Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pinstripe Bowl Champs 2010

Congratulations to the Syracuse Orange football team for beating Kansas State 36-34 and winning the Pinstripe Bowl, finishing the year at 8-5. Quite an amazing turnaround for the program, and recognition to Doug Marrone for the job well done.

Delone Carter ended his Orange career with a bang with 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ryan Nassib put together a solid effort with 240 yards and 3 touchdowns, no interceptions.

And junior Marcus Sales had his coming out party with 5 receptions for 172 yards and 3 touchdowns. This from a receiver who began the day with 242 yards receiving for the entire season with 1 touchdown (and only five tds for his career).

This will be a nice way to spend the winter, watching Syracuse hoops, and actually anticipating Syracuse football next fall.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Keep Grabbing the Boards

Rick Jackson pulled down another 17 rebounds last evening in the Orange’s win over Providence. Jackson now has 171 rebounds in the first 14 games this year, for an average of 12.2 rebounds per game.

How good is Jackson’s rebounding this year? The last Orangeman to have 10+ rpg was Carmelo Anthony in 2002-2003 when the fab frosh had 349 rebounds in 35 games for a 10.0 rpg average. Prior to Anthony, was Billy Owens in 1990-1991. [Click here for list of Syracuse rebounding leaders]

Jon Cincebox holds the Syracuse record for the best rebounds per game with an impressive 16.4 in the 1957-1958 season. Cincebox had 345 rebounds in 21 games that year. He would return his senior year for 365 rebounds in 23 games for a 15.9 average.

Cincebox’s rebounding average will likely never be challenged by a player in the ‘modern’ era unless the nature of the game changes. In the 1950s the shooting percentage was a lot lower, so there were a lot more rebounds to get. Teams also tended to have a couple of big guys do all the rebounding, so the rebounds were not being shared around as much.

Derrick Coleman holds the Syracuse record for most rebounds in a season with 422 in his junior season, 1988-1989, for 11.1 rpg. He would have 12.1 rpg his senior year, but the Orangemen would only have 33 games that year, so his total was a little lower at 398 rebounds.

As I’ve commented in previous articles, Coleman’s rebounding efforts are really impressive when you consider that he spent his entire career having to fight for rebounds with the likes of great rebounders such as Rony Seikaly, Stephen Thompson and Billy Owens.

Jackson is finally playing hard and focused each and every game. I criticized him the past two years for his inconsistent play, but that has not been the case this year. His off season dedication is paying off, as is the 25 lb weight loss.

Jackson has a good chance at the Syracuse single rebounding record set by Coleman. Syracuse has 31 scheduled games this year, and we can safely assume they will have at least four post season games (two Big East, two NCAA), so at least 35 games. Jackson’s current pace of 12.2 would give him a total of 427 rebounds, just breaking Coleman’s mark. If Syracuse were to make any post season run in the Big East Tournament or NCAA, they may have 38-39 games, which would require Jackson to average only 10.9 rpg for the season, and only a 10.0 rpg for the remaining games of the season.

The Big East will be tougher for Jackson, but if he remains focused and healthy, he has a good shot at it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

AP Top 10 Ranking Streaks

Syracuse is in the midst of a streak of 44 straight games where they have been ranked in the top 10 of the AP’s Polls. Mike Waters brought this up in his Q&A this week, and it is the longest streak in Syracuse basketball history, by far. Syracuse entered the top 10 on November 24, 2009 and are still there, currently at number 5.

The Orange have had 12 streaks in their history where they have been in the top 10 for 10 or more games in a row, all of them occurring in the Jim Boeheim era.

The first streak occurred in the 1978-1979 season, starting on February 7, 1979 and ending March 16, 1979, the end of the season. That was the Louie & Bouie era, and it would cover 10 games.

The next season the Orangemen would start its first long streak covering 26 games from December 15, 1979 through the end of the season, March 14, 1980. This was Roosevelt Bouie and Louis Orr’s senior season and the team finished 26-4.

It would be a dry spell for a few years until the Orangemen hit the top 10 again, and Pearl Washington was a big reason for it. The Pearl, Rafael Addison and Wendell Alexis started the 1985 season (November 23) in the top 10 and remained there for 17 games until January 25th, 1986.

The top 10 would be home to the Orangemen for the next few seasons, with Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly, Stevie Thompson and Billy Owens leading the way.

They would be in the top 10 for 13 straight games from December 26, 1986 to January 31st, 1987. They would then go 26 straight games from March 1987 through January 18,1988.

Later in 1988, they would start another 20 game streak from March 17th to January 16th, 1989. A couple weeks later they would start the teams second longest streak ever with 29 games from February 11, 1989 through January 20, 1990. And finally, the last long streak of that era would be Billy Owens junior year where the Orangemen spent the last 29 games of the year (December 1, 1990 through March 14,1991) in the top 10.

It was quite a run for the Orangemen, but the threat of probation, and then finally probation itself, would derail the Orangemen for a few season.

Lawrence Moten and John Wallace would bring the Orangemen back to the top 10 with a 12 game stay from January 3, 1995 through February 12, 1995. The Orangemen would lose in overtime to Arkansas in the NCAA tournament that year. Ironically, the following season the Orangemen would never crack the top 10, yet would play for the National Championship against Kentucky (a close game they would eventually lose).

The Orangemen would have another dry spell, until December 22, 1999 when the defensive minded team of Etan Thomas, Jason Hart and Ryan Blackwell would lead them on a 17 game streak. The streak ended February 19, 2010.

The Orangemen would not make the top ten consistently again until 2004. Keep in mind, that the would include the 2002-2003 Orangemen, who would win the NCAA Championship, but never rise any higher than 12 in the AP polls.

From November 11, 2004 to February 19, 2005, Hakim Warrik and Gerry McNamara led the Orange to a 27 game streak in the top 10.

Which brings us back to the current SU squad at 44 games and counting. I don’t think the Orange are better than all the squads mentioned above, but their streak is quite impressive. And they have definitely been playing some of the best defense in Syracuse basketball history the past couple of seasons.

Tonight against Providence is the start of the Big East season for the Orange. Each and every game will be a battle, and it will be interesting to see how this squad responds each game.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ho Hum. 10-0 (again)

Syracuse is now 10-0 this season, joining an elite group of Syracuse teams that have started out 10-0 or better. This year’s team is now the 17th team to accomplish the feat. For those of us with short memories, last season’s team also started out 10-0; in fact they would go 13-0 before losing their first game, on their way to a 30-5 season.

This team has a long ways to go to equal the best start in school history. The 1999-2000 squad started out 19-0. Perfection has occurred only once on the Hill, with the 1913-1914 squad going 12-0.

This year’s team is terribly flawed with an inconsistent, if not weak, perimeter game and generally poor free throw shooting. It relies on four freshman in key roles. These factors can spell a loss when the Orange face a hot shooting opponent.

The one thing this team has is an outstanding defense, carrying over from last season. I have seen some fans mention they think this year’s team defense is the best ever for Syracuse. I think that is a very short term memory; last year’s defense was outstanding, and was ‘Shut it Down’. But, having a defense this year that you may be tempted to compare to last year’s defense is quite a lot of praise in itself. Great defense stops the opposition from scoring, and provides high percentage shots on offense, something this year’s team greatly needs.

Until the past two games, this year’s team had a very difficult time separating itself from any of its opponents, regardless of the level of competition. But they have won them all, and that is what matters. The last two games have been spectacular defensive efforts. They pulled away from a highly rated Michigan State team early in the game, and pretty much kept the Spartans down the whole game. And then they had an outstanding defensive effort against a weak Colgate team for the most lopsided win in the Boeheim era. Now the MSU game is slightly tarnished by the fact that the Spartans almost lost to Oakland a few nights later, but make no mistake that MSU is very good.

Syracuse has three more non-conference games before the Big East season begins. They could lose any of those three, but they will be favored to win each. So they have a very good chance to be 13-0. They start Big East action on December 28th versus Providence; at that point, each game will be a dog fight. To go 19-0, the Orange would have to beat Providence, #23 Notre Dame, Seton Hall, St. Johns, Cincinnati, and #8 Pitt at the Pederson Center. 20-0 would require a win against #11 Villanova.

I’m fairly certain 19-0 will not occur. But where will that first loss come?
By the way, for those of you not paying attention, Jim Boeheim is currently 45-5 for his last two seasons, including 9-2 versus top 25 teams, and 7-0 against top 10 teams. Too bad he doesn't ever play anyone.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Getting to Know the Horned Frogs

Texas Christian University (TCU) is now officially entering the Big East, effective July 2012. Football is the reason, and the only reason, that TCU is being added to the conference, and short term the decision is wise, though I think long term other solutions may have been more prudent. Whether or not the Big East could have lasted until ‘long term’ came into fruition is a debate for another day, another time.

What does TCU bring to the table for Big East basketball? The TCU Horned Frogs have been playing basketball since 1908-1909, and have an overall record of 1091-1250 (entering the 2010-2011 season). Football clearly has been a focus for TCU over the years, not basketball. It is in Texas, so that focus is not a surprise. The Big East did have to make a move to bolster its football presence, and it was inevitable that whatever team they brought it was likely going to not include a solid basketball program.

