this backcourt makes the list purely on his talent along. Penceal was an outstanding defensive player who was called up to stop the opposing team’s leading scorer (he did an outstanding job on Bill Bradley one year). Boeheim was a stead guard averaging 14.6 ppg, and making almost 57% of his shots. But Bing was the star, averaging a school record 28.4 ppg, along with 6.6 assists and 10.8 rebounds. This Syracuse squad was the first NCAA team to average 100 ppg for the regular season (their average dropped below that in the post season), as the Orangemen went on to a 22-6 record.

At number 5 was the 1971-1972 backcourt of Dennis DuVal and Greg Kohls. This was probably the most spectacular scoring backcourt of Syracuse history, with the flashy DuVal averaging 15.8 points a game driving to the hoop, and Kohls launching shots from all locations long and far, averaging an amazing 26.7 points a game (keeping in mind, there was no three point basket). Kohls was one of the greatest free throw shooters in Syracuse history, hitting 86.4% of his attempts that year (and he knew how to draw the foul getting 257 attempts). This was ‘Roys Runts’ where Syracuse had four starters 6’1” or shorter, and a center at 6’5”. Yet, they were able to go 22-6 in part to a scrappy team persona, and in part to this tremendous backcourt.

At number 4 was the 1930-1931 Reindeer Five backcourt of Ev Katz and Dan Fogarty. The duo played together for three seasons, and this was their third and final year. Katz was one of the leading scorers on the team, averaging nearly 10 points a game, and was tremendous as the one handed set shot. Fogarty was the best defensive player on the team and was counted upon to shut down the leading scorer of the other team, regardless of the position he played. Both were extremely fast players, and the Orangemen would go 16-4 that year (after going 11-4 and 18-2 in their first two years together).

Number 3 is the 1933-1934 backcourt of Elmer ‘Elky’ Maister and Ronnie Phillips. Maister and Phillips were considered by many to be the best backcourt in Syracuse for the first half of the century. The duo started together for three years, with Maister being the team’s defensive specialist and Phillips the team’s deadeye shooter. Phillips would lead the team in scoring their senior year at 8 ½ points a game, as the Orangemen would go 15-2, 12-0 at home.

At number 2 is the 2002-2003 trio of Gerry McNamara, Kueth Duany and Billy Edelin. McNamara was the surprise point guard because Edelin was suspended for the first semester. This trio provided coach Boeheim with a perfect compliment of tools. McNamara turned out to be very adept at the point, and was as clutch a three point shooter as ever that season, on his way to 13.3 ppg. McNamara was also the schools best free throw shooter ever, icing games down the stretch with his 90.9% charity shooting. Duany was the perfect zone defender with a long lanky 6’4” body and great athleticism, plus the experience of being a 23 year old senior. Duany also was a decent three point shooter and rebounder, providing valuable contributions in both areas. Edelin was a big point guard (6’4”) able to pass over the zone, and to dribble penetrate down to the low post for the easy layup or dish off for nice pass. The trio helped Syracuse to the National Championship that season, each with their clutch performances along the way.

The top backcourt of all time would have to be the 1986-1987 duo of Sherman Douglas and Greg Monroe. Monroe had come to Syracuse as a point guard, but spent his first three seasons as a backup to the Pearl. Douglas backed up the Pearl his freshman year. Both got the chance to start this season with the Pearl and Addison gone, and they did not disappoint. Douglas picked up where Washington left off, running the Syracuse offense on high octane, and introducing the alley-oop pass as a staple play in the Syracuse playbook. Douglas could seem to make an assist pass from anywhere on the court, and down the stretch he had no problems stepping up and being ‘the guy’ to take the crucial shots. Monroe provided the steady hand in the backcourt, providing more playmaking, and outstanding three point shooting. Monroe developed the technique of camping outside the three point line and waiting for Douglas to kick back a pass to him for an open three (which Monroe hit 43.9% of during the season). The duo would help the Orangemen win the Big East Regular Season title, and would help the team to within a basket of winning the 1987 National Championship.