TCU has been to the NCAA tournament seven times and only twice in the last 25 years: 1952, 1953, 1959, 1968, 1971, 1987 and 1998. They have not had a winning record since the 2004-2005 season when they went 21-14. Their record in each of the past nine seasons has been:

2001-02: 16-15
2002-03: 9-19
2003-04: 12-17
2005-06: 21-14
2005-06: 6-25
2006-07: 13-17
2007-08: 14-16
2008-09: 14-17
2009-10: 13-19

Current coach Jim Christian is now entering this third year with the program. Syracuse is 4-0 all time against TCU.

Notable athletes who are alumni of TCU include: Sammy Baugh, Jamie Dixon (Pitt’s current basketball coach), Bob Lilly, Mike Renfro, and LaDainian Tomlinson. TCU has had 8 All-Americans play basketball for their program: Ad Dietzel (1931), Wallace Myers (1934), George McLeod (1952), Dick O’Neal (1955, 1956, 1957), H.E. Kirchner (1959), Kurt Thomas (1995), Lee Nailon (1998) and Mike Jones (1998).

If you would like more information about TCU’s basketball program, here’s a link to their program guide.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

2010-2011 Milestones

Syracuse has a younger team in 2010-2011 than in the past few years, but that does not mean the squad does not have a chance to reach some significant milestones.

Jim Boeheim entered the season with 828 wins and #6 all-time on the Division I All-Time Win list. He’s moved up to #5 passing Jim Phelan’s 830 wins. He won’t be moving any higher up this list this year with Mike Krzyzewski active and at #4 with 868 (start of year), Adolph Rupp at #3 with 876, Dean Smith at #2 with 879, and Bob Knight at #1 with 902. Krzyzewski, on the other hand, it going to move up to #2 this year, easily passing Rupp & Smith.

I show the university currently having 1788 wins. 12 more will give the institution 1800.

Entering this season, Rick Jackson has 786 points, needing 214 to hit the 1000 point plateau. He should pass that around mid-season, and finish around #33 all-time at Syracuse.

Jackson has 570 career rebounds, plus 42 already this season, moving him up to 612, #28 all-time. If he averages just 10 rebounds a game this year, he should move to #8 passing Billy Owens. If he stayed at his current pace of 14 rpg (which he won’t), he would finish around #3 all-time.

Scoop Jardine has 499 career points. He needs 501 to reach 1,000 which is not out of reach. If he scored around 14.4 points a game this year, he would get there. Kris Joseph is in the same situation with 495 career points, needing 504 this year.

Jardine started the year with 233 assists and is currently at 253 putting him at #33 on the all-time list. He could finish the year somewhere around 480 assists all-time, putting him at #7 all-time. Two solid back-to-back seasons would give him a shot at being #2, surpassing Jason Hart. Sherman Douglas’ record of 960 should be safe.

Brandon Triche has 32 three point field goals after his freshman year. If keeps his current pace of 70 for this year, he will be #15 all-time at Syracuse. If he averaged 70 a year for the next three years, he would finish around #3 all-time at Syracuse. The Syracuse single season mark is 107 set by Gerry McNamara.

Four freshman have the potential to see significant playing time, so some freshman records should be observed. I do not think any of these will be broken, but they could. Blocked shots is something that Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita both do well, and both could move into the freshman top 10:

Freshman blocks:
91 Roosevelt Bouie
68 Derrick Coleman
65 Craig Forth
64 Jeremy McNeil
59 Rony Seikaly
57 Donte Greene
48 Etan Thomas
44 Rick Jackson
42 Otis Hill
39 John Wallace

Most points by a freshman is 778 by Carmelo Anthony, and that is not going to be broken this year.

The SU record for most fouls by a freshman is a 120 set by Derrick Coleman. Melo could take a run at that one. The all-time Syracuse record for fouls was by Otis Hill who as a junior had 134 fouls. That may also be possible.

The SU record for foul disqualifications for a freshman is 11 set by Rony Seikaly (this is also the all-class record). Melo already has 2 this year, so he could make a good run at that mark (hopefully not).

The freshman assist record is 199 by Pearl Washington. With none of the freshman taking on the role of point guard, and Syracuse two deep with Jardine and Triche, that is not going to be broken.

The freshman rebound record is 349 by Carmelo Anthony. That would require about 10 rebounds a game. If Keita had enough playing time and enough big 15 rebound games, he could challenge it, but I think he’ll play about 20 minutes a game, and be luck to average 5-6 rebounds a game.

The Syracuse all-time season field goal percentage is 66.8% set by Arinze Onuaku last year. There are guys on this team who in theory could challenge that mark: Jackson, Melo or Keita if they get enough chances. But my guess is no one will come close.

The SU record for rebounds in a season is 422 set by Derrick Coleman. If Jackson remains committed to rebounding, he could take a run at it. Jackson is averaging 14 rebounds a game right now, which would obliterate the record; however, that number is unrealistically high, with his 22 rebound performance skewing that. Nevertheless, an average of about 12.1 rebounds a game would give him a shot at the season record.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three Down

Jim Boeheim is going to have his work cut out for him this season. Rick Jackson has historically been an inconsistent player, and is suddenly your most consistent player, that may raise some concern. Jackson had an outstanding night against Detroit with 22 rebounds, following a very solid 13 rebound effort against Canisius. A consistent strong effort from Jackson each game will go a long way in making the Orange a strong winner.

Scoop Jardine was the hero of the night with an effort very much like Sherman Douglas; 27 pts, 8 assists, 5 steals and only 3 turnovers. I criticized Jardine the other night because I thought he was taking too much shots, and I think in the first two games that was true. However, last night, excellent job by Jardine in recognizing that he had to do the scoring, and then in following through on it. And the eight assists shows that he did not give up on his teammates.

Boeheim loved how Baye Moussa Keita played during his time on the court, despite the stats, and I'm glad to hear it. At least we know three guys came to play last night. The rest of the squad, I'm not going to waste time talking about their lack of performance, and hopefully it will all clear up in a game or so. It had better.

Meanwhile, some great quotes from Boeheim in his post game press conference. This is a pot shot at himself, referring to his own criticism of the Orange:
"We're better than this. Whoever said we are overrated... you know, you can't listen to those people anyways. Most of those people are idiots anyways".
We all knew Boeheim bled Orange. Nice to see him close his comments with some pep for the football team.
"Saturday night, let's get out there. Let's beat Connecticut. Let's beat those guys, alright."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

2010 Results After Two

Congratulations to Coach Jim Boeheim for this 831st career winning, giving him sole possession of the title of 5th all-time winningnest NCAA Div I basketball coach.

And congrats to the Syracuse football team for its 7th win, making the team bowl eligible for the first time since 2004, and guaranteeing their first winning season since 2001. All of this with two games left on the schedule.

Syracuse basketball is 2-0, and the team is starting to show its character for the year, with a solid win over a good mid-major program (Northern Iowa) and a win over one of its easier local teams (Canisius). Both games involved a tight first half, with a solid defensive effort throughout the game, and a explosive run to start the second half.

Rick Jackson showed us today the reminder of how well he can play when focused with a 17 point, 13 rebound effort againt Canisius. We do have to remember that he has shown that ability before and then disappeared, but it is a good early sign. Brandon Triche seems to be fitting in comfortable with his shooting guard role, hitting 4 of 9 three point shots. And I always like having a shooting guard who can also play the point.

Scoop Jardine had 8 assists today which puts a smile on my face; I wish he had taken less than 19 shots from the field in the first two games. I always like the point guard to pass first, shoot later, particularly early in the game as to involve his teammates. 12 assists and only three turnovers so far is excellent news.

C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters are showing signs they will be pushing for their share of playing time, and Mookie Jones and James Southerland look like they want to both earn the title as designated three point shooter off the bench. So there may be some good depth, though I think it may be situational.

The Orange have also shown that they are staying committed to executing the Syracuse zone defense. I think that may be the most positive of all the good news so far.

The center position is going to be interesting. Fab Melo is having a ton of foul problems early in this season, having fouled out of both games after a combined playing time of 31 minutes. Fouling out in 13 minutes against a much smaller Canisius is something that I hope is a good learning experience for the freshman. It is tough to tell really how good he may be with the limited playing time.

Baye Moussa Keita has played rather impressively in his reserve role. The freshman pulled down 15 rebounds against the Griffins earlier today, in only 17 minutes of play. That is the most rebounds by an Orangeman since Paul Harris had 16 rebounds against Stephen F. Austin in the 2009 NCAA tournament. Keita did manage to foul out of the Northern Iowa opener in 18 minutes of play, a rather impressive feat for both SU centers to pull in the same game. But I am impressed with the early showing of Keita, and having some early signs of strong potential for him is excellent news as it looks like Melo will definitely be getting some bench time this season due to his foul troubles. Bernie Fine is definitely going to have his work cut out for him. I had hoped to find an early career parallel with Rony Seikaly. But Seikaly, even as foul prone has he was as a freshman, managed to not foul out of either of his first two games, against two quality opponents, Georgia Tech and DePaul. Seikaly played 32 minutes with 3 fouls in his first game, and 29 minutes with 4 fouls in his second.

This is the type of season where the non-conference schedule becomes vitally important for the Syracuse freshman to learn how to play the college game, make the adjustments to the officiating and to the speed of the game.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day 2010

On this Veterans day, as I have done each year past, 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 has been tradition at OrangeHoops, 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 (each year I add a few more). 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
Bradley Barnard
Meyer Bloom
Jim Casey
Ed Cronauer
John Cronauer
Charles Fasce
Russ Finsterwald
Ken Harris
Ted Huntley
Bernie Kates
Ken Lavin
Nathan Malefski
Danny Martin
Walter ‘Dutch’ Notman
Walter Peters
Elias Raff
Billy Rafter
Horace Ruffin
Courtland Sanney

In World War II, the following served:
Jim Ackerson
Lou Alkoff
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
Mark Haller
Lew Hayman
Bill Hennemuth
Tom Huggins
George Jarvis
Jim Konstanty
Stan Kruse (Kruszewski)
Glenn Loucks
Guy Luciano
Saul Mariaschin
Tom McTiernan
Francis Miller
Joe Minsavage
Andy Mogish
Roy Peters
Hank Piro
Phil Rakov
John Schroeder
Bill Schubert
Bob Shaddock
Wilmeth Sidat-Singh
Red Stanton
Mike Stark
Bobby Stewart
Joe Sylvestri
Charles Taggart
Ray Tice

In Korea the following served:
Reaves Baysinger, Jr

In Vietnam, the following served:
Reaves Baysinger, Jr
George Crofoot
Rick Dean

The following were veterans who served but were fortunate to miss a war era:
Art Barr
Mel Besdin
Rudy Cosentino
Roy Danforth
Ronnie Kilpatrick
George Koesters
Tom Jockle
Jack Malone
Frank Reddout

Four 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.

Joe Minsavage was killed in World War II on June 19, 1943 when his ship was attacked and he was lost at sea.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Freshman Centers on the Hill

Freshman have been eligible to play NCAA Division I basketball since the 1973-1974 season. The first freshman center to start for Syracuse was in Coach Jim Boeheim’s first season 1976-1977. It was a notable freshman center with Roosevelt Bouie starting all 30 games that season, and Syracuse running to a remarkable 26-4 record, before bowing out of the NCAA tournament in the 2nd round.

In the Boeheim era, there have been six freshman who were the starting centers the majority of their first year on the Hill. In chronological order they are Bouie, Andre Hawkins, Rony Seikaly, Otis Hill, Jeremy McNeil and Craig Forth. Fab Melo looks to be number seven on that list.

The results for those first year freshman centers is mixed. All have been unpolished offensive players, to a variety of different degrees. Some were strong defensive presences their first season with their shot block ability, while others looked to plug a hole.

Bouie was by far the best freshman center at Syracuse, and at 6’11” he was highly recognizable on the court. Although he was not a solid offensive player, he could run the court and score inside, making 54% of his shots. He was not adept at drawing fouls that season, getting to the line only 55 times, but he made a remarkable 84% of his attempts (remarkable because he would be a career 66% free throw shooter). Bouie would struggle with fouls all four years at Syracuse, but he managed to play 25 minutes a game his freshman year, and had a respectable 10.9 ppg and 8.1 rpg. His big difference on the court was his 91 blocked shots, which set a defensive tone for the Orangemen, on their way to a 26-4 record.

Andre Hawkins would be the next freshman center at Syracuse. At 6’6”, 240 lbs, Hawkins was counted on to plug the hole in the middle resulting from the graduation of Danny Schayes. Hawkins was a bruiser inside, but he had limited offensive skills, and with no height was not much of a defensive threat. Hawkins would make 62% of his limited shots, for a 5.6 ppg average, and had only 3.9 rpg. Hawk struggled with fouls all season, and the Orangemen struggled to their worst season under Coach Boeheim at 16-13.

Rony Seikaly came onto the scene in 1984-1985, and at 6’10”, 235 lbs, he made his defensive presence know immediately. Seikaly would have 59 blocked shots his freshman year, score 8.1 ppg, and pull down 6.4 rpg. His offensive skills were limited to a tomahawk dunk, and he made about 54% of his shot attempts. Seikaly did redshirt his true freshman year, so he had one season of practice under his belt when he did start. He struggled with fouls, being disqualified from 11 of the 31 games he would play, averaging 25 minutes per game. Seikaly was important enough to the squad that his presence moved senior Andre Hawkins from center to power forward. Syracuse would finish 22-9 and go to the NCAA tournament.

Otis Hill was the next freshman center in 1993-1994. Hill was built like Hawkins, though a little bit bigger at 6’8”, 235 lbs. Hill was very foul prone, fouling out of 10 games, and averaging 24 minutes per game. When he did play, he managed 7.9 ppg, along with 5.6 rpg, and had 42 blocked shots. Hill was a bruiser inside, but also had some passing skills with 36 assists. He did beat out sophomore J.B. Reafsnyder for the starting position. Syracuse would go 23-7 that season; it didn’t hurt that the Orangemen had the talented Lawrence Moten and John Wallace on the squad.

Next was Jeremy McNeil in 2000-2001. McNeil was probably the least skilled offensive player of the six mentioned, with all of his shots being dunk attempts or put-backs near the hoop. He would make 65% of his shots from the close proximity. McNeil at 6’8”, 257 lbs, loved to block shots, and was extremely foul prone while trying to do that. He would end up with 65 blocked shots, but also play only 16 minutes a game with 103 fouls and 10 disqualifications. McNeil would average only 2.5 ppg along with 3.2 rpg, and junior Billy Celuck spent a lot of time relieving him.

Craig Forth would arrive on the scene the next season (2001-2002) and would replace McNeil as the starting center. Forth, at 7’, was a completely different style of player from McNeil. Forth was a very passive natured player, whereas McNeil was ultra-aggressive. Forth was good at passing the ball (41 assists), and unlike most of the freshman centers for Syracuse, did not mind stepping away from the hoop (he made only 44% of his field goal attempts). Forth was adept at using his wide body to fill up the middle of the zone, and box out apposing offensive players, which made him far more attractive to Coach Jim Boeheim and his zone defense. Forth would average only 4.6 ppg, along with 4.5 rpg, as Syracuse went 23-13 and lost in the NIT Final Four.

There were some other notable freshman centers. Danny Schayes, in 1977-1978, was a decent offensive player in terms of basic skills. He unfortunately had to sit behind sophomore Roosevelt Bouie. Schayes would average 4.7 ppg and 4.0 rpg that year.

Richie Manning was a decent freshman player in 1988-1989, who may have started for a lot of teams. But he entered an extremely talented squad that saw junior All-American Derrick Coleman shift to center so that freshman sensation Billy Owens could make the starting lineup. There were not too many minutes for Manning to pick up, but in the 10 minutes a game he go, he did average 3.4 ppg and 1.8 rpg. Manning, at 6’11”, 253 lbs, was a solid offensive player, who needed more work on the defensive end of the court. Despite playing only 10 minutes a game, he picked up 61 fouls, or one every 5.7 minutes of play.

Etan Thomas is the other freshman center of note. Thomas sat behind senior Otis Hill and sophomore Elvir Ovcina, yet due to injuries on the team, and his own improved play, he would start 12 games and average 16 minutes a game. Thomas was an excellent shot blocker getting 48 blocks in his limited playing time, and scoring 5.7 ppg with 4.2 rpg. The team would struggle going 19-13, and went 8-4 in the 12 games he started.

2010-2011 has Syracuse looking at starting 7’ freshman phenom Fab Melo. DaShonte Riley may have fought him for that position originally, but with Riley’s injury, it looks like Melo will be the seventh freshman center for Syracuse. Like all the other freshman centers, he is a raw offensive talent, with a lot of defensive potential. Like Bouie, Seikaly and McNeil, he will be counted on at times to alter a game with his shot blocking skills. Melo is probably the most highly touted center coming to Syracuse since Roosevelt Bouie, which puts him in very good company. Then again, there is a lot for a freshman to learn.

Syracuse did very well with Bouie at center, but he is the exception. The other teams with freshman centers have been average Syracuse NCAA caliber squads, to NIT quality squads. Freshman basketball players have a lot to learn, and centers are usually far less polished than guards and forwards. Their size does allow them to make some immediate contributions, but history also tells us that they struggle to stay on the court because of a tendency to be in foul trouble. On a Syracuse team that will not have a lot of depth at center, that could be bad news. Senior Rick Jackson will surely move from his forward positions at times and play center giving Melo a breather, as will fellow freshman Baye Moussa Keita.

I am hoping Melo is the next Bouie. Even a Seikaly level season would be good for this squad which will have talent and experience in other positions. It is tough to tell how good Melo will be. As many of you know, I am not one to jump on the recruiting hype machine, rather waiting to see what develops. I am eager to see how it all plays out.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What to Expect in 2010-2011?

The 2010-2011 season is almost upon us, and as is the life in collegiate basketball, the churn of the team continues. Last season was a magical ride, that ultimately ended too early, but had the Orange running at the top echelon of collegiate hoops for the bulk of the competitive season.

Last season was a surprise, and many factors came together to make the team one of the strongest in Syracuse basketball history.

1) The emergence of Wes Johnson as a top tier NCAA basketball player. Coach Jim Boeheim was telling everyone how good Johnson was in practice in 2009-2010, and how good he thought he would be. Yet no one wanted to believe the Hall of Fame coach, despite Boeheim having a long history of understating how good the new players were. Johnson ended up being better than I believe Boeheim even believed he could be.

2) The re-emergence of the shutdown zone defense, something that was not seen operating in its full beauty since the 2002-2003 season. The improvement in the zone defense itself should not have been a surprise as the change in personnel alone signaled an improvement would occur in the zone. Eric Devendorf never pretended to play defense, and Paul Harris never understood the nuances of playing zone defense. Jonny Flynn, as talented as he is, was more suited for man-to-man defense, and undersized for the top of the key in the zone defense. Those three were switched out for a 6’4” Brandon Triche at the top of the key, 6’5” Andy Rautins who was a master of zone defense, and 6’7” Wes Johnson whose natural athleticism and understanding of the game allowed him to fill that back end of the zone well. Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku were both a year older and more mature, and the extra year of playing in the Boeheim zone only benefited them. So we knew the zone would be better; I don’t we think could have anticipated that it would have been a phenomenal defense. That was the surprise.

3) A selfless team led by two selfless players in Rautins and Johnson. The 2009-2010 team made the extra pass, played a style of basketball the rewarded teammates for hustling down the court. The team moved the ball well around the perimeter and inside-out, resulting in some outstanding interior shooting by Jackson and Onuaku, and some excellent perimeter shooting by Rautins, Johnson, and Triche.

4) Experience, experience, experience. Syracuse did have three new starters in the squad in 2009-2010, but Rautins was a fifth year senior, and Johnson a fourth year junior, both with plenty of collegiate experience. Jackson was in this third year of the program, and Onuaku in this fifth. Scoop Jardine came off the bench as a third year sophomore. Kris Joseph was in his second season as a reserve with plenty of experience his freshman year, leaving only Brandon Triche as the inexperienced player. This team had a lot of experience, particularly in the correct positions.

5) An easier schedule in 2009-2010 than in 2008-2009. Now don’t get me wrong; last season was a very difficult season, and Syracuse was outstanding in playing that season. Last year they played 10 games versus top 25 teams, and the Orange went 8-2, including 6-0 versus top 10 teams. The only losses to top 25 teams occurred when Arinze Onuaku was no longer effectively in the squad. In 2008-2009, they played 15 games versus top 25 teams; that is an absurb number, and the Orange went a respectable 7-8. They played 4 games against top 5 teams, going 1-3.

Clearly, a lot of things went well for the Orange last season. Addition by subtraction. Maturation/improvement from all the key players; that doesn’t always happen. I team that bought into the ‘team concept’ and played outstanding team defense.

The coaching staff is back, and that constant had led to the ongoing success in the Boeheim era. The single concept of Jim Boeheim being there every year is absolutely vital for the program’s continued success. Keeping the key assistants in Mike Hopkins, Bernie Fine and Rob Murphy is also vital.

Syracuse is bringing in some top flight talent, which is a change from last year where there were no top 50 recruits in SU’s starting lineup. Syracuse does have some experience coming back, which again will help them out. Scoop Jardine will be a fourth year junior, and Rick Jackson a pure senior. Kris Joseph will be in his third year, and was third in minutes for the Orange last year. Many, including myself, are expecting Joseph to continue to elevate his game. Brandon Triche now has a year of collegiate basketball under his belt, and Mookie Jones is now in his third year with the program. James Southerland had a year of practicing against Onuaku and Johnson last year, so I am eager to see how he has improved.

The incoming freshman are highly touted. Fab Melo is being counted on for some valuable minutes at the center. Replacing Onuaku will be very difficult, and Melo is a different style player, and only a freshman. Freshman centers are often the least disciplined players in their first years, having to make the biggest adjustments, so it will be asking a lot for Melo to be star in year one. But he could be. Baye Moussa Keita, a lanky but athletic freshman, will back him up.

Syracuse will be a little bit smaller at the top of the key with Jardine (6’2”) replacing Rautins (6’5”); but Jardine is not inexperienced at the zone. Freshman Dion Waiters, at 6’4”, should be a nice piece of the zone at the top, if he understands the concept.

The loss of Onuaku in the back of the zone will hurt a lot. Arinze took up a lot of space horizontally, and had tremendous strength. Rick Jackson will likely play some center this year, and has a similar build, but that removes size from Jackson’s former position. Melo, at 7’, would definitely fill up space, but he will have a lot to learn. Joseph at 6’7” should be a good replacement for Johnson. Sophomore James Sutherland and freshman CJ Fair, both at 6’8”, should be able to provide some wingspan on the back of that zone.

If the returning players from last year can convince the new players to buy into the concept that won so many games last year, and some of the players continue to develop, 2010-2011 can be another exciting year.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

2010 OrangeHoops Hall of Fame Selection

In 2007, OrangeHoops inducted its charter class into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame: Dave Bing, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Vic Hanson, and Pearl Washington. In 2008 Billy Owens was added to that list, and in 2009 Billy Gabor. So the list now stands at 8. Another year has passed, and now it is time for the 2010 inductee.

I won’t bother you with all the rules for eligibility (you can catch up on them here). 2010 does have six new eligible candidates (using the fifteen year rule): Michael Lloyd, Lawrence Moten, Luke Jackson, Elimu Nelson, Derrick Johnson and Melvin Tuten. Moten is a viable candidate from this list, and in fact, a very strong candidate. Jackson was a four year player / three year starter, but not noteworthy enough to warrant selection. Lloyd was a solid point guard for his one year on the Hill, but again nothing noteworthy. Nelson and Johnson were bench players, and Tuten a NFL prospect working out over the winter.

Other than Moten, I think this year’s viable top candidates come down to the following seven, listed chronologically: Lew Castle, Joe Schwarzer, Lew Andreas, Vinnie Cohen, Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr and Rony Seikaly.

Castle was a two time All-American at Syracuse, and was captain and leading scorer of Syracuse’s only undefeated team, the 1913-1914 squad that went 12-0.

Schwarzer was a two time All-American, and was captain and leading scorer of the 1917-1918 squad that went 16-1 and was retroactively named the National Champions by the Helms Foundation.Lew Andreas coached Syracuse basketball for 27 seasons, including the 19-1 1925-1926 squad that was awarded the Helms Foundation National Championship. He had a career record of 358-134, and he was the Syracuse Athletic Director for 28 years (1937-1964).

Cohen was an All-American, the first Syracuse player to average 20+ points a game in a season, and led the team to the NCAA Elite Eight in 1956-1957.

Bouie was a two time All-American, a standout defensive player who led Syracuse to a 100-18 record in his four years, and part of the famed Louie N’ Bouie tandom that rocketed Syracuse up the polls in the early Jim Boeheim years.

Orr was an All-American his senior year, a talented offensive player who played with intelligence on the court. He was the other half of the famed Louie N’ Bouie tandom.

Seikaly was an All-American, a standout defensive player whose outstanding play in the 1987 NCAA tournament took Syracuse to the brink of its first tournament championship.

Moten is the Syracuse all-time leading scorer, and the Big East conference all-time leading scorer. He was three times selected to the All Big East first team.

Again, another tough year with some very worthy candidates. That is of course by design; the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame is supposed to be tough to get into. The 2010 selection is Lawrence Moten.

Moten was a swingman for Syracuse from 1992 through 1995. He was one of the most poised freshman in Syracuse basketball history, if not the most poised, showing the character and understanding of a fourth year senior the first day on the court.

Moten never seemed to force the action, he let the game come to him. And yet, at the end of the night, he would be the leading scorer. His style of play was very smooth on the court earning him the moniker ‘Poetry in Moten’.

Lawrence Moten was highly recognizable on the court. He wore his socks knee high (very old school), and had a silver dollar size bald spot on the side of his head (apparently stress related). Moten would earn recognition his freshman year, earning Big East Rookie of the Year accolades, beating out other notable freshman Donyell Marshall (UConn) and Michael Smith (Providence). Moten averaged 18.2 ppg that season.

Six times in his career he would score 30 or more points, including a career high 36 against Villanova. He would be named All Big East First team 3 times, and would finish his career as the All Time Leading Scorer at Syracuse and in the Big East Conference (Records that both still stand today).

Moten’s importance to the Syracuse program can not be stated simply by the awards and statistics his compiled. Syracuse went 85-36 during his career; nothing record breaking about that, though a very solid record. But Syracuse was under investigation from the NCAA for rules violations when Moten came to Syracuse, and that investigation chased a lot of recruits away. Moten, himself, was not highly rated, and chose to stay with the program, even though it would be banned from the NCAA tournament his sophomore year. Moten’s play and leadership kept the program solid and competitive in the extremely difficult Big East conference, and that kept the program relevant for other players to come to Syracuse. That importance cannot be undersold.

Moten would be drafted in the 2nd round by the Vancouver (now Memphis) Grizzlies in the 2005 NBA Draft. He would have three unremarkable seasons in the NBA before moving on to the ABA and International Basketball.

Congratulations to Lawrence Moten, the 2010 inductee into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Dean of Interesting Syracuse Players

One of the things I have greatly enjoyed over the years with researching for the OrangeHoops site is uncovering some of the interesting lives that Syracuse basketball players have lived away from basketball. There are many atop my own personal list of ‘most interesting’, including the well known Jim Brown and Dave Bing, along with Jim Konstanty, Wilbur Crisp, Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, Warren Stevens, and Beal Banks, among others.

However, I think the most interesting life, particularly from the perspective of diversity, has to be that of Rick Dean. Dean was a physical player the Orangemen in the 1960s, teaming with Dave Bing, Jim Boeheim and George Hicker. The Orangemen were a short squad during that era, with Dean leading the way at 6’6”. Coach Fred Lewis had the Orangemen running a fast pace tempo, of which Dean was a part.

Dean’s basketball style alone would seem somewhat a conflict in stereotypes. He was a burly physical center, who often scored on layups, and as a result had a high field goal percentage. But he was also a very good free throw shooter, hitting 81% of his charity shots his junior year. He would be recognized as an Honorable Mention All American his senior year, along with a 2nd Team Academic All-American status.

Dean was drafted by both the NBA (San Francisco Warriors) and ABA (Denver Nuggets) upon graduating in 1967. He had however, been the top ROTC Cadet at Syracuse University, and chose instead to enlist in the Army Infantry and to serve in the Vietnam war.

Dean would be a platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division, and would earn both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his actions in the war. He would remain in the military until 1970, rising to the rank of captain.

Dean then pursued a career in federal law enforcement, working for the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) for three years. He would make a sharp career change from there, entering the education field as an administrator and basketball coach. He would work for the North Carolina public school systems for 20 years in this capacity, along the way earning his masters degree from Appalachian State in 1979.

So what does a gentleman who has been an All-American athlete, Vietnam war hero, Federal Agent, and high school administrator/coach do for an encore?

Upon retiring for the North Carolina school systems, Rick Dean became an ordained Methodist minister, and has been the head pastor at Higgins Memorial United Methodist Church in Burnsville, NC, ever since.

Some day I may come around to naming my top 5 or top 10 all-time favorite interesting Syracuse basketball players. However, I’ll ruin the suspense for #1, for I will have Rick Dean in that position.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Johnson and Rautins Taken in the 2010 NBA Draft

Congratulations to Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, both who were chosen in the NBA Draft last evening. Johnson was the #4 overall pick, taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He will be joining former Syracuse player Jonny Flynn, taken with the sixth overall pick last year. Rautins was taken in the second round with the 38th pick overall. His father Leo was the 17th pick in the 1st round of the 1983 draft, taken by the Philadelphia 76’ers. Johnson and Rautins are the 53rd and 54th Syracuse players ever drafted.

Johnson is the highest Syracuse draft pick since Carmelo Anthony was taken with the 3rd overall pick in the 2003 draft. He joins an elite group of Syracuse players taken with one of the top 4 picks of the draft; the other four were Anthony (3rd, 2003), Dave Bing (2nd, 1966), Derrick Coleman (1st, 1990) and Billy Owens (3rd, 1991).

Rautins and Johnson are the first Syracuse duo drafted in the same year since Etan Thomas (12th pick) and Jason Hart (49th pick) were both taken in 2000. It is the highest two players have been taken out of Syracuse, since 1991 when Owens was taken #3 and LeRon Ellis taken at #22. Syracuse last had three players in a draft was in 1986, when the draft went more than two rounds. Pearl Washington was #13 (1st round), Raf Addison #39 (2nd round) and Wendell Alexis (#59, 3rd round).

Three is top number of players ever drafted out of Syracuse in one year. Besides 1986, it has happened twice before. In 1983 Leo Rautins went in the 1st round, Erich Santifer in the 3rd round and Tony Bruin in the 7th. And in 1981 Danny Schayes went in the 1st round, Eddie Moss in the 4th and Marty Headd in the 9th.

Andy Rautins is the fifth Syracuse player drafted by the New York Knicks. Gary Clark was first, as a 3rd round pick in 1957. Marty Headd (9th round), Howard Triche (6th round) and John Wallace (1st round, 18th overall pick) were the other players.

In the Jim Boeheim era (1977-present), there have been 34 players drafted by the NBA. 16 of those were first round picks, 10 were second round picks, and 8 were taken in the now defunct 3rd through 9th rounds.

On the purely trivial side, Wes Johnson is the second Johnson from Syracuse ever drafted in the NBA. Dave Johnson was taken in the 1st round in 1991. Andy Rautins is the also second Rautins taken from Syracuse; his uncle George Rautins was drafted in 1975 by the Buffalo Braves out of Niagara University.

Both Johnson and Rautins have a strong upside to their game. Johnson, who made tremendous improvements after arriving at Syracuse, should be very interesting to follow in the NBA. He’s a rare combination of a great athlete who has an outstanding perimeter shot. If he learns to put the ball on the floor, he could be down right scary for opposing defenders.

Rautins improved significantly each year in college and was an outstanding perimeter shooter last season, despite being targeted by opposing defenses. He is also an outstanding passer who has a great feel for the game. Rautins is not as athletic as other draft picks, and may lack some of the lateral quickness, but you know that he’ll keep working on improving in those areas. And that international experience will continue to help him. This is a kid who came to college highly unnoticed, blew out his knee, and yet still managed to find time to put on 25-30 lbs of muscle, improve his quickness, improve his all around game dramatically, while impressing enough NBA scouts to get drafted.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Academic Fit for the Big Ten

I still believe that Syracuse will have a tough time, long term, competing athletically in the Big Ten (if given the opportunity). However, Syracuse University can hold its own academically with the schools in that conference.

US News and World Report ranks Syracuse as #58 in the country. That puts Syracuse in the middle of the Big Ten, trailing Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State and Ohio State, but beating out Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State and new addition Nebraska. And really, the difference between #53 and #58 is splitting hairs, so Syracuse would be on par with Ohio State, Minnesota and Purdue.
For a point of reference, here is how other potential Big Ten schools ranked:

  • Notre Dame - #20
  • Maryland - #53
  • Pitt - #56
  • Rutgers - #66
  • UConn - #66
  • Missouri - #102
So any notion that Syracuse does not fit academically with the Big 10 is a false notion. Of course, it is not all about academics. Nebraska is at #96, well below the bottom standard previously set by the Big Ten at 71. However, academics should not be a reason the Big Ten would not invite the Orange.

Texas surprised me by not accepting the offer to go to the Pac-10. That keeps the Big 12 intact for now. However, minus two schools, the Big 12 is going to want to grab two schools from somewhere; those schools are not going to be coming from the Big Ten or Pac-10, nor likely the SEC. That does not leave too many conferences left to raid. The Big East should be keeping an eye on some of its Western members, and working proactively to expand now.

As I mentioned the other day, expansion could occur simply by having some of the existing members step up to Division I with their football. Villanova is almost there (I-AA) anyhow, and that would give the Big East a football team in Philadelphia. I'd be willing to over a position in the Big East to another school with a Div I football program, and jettison Notre Dame (unless the Irish want to bring in their football program, which would never happen).

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Big Ten Expansion - Should the Orange Go?

Should Syracuse go to the Big Ten, if invited?

I love the Big East, especially the basketball. There are great traditional rivalries in the league, and most teams are in the same time zone and relatively short travel distances.

I am not, however, a fan of the bloated Big East with its current 16 team configuration. I understand the need to do so in order to keep the football conference alive, but the conference is too big for basketball (and ironically, not big enough for football).

One of the nice things about the original Big East was that most of the schools were private institutions. This put all the schools on relatively equal footing financially. UConn was a state school, but never had its act together in the first decade, so it could not leverage its state funding. Pitt is a quasi-public school; it is not state run, but it is significantly state funded. The rest of the original schools were all Jesuit, with the exception of Syracuse which is now non-sectarian private.

Economics got in the way, the conference had to grow to keep football alive, and in the process added several state schools (West Virginia, Rutgers, Cincinnati, and South Florida) along with some additional Jesuit schools (Marquette, DePaul and Notre Dame).

The only reason I can see for Syracuse going to the Big Ten is revenue. That is a very big reason, and possibly the only reason that matters. More on that later.

I think going to the Big Ten would be a bad move for Syracuse for several reasons. It of course would ruin the regional rivalries, and schools like Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova would definitely be left behind.

Recruiting Midwest athletes to play in Syracuse would be very tough. It is not impossible; Syracuse does recruit Ohio football players right now with some success, and recently has done well in Michigan with basketball players. But obviously, those are exceptions. It is much easier to convince a Philadelphia or New York kid to come to Syracuse, when he knows he’ll play a few games a year at home, than it is to convince a kid to come out of Indiana to the cold snowy Syracuse campus.

Ten out of the eleven Big Ten schools are state schools. The lone exception is Northwestern, which is historically the worst athletic program (for football and basketball in the Big Ten) and is last in revenue for the Big Ten. That is not a coincidence. State schools have access to tax dollars and have much deeper financial pockets to dig into to build the facilities and infrastructures to compete in the NCAA, not to mention the ability to pay coaches and staff.

With the exception of Northwestern, Big Ten schools have between 20,000 to 40,000 (Ohio State) undergraduate students. Syracuse has approximately 14,000. That leads to not only a larger on campus presence at games, but also a larger booster / alumni base. For every one alumni Syracuse would have, OSU would have three.

I think over the long haul, it would be very difficult for Syracuse to remain competitive in the Big Ten. Eventually the size differences of the institutions and revenue differences would come into play, along with the geographic anomalies, and Syracuse would be a mediocre program.

However, I think that if given the chance, Syracuse would jump to the Big Ten immediately. And, it would probably be the right decision. The only reason to make the move would be because of the money, but it’s a huge reason. And the discrepancy is significant. Per an article by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, the average Big Ten team makes $22 million per school in television revenue. The entire Big East television contract is around $35 million, and the schools that play football and basketball in the Big East make only $2.8 million annually from the conference television contract.

UConn is the top revenue school in the Big East with $54.7 million in 2007-2008 (per an article in the Orlando Sentinel). That would rank it only #10 in the Big Ten. The next three in line in the Big East are West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers (note that they are all state schools). Syracuse made $44.7 million in 2007-2008. Even if they were at the bottom of the Big Ten, then would make a 25%-30% increase in revenue.

The Big East, despite the revenue disparity, appears to be quite content to leave things as they currently are. There is no talk of expansion, nor of shaking things up. And I believe that any team in the Big East would be foolish not to jump to the Big Ten (I would think UConn and Rutgers would be the top two candidates based on the geographic markets they can bring in and being state schools). If the Big East is raided, its football conference is going to die. So status quo does not work.

The ACC would have been a much better fit for Syracuse, I believe, in terms of geography (Syracuse does recruit the northern area of the ACC conferences and Florida), and its basketball prominence would be a better fit for Syracuse. But that is water under the bridge.

Unfortunately, moving to the Big Ten does start a trend of downward competitiveness for Syracuse. The administration would never admit to it, but if you could guarantee an additional 30% revenue from athletics despite being a perennial loser, they would jump at it. From a business perspective, the only reason to win is to generate more revenue; if you can generate more revenue in a losing situation than business dictates you do it.

I think in 15 years you will look back and say it was a bad move for Syracuse to move to the Big Ten (if it happened). But you cannot worry about fifteen years from now.

I hope the Big East stays alive for football, and the Orange remain put, but I think if given the chance, they will go.

By the way, if ESPN’s sources have it right, Nebraska has accepted a big to join the Big Ten. This could start a domino affect of a group of Big 12 teams joining the Pac-10, the Big 12 falling apart, and teams scrambling everywhere. We’ll see.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Syracuse University has had its share of great players, though the Orangemen are probably more noted for the great point guards and forwards they have had. The Orangemen have had a few great centers along the way. Arinze Onuaku, who finished his career this past season, is clearly one of the top Syracuse centers ever. But how good was he in comparison? Who was the best?

That is a tough question, for a variety of reasons. The center position has changed more than any other position over the history of the game. In the early 1900s the center was the primary focal point of the offense. He did a majority of the ball handling and playmaking, along with often being the primary scorer. Centers in this era were often the best athlete on the court, and were about 5’11 to 6’2”.

In the late 1920s the game was evolving so that ‘big men’, players at 6’3”, were in the center position. This was a necessity as there was a jump ball after every made basket in the game. By the early 1930s there were teams who had centers whose primary purpose was to win the jump ball. Syracuse’s coach Lew Andreas, was a leading proponent of eliminating the jump ball after each basket, exactly for that reason, and by 1936 they had successfully eliminate that rule.

Height was still becoming a factor for centers, but the arrival of George Mikan in the 1940s, showed the dominance of a truly talented big man, and then the emergence of giants Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell in the 1950s, changed the center position forever. Russell introduced the concept of an absolute dominating defensive force, while Chamberlain brought the unstoppable offensive machine.

The center position probably has more players than any other position that has young men with very raw, if limited skills as freshman, who develop into outstanding players by their senior year. This is due to a combination of the tall centers having to wait for their bodies to catch up to their height, as well as finding it significantly different to be a giant among teens in high school, to being a giant among peers in college. So when you evaluate the greatness of a center at college, are you evaluating how he performed over his entire career, or how he performed his last year?

I am going to evaluate centers in the context of today’s center, with all due apologies to the disservice to Joe Schwarzer and Lew Castle, two outstanding All-Americans, who were clearly the best all around basketball players on their teams. Today they would have been great guards; and their style of play even in their era would have been more similar to today’s guard than center.

I am going to ignore forwards such as Derrick Coleman, Marty Byrnes and Chuck Richards, who each played center for a season out of necessity, but are far more remembered for their outstanding forward play.

So who is in my top 10? My apologies to the following fine centers who did not make that list: Andre Hawkins, Mookie Watkins, Conrad McRae, Royce Newell, and LeRon Ellis. Ed Sonderman was the first true athletic big center at Syracuse. He was 6’6”, weighed about 210 lbs, and played from 1935-1937. He was a strong offensive force, and is considered the top Syracuse big man of the first half century. But Sonderman did not make the top 10.

At #10 is Ed Miller (1950-1952). Miller came to Syracuse as a very awkward moving 6’8” teen, and he improved steadily over his three years on varsity. Miller would be second in scoring on the team his first two years, and lead the team in scoring his senior year. He helped Syracuse get to the NIT tournament in 1950 (very prestigious at the time), and win the National College Championship Tournament in 1951. Miller would be the first Syracuse player ever to score 40 points in a game.

#9 is Jon Cincebox (1957-1959). Cincebox was an outstanding rebounder in his era, averaging 14.6 rebounds a game, and setting the school record for total rebounds, that would not be broken for 30 years until Coleman came along. Cincebox sported a crew cut, was a master of the hook shot, and helped Syracuse to the Elite Eight his sophomore season.

At #8 is Otis Hill (1994-1997). Hill was a burly center who played a rugged inside game and was foul prone his entire career. As a freshman his offensive repertoire consisted of a dunk shot. His junior season, his strong play in the middle was helpful in Syracuse reaching the Final Four, and he was second in the team in scoring behind John Wallace, even though he played only 24 minutes a game. By his senior year he had developed a nice 10 foot jump shot, and was one of the primary offensive weapons on the team.

#7 is one Dave Bing’s teammates, Rick Dean (1965-1967). Otis Hill’s style was considered reminiscent of Dean, who has played 30 years earlier. Dean was 6’6”, 230 lbs, but could still run the court in Syracuse’s up style offense of the 1960s. Dean had a nice 10 foot jumper, was a very good free throw shooter (he shot 81% his junior season, and 76% his senior). Dean would average 18 ppg and 9 rebounds his senior year.

#6 is Arinze Onuaku (2006-2010). Onuaku was huge man in the middle at 6’9”, 255 lbs, and he sported a very muscular body. Onuaku played the middle of the zone defense extremely effectively; he was not a shot blocker, but was outstanding at maintaining his position, and keeping offensive players away from the hoop. He had a severe knee injury his sophomore season, and while he would rehabilitate the knee, he would continue to have leg issues in his career that limited his playing time. Offensively, Onuaku knew his limits, and stayed within his range, never more than 5 feet from the hoop. He was extremely effective in that short range, particularly with his hook shot, and is the most accurate shooter in Syracuse history at 64.8%. The two big knocks on Onuaku was that he was the worst free throw shooter in Syracuse history (by far), and he did not always hustle back down the court defensively.

#5 is Bill Smith (1969-1971). Smith was a tempormental giant at 6’11”, who was an outstanding rebounder and scorer (12.9 rpg, 20.7 ppg). He possessed a nice 10 foot jump shot, and was extremely effective near the hoop (59.6%). He holds the Syracuse single game scoring record with 47 points, against Lafayette. I’d rate Smith higher except that the level of competition for Syracuse in his era was less than today’s, and Syracuse was 9-16 and 12-12 his first two seasons.

#4 is Danny Schayes (1978-1981). Schayes was a very good college center who had the unfortunate situation of being a year behind Roosevelt Bouie. Coach Jim Boeheim tried Schayes at forward, in an effort to get him playing time earlier in his career, but it was not a position well suited for Schayes. He was probably the most fundamentally sound big man in Syracuse history. A decent ball handler, with excellent passing skills, outstanding free throw shooting (80.6% for his career), and solid from the floor (55.4%).

#3 is Etan Thomas (1997-2000). Thomas was probably the best defensive center in Syracuse history. He was a great shot blocker, and was named the Big East Defensive player of the year twice. He developed into a solid inside scorer, making 60% of his shots. He was a solid, but not great rebounder. Thomas was also a solid ball handler, not prone to turnovers, and finished his career as Syracuse’s all time shot blocker with 424 blocked shots.

The #1 and #2 picks are very tough. The candidates are Roosevelt Bouie and Rony Seikaly, and this gets back to how do you want to evaluate them. Bouie was much better over four years, Seikaly much better his senior year.

Ultimately, I go with Bouie as #2. If Etan Thomas was not the best defensive center at Syracuse, Roosevelt Bouie surely was. Part of the famous Louie N’ Bouie show, Bouie was a star his freshman year. He was a tremendous shot blocker, and could run the court well, which made him well suited for Syracuse’s fast break offense. Bouie made a high percentage of his field goal shots (he held the record until Onuaku broke it this year), and he was a very good rebounder. When he graduated from Syracuse he was the #2 all time scorer for Syracuse (long since surpassed). Bouie and Louis Orr brought the Syracuse basketball program to National attention and to initial prominence in the Big East.

#1 goes to Rony Seikaly. Seikaly came to Syracuse as a novice to basketball, having only recently learned the game after playing years of soccer in Greece. He would redshirt one year, and even in his freshman year he was overweight, and had only one shot, a tomahawk dunk, that he did not always make. He was extremely foul prone, fouling out of 1/3 of his games. But he improved over the years. He worked himself into great shape, learned to run up and down the court on both offensive and defense, and became a terrific shot blocker. His junior season, he started to play consistently with intensity and passion, and led Syracuse to the National Championship game against Indiana. Seikaly would develop a nice 10-15 foot jump shot his senior year, and would be a dominating offense force most of the season, despite sharing the ball with Stephen Thompson, Coleman and Sherman Douglas.

I’m not going to argue with anyone if they choose Bouie as #1. Perhaps tomorrow I will too.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Coleman Declares Bankruptcy

I am sorry to hear that former Syracuse Basketball great Derrick Coleman has declared bankruptcy. Coleman was one of the best basketball players in Syracuse history, despite his lackadaisical work habits. I had always thought he would be an NBA All Time, but despite being productive in the NBA, he never reached stardom.

From all accounts, it does not appear that Coleman blew all his money on living “the high life”, though I am sure Coleman spent his share. It appears that Coleman put a lot of money into investment opportunities tied to redevelopment of the Detroit inner city area (see Kurt Helin’s story on Detroit is his home time, and it is nice to have seen him try to target efforts in that area.

I am not stating that this was a purely altruistic action by Coleman. I am sure he planned to make a nice profit out of his efforts. But the fact is that it is his hometown, other investors are not eager to revitalize the area, and he did make the effort.

I know there is going to be a ton of Coleman-bashers who insinuate that he is just another dumb jock who blew his money because of his ignorance. Just remember that there are a lot of Harvard and Yale MBA’s who also go bankrupt on their business deals. I am not claiming Coleman is an MBA caliber businessman; but he did graduate from Syracuse with a four year degree (despite the fact that he could have gone pro a year earlier), so I think there was some commitment to education from him. I think this was more a case of a guy looking at his home town with rose tinted glasses, and having his heart interfere with his decisions. It is also possible he was being duped by those who knew of this bias in his judgement.

Regardless, D.C., I wish you best of luck.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Duke Wins It

Congratulations to the Duke Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski on winning the 2010 Men’s NCAA Basketball championship. Duke has been a class program under Coach K, and continues to be one. Their 61-59 win over Butler earned Krzyzewski his 4th National Championship.

And congratulations to the Butler Bulldogs, who nearly pulled off the upset, when Gordon Hayward’s half court shot bounced off the rim as time expired. It would have been the ‘Cinderella story’ that the national media had been touting for weeks. Though Butler was not quite the true Cinderella story. Butler was the 5th seed in their region, but as I mentioned prior to the Syracuse game, Butler was not properly seeded in the tournament. They finished the regular season ranked 11th in the AP polls and 8th in the ESPN/USA Today poll, thus indicating they were likely a 2 or 3 seed.

In 2003 Syracuse was ranked 11th in the country entering the NCAA tournament with a 24-5 record. Butler finished the regular season 28-4, ranked the same as those 2003 Orangemen. Was Syracuse the Cinderella story in 2003?

Butler has only 3897 undergraduate students. Georgetown has 7092 undergraduate students. Duke University has only 6400 undergraduate students. Seton Hall, 5245 undergrads. Providence College, 3938 undergrads. Notre Dame has 8371 undergrads. Villanova, 6335 undergrads. Wake Forest, 4476 undergrads. Butler is a small school, but it is not that small of a school. This was not a tiny Milan High School (enrollment 161) versus massive Muncie (enrollment 1600).

Butler was a great story in this tournament, and they were a very good team. They were also expected to be a very good team. Butler was ranked highly in both preseason polls, #11 in the AP and #10 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. This was not a team that came out of no where; they were a team that determined to be a team to be reckoned with before the year even began. Syracuse was the team that came out of no where… they would’ve been the true Cinderella story (but of course, Syracuse is a name program, from a major conference).

Now Butler is a Mid Major team, and they did play in the Horizon League. They are ‘small’ because the BCS conferences do not want to recognize them. They were the outsiders, trying to turn over the proverbial apple cart, and show the Mid Majors could play (something we already knew, if we had been paying attention the past few years). 33 year old Butler head coach Brad Stevens is a great story.

As a Syracuse fan, it was upsetting to see Butler advance so far and come so close. Syracuse, despite its sloppy play, and missing its best interior defensive player, came very close to beating the Bulldogs, despite spotting them an 11 point lead. Clearly the Orange could have won it all. But unfortunately they did not.

You know what makes college basketball great? That a school like Butler, had the opportunity to go out onto the court, and over three weekends, had a legitimate chance to win the National Championship. It did not matter what conference they were from, what the national media thought of them. It did not matter that the NCAA committee gave them a raw deal with a lower seed than they should have had. They went out there, and came within a bounce of the ball, winning the national championship. That is something the Boise State’s of the world will never have the opportunity to do in college football. And that is a shame.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

2010 Milestones Reached

The 2009-2010 season has wrapped up, and we have to say farewell to a couple of fifth year seniors in Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku. Though neither was a four year starter, they both did put up some notable career statistics, and this season saw a few other highlights.

Before I move on, here is the trivia question for today. Rautins and Onuaku were fifth year seniors, and because of injuries in their career, they played a year beyond their class graduation (2009). Who were the three Syracuse basketball players who should have been seniors on this year’s team?

Back to the statistics. Rautins finished his career as the 2nd all-time three point shooter at Syracuse with 282 three point shots made, trailing only Gerry McNamara’s 400. Rautins is 10th all-time in 3 point pct with 37.4%.

Andy Rautins, of course, is forever linked to his father Leo, and we can check how they compared. Both are in the 1000 point club, Andy with 1,121 pts (46th all time) versus Leo’s 1,031 (53rd). Leo has the edge in points per game, leading 12.1 to 8.8.

Leo shot 76.7% from the free throw line (18th all-time) versus Andy’s 76.3% (20th all-time). Leo had 423 assists (9th) versus Andy’s 347 (16th). Leo had 529 rebounds, Andy 327 rebounds.

Arinze Onuaku set both the all-time best marks and all-time worst. Onuaku’s career field goal percentage is 64.8%, the school record for a player with 200 or more field goal attempts. On the downside, Onuaku’s career free throw percentage is 39.5%, the worst for any player with 200 or more attempts.

Onuaku broke the single season record for field goal percentage this year with 66.8% (153 of 229), breaking the record he set last year at 66.7%. Onuaku finished his career with the #1, 2 and 6 best season field goal percentages ever.

Onuaku also joined the Rautins clan in the 1000 point club, finishing with 1,232 (36th all time).

Onuaku is 11th all-time on the blocked shot list with 148. His teammate, Rick Jackson, is currently 10th on that list with 173.

On the all time Syracuse three point percentage list (career), Wesley Johnson and Brandon Triche rank 3rd and 5th respectively at 41.5% and 40.0%.

I am not sure how many people realize how much of a three point shooting team the Orange were this year. In Syracuse Orange history, only 14 times has a player shot 40% or better from three point range. Four of those players were in this past season: Mookie Jones hit 44.6% (25 of 56, 2nd best all time), Wesley Johnson 41.5%, Rautins 40.7% and Triche 40.0%. That is quite a quartet of shooters with fine seasons, despite the fact that three point range was extended last season.

The Syracuse team shot 39.1% from three point range, 2nd best in team history, trailing only the 1986-1987 team that shot 40.3%. And when you consider that Syracuse made 244 of 624 shots from three point range this year, versus 100 of 248 shots that year, the feat is more amazing. The 244 three point shots made were fourth most in school history, trailing the 2005-2006 season record where they team made 260 (but shot only 33.9%).

65% of the teams field goals this year were made associated with an assist (1042 field goals, 673 assists), which is the highest percent in school history. This broke the record of 64% set in 1999-2000.

Brandon Triche had the 2nd best freshman three point percentage (40%), trailing only DeShaun Williams 41.8%. Triche also had the 8th most assists by a freshman with 99 (Pearl Washington holds the record with 199).

How did Carmelo Anthony and Wesley Johnson match up? The two played the same number of games so its an interesting comparison. Anthony clearly had the scoring and rebounding edge (22.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg vs 16.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg). Johnson is the better pure shooter, beating Anthony in all three shooting percentages: field goal (50% vs 45.3%), free throw (77.2% vs 70.6%), and three point percentage (41.5% vs. 33.7%). Anthony took far more field goal shots (612 vs 412) and was fouled far more (238 free throw attempts vs 145).

They had nearly identical assists, turnovers and steals. Johnson blocked 64 shots compared to Anthony’s 30. Anthony was definitely the better player, but Johnson was clearly the better shooter, and slightly better as a defender.

Coach Jim Boeheim earned his 800th career win in the season opener, and is now the 2nd winningest active coach, with 829 total.

Scoop Jardine set the school record for most points scored in a season without starting a game, with 318 points. This broke the record held by Wendell Alexis, who had 298 points without starting in his junior season.

Going back to the trivia question. The answer is: Paul Harris (who left in 2009 as a junior), Mike Jones (who left in 2007, as a freshman) and Devan Brennan-McBride (who left in 2008 as a sophomore). Neither Rautins nor Onuaku were part of this freshman class, nor was Eric Devendorf, who like his classmates Rautins & Onuaku, missed a season because of injury and would’ve been a fifth year senior if he had stayed.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Season Ends

The season is over, and it is a hurtful ending. Syracuse’s ‘shut it down’ defense, which has confused the opposition all year, stymied Butler for most of the game last night, but was unable to make the critical stops in the last few minutes. Butler on the other hand, provided their own version of ‘shut it down’ defense, and they stopped the Orange cold for nearly the first 10 minutes of the game, and made the stops necessary when it mattered at the end.

Butler did everything they needed to do to win this game, and they deserved it. They were the better team last night. They imposed their defensive will on Syracuse, and for reasons that are tough to fathom, it rattled the Orange. The Orange did not shoot poorly, though they shot below their own high standard. They hit 44% of their shots and 37% from 3 point range; they missed only 4 free throws. Meanwhile they held Butler to 40% from the field, and 25% from three point range (only 6 three pointers made).

The difference, as everyone who watched the game painfully knows, was that Butler protected the ball on offense and Syracuse gave it away. The Bulldogs had only seven turnovers in the game; Syracuse had 18, the majority of those in the first half (12).

This was a team loss for Syracuse. They played as a team all year, and won because of solid teamwork; the loss last night was in part because that teamwork was not there. Syracuse has had a high number of assists all year, particularly in terms of field goals made. Against Butler the Orange had only 12 assists on the 21 field goals they made. That is a good ratio for most teams, but when the Orange have been clicking this year, they were getting 17 to 18 assists on those 21 field goals.

There was some consistent poor decision making. The team had a very difficult time taking advantage of the Wes Johnson mismatch on Willie Veasley. Scoop Jardine seemed to carry a ‘shoot first, pass second’ mentality into the game, and we needed him to run the offense. Brandon Triche, who shook off his slump with solid outings against Vermont and Gonzaga, appeared to disappear again. Kris Joseph, 22% three point shooter, pulled up for a three during one sequence, with plenty of time left on the shot clock. Andy Rautins had five turnovers, and only two assists.

This game was the first game where the loss of Arinze Onuaku really showed. Syracuse needed a big man down low who was going to catch the ball and make Butler pay inside. Rick Jackson, who hustled all game, seemed to have soaked his hands in butter before tip off. I do not know how he only had 3 turnovers, as it seemed like many more. I guess in many of those cases, he never had possession of the ball, and thus cannot be credited with a turnover.

It is disappointing. And it is always tough to see the season end on a loss. Though, most college basketball seasons for most teams end on a loss. With the exception of the NIT Champion and the NCAA Champion, everyone else goes home losing that last day, whether it’s in your conference tournament or one of the two national tournaments.

The most disappointing thing to me is I am going to miss watching this particular team play. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them this year; to me they were a fun team to watch. Good ball movement, clutch shooting, the ‘shut it down’ defense. No more opportunities to watch Andy Rautins shoot a long distance three, or make a bullet pass. No more Onuaku pounding the ball inside, or even the comical efforts at the free throw line. I will assume Wesley Johnson will be gone, and I’ll miss his soaring leaps for rebounds and dunks, and his persistent smile.

On the whole, this was a season to enjoy, and one to remember fondly. The team went 30-5; that is outstanding! They won the Big East Regular Season title, running away with it. They won the preseason NIT Tournament. They went 7-2 versus top 25 teams, and 6-0 versus top 10 teams. They played in front of an NCAA Record crowd when they beat Villanova. They swept the Hoyas during the regular season and beat UConn in their only meeting. They rose to #1 in the National Polls, for the first time since 1989, and they did it starting out being unranked. They earned a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, something they had not done since 1979. Their head coach earned his 800th career win.

There was a whole lot to cheer for in 2009-2010. And that is how I will remember this season.

Thank you Orange, for a wonderful year.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wesley Johnson Takes Over

Onto the Sweet Sixteen. And with relative ease, as it turns out, with an 87-65 win over Gonzaga, a final score that makes the game seem closer than it was.

I would admit that I was very concerned about this game knowing Arinze Onuaku was not going to be present. It is not that I do not trust the rest of the squad, but that does put the Orange into a very short bench.

The worst nightmare for any Syracuse fan occurred at 8:58 in the first half when Rick Jackson picked up his third foul, and the game was close. Gonzaga’s 7’ center Robert Sacre and 6’7” Elias Harris had already tasted a lot of success by that point in the game, and I was hoping the Orange would be able to make it to halftime without the game running away from them.

A strange thing happened over that nearly nine minutes stretch. The Orange pulled away from the Bulldogs to take a 47-32 half time lead. How did that happen?

Really, it should not have been a surprise. The team that has played like a team all year did what they did best, and played ‘shut it down’ defense. Add that in with their two best players, Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins, stepping it up and pouring in the points, and the familiar recipe makes this much easier to understand.

Brandon Triche has re-emerged, which was really a necessity for Syracuse to do well in the NCAA tournament. He played aggressive on offense and defense, and it appears his confidence is back. We tend to think of Triche as having struggled all year, but the young freshman is hitting 41% of this three point attempts this year.

DaShonte Riley was admirable in his 15 minute stint. He did foul out, had a few turnovers and did not get a rebound. On the positive side, he had a great pass to Scoop Jardine, and did his job of clogging up the middle of the zone.

Now I did not forget about Wesley Johnson’s performance. The Big East Player of the Year showed the rest of the country why Syracuse fans think he is one of the best in the country with a very smooth 31 points and 14 rebounds. Johnson was scoring from long range (4 of 6 on three point shots), mid jumpers and on some nice dunks. He was leaping high to grab his fourteen rebounds.

Johnson’s 31 points was the first thirty point effort by an Orangeman since Jonny Flynn put 34 on UConn during the legendary six overtime Big East game on March 12, 2009. It was the first 30 point NCAA effort by a Syracuse player since Gerry McNamara had his spectacular 43 point effort against Brigham Young on March 18, 2004.

Johnson joins a list of seven other Syracuse players who have scored 30+ points in an NCAA Tournament game: Gary Clark, Rudy Hackett, Rony Seikaly, Adrian Autry, John Wallace, Carmelo Anthony and McNamara.

The Orange are now at 30-4, the most wins since their Championship season of 2002-03 when they went 30-5. This is the second most wins ever for a single season, joining the 2003 team and the 1989 team. The record is 31 for the 1986-1987 National Champion Runner Up Orangemen, who went 31-7.

The senior class of Syracuse broke the school record for most wins in consecutive seasons, now standing at 58 (28 last year, 30 and going this year). An impressive accomplishment for two hard working fifth year seniors: Rautins and Onuaku. The previous record had been 57, which was held by the 1987 class (Howard Triche and Greg Monroe), who won 26 games their junior year and 31 their senior year, and by the 1988 class (Rony Seikaly and Derek Brower), who had 31 wins their junior year, and 26 their senior year.

With all the upsets in the tournament this year, the path really has not been cleared for the Orangemen yet. I am not too worried, if Onuaku returns, because this team can play with and beat anyone when they have their game going.

I do wonder how the Orangemen played an 8 seed who was ranked #22 in the AP (Gonzaga), and a 5 seed next (Butler), who is ranked 11th in the AP. A 22nd ranked team should be around a 6 seed (not an 8), and an 11th ranked team should be around a 3 seed (not a 5). It does not seem like the West was "favorably" loaded. But as I said, it really will not matter to these Orange players.

Go Orange!