Thursday, December 29, 2011

Melo's Sophomore Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

Perfect from Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Twas The Night Before Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Orange Should Move to Number 1

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

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

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Fun Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's go Orange.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How Deep in Deep?

How deep is the real depth of Syracuse’s basketball team in 2011-2012?  Two things validate that it is indeed a very deep squad.  Mookie Jones, a senior who has a lifetime 41% three point shooting percentage isn’t even part of the ‘second team’ (i.e. the first five bench players).  Freshman Trevor Cooney, who some have said is the best pure shooter Syracuse has ever had, and surprised many with all-around game in practice and in the exhibition games is going to redshirt the year because he would not be in the top 10.

So there is a lot of depth.

Further bolstering the perception of depth is that three of the bench players easily could replace a current starter on the Syracuse lineup. C.F. Fair has an excellent all around game and could be one of the starting forwards, though Rakeem Christmas does offer the bigger body up front.  Dion Waiters is probably the most explosive offensive player on the team, and it is easy seeing him replace either Scoop Jardine or Brandon Triche.  Baye Keita actually outplayed Fab Melo for most of last season, and played far more minutes than Melo.

James Southerland, buried deep on the bench, is one of the team’s top scorers four games into this season, and has one of the sweetest three point shots on the squad, on top of a very athletic 6’8” frame. 

Freshman Michael Carter-Williams is a McDonald’s American, with tremendous size and reach for a guard (6’5”), and a reputation for a complete game at guard.

Unlike many other seasons, I expect that Jim Boeheim will not shorten his bench too much. I think situational play may dictate who plays in which games, and how many players see action each game.  The five ‘reserve’ players all have their strengths, and also have their weaknesses.

Waiters was a tad bit selfish last year, and was not committed to the defensive scheme.  Fair had no perimeter shooting.  Keita was very raw on basketball fundamentals, especially on the offensive end of the court.  Southerland was woefully inconsistent. And Carter-Williams is a freshman with no NCAA experience.

The starting five for Syracuse has a lot of experience, especially by today’s standards.  Brandon Triche is a third year starting guard. Senior Scoop Jardine is a 2nd year starter who is in this fifth year in the program. Senior Kris Joseph is a second year starter who has logged three seasons worth of starting time. Fab Melo has a year under his belt. Rakeem Christmas is the inexperienced player as a pure freshman, though with a McDonald’s All American pedigree, that is the best type of freshman to have.

However, Syracuse has a lot more ‘potential’ this year than ‘actual’ on the court.  This year’s team could be great.  As fans we can dream about how good each of these players would be if they reached their potential.  Some of the players have shown that they have improved upon their weaknesses from last year; but we need to see this play out over several more games.

The starting five for Syracuse this year is talented, and the bench is very deep. But I don’t think, right now, there is a starter as talented as the 2008-2009 Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku or Wes Johnson. Nor anyone as talented as the 2009-2010 Rick Jackson.  At least not yet.

And because of that, it makes it easier for Boeheim to go to his bench. The drop off from the starter talent level to the bench talent level is not that great.  I do not think there is one starter on the team that would be a devastating loss to the Orange if an injury were to occur (unlike the loss of Onuaku in 2008-2009 to the team).  A loss of any player hurts a team, but many can be overcome with other players stepping up and I believe this year’s team has that ability.

Boeheim has had other deep benches before.  The 1977-1978 squad had senior forward Kevin James on the bench, with sophomore guard Hal Cohen, freshman center Danny Schayes, and freshmen guards Eddie Moss and Marty Headd. 

The 1979-1980 squad, that went 26-4 and won the first Big East regular season title, may have had the deepest bench in Syracuse’s history.  Senior guard Hal Cohen was on the bench, along with junior Danny Schayes (who would play in the NBA for 17 seasons), sophomore forward Ron Payton, highly touted freshman forward Tony Bruin, and junior forward Chris Jerebko.

The 1987-1988 team did not go ten deep, but the first four off the bench were pretty impressive led by sophomore guard Earl Duncan and sophomore forward Keith Hughes.  Junior forward Herman Harried and senior Derek Brower rounded out the bench. Both Duncan and Hughes would transfer to Rutgers and start for the Scarlet Knights.

The 1992-1993 team had the shot blocking junior Conrad McRae, the dynamic freshman guard Anthony Harris, the sweet shooting freshman forward Glenn Sekunda, former starting point guard junior Michael Edwards, and freshman forward Luke Jackson.

The 1999-2000 team went nine deep, but bear mentioning as the four off the bench included sophomore swingman Preston Shumpert who scored in double digits, dynamic freshman guard DaShaun Williams, former starting point guard junior Allen Griffin, and freshman swingman Kueth Duany.

The 2003-2004 team had five guys who were going to have to sit and bide their time as the starting five were young and entrenched.  That bench included freshmen DeMetris Nichols, Louis McCroskey, Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins, and senior shot blocking center Jeremy McNeil.

The following year the bench may have been stronger (for a while) with Nichols, Roberts and Watkins now sophomores (McCroskey was now a starter), the enigmatic junior Billy Edelin, and freshman guard Josh Wright.

In hindsight, some of these benches do not look as strong today as they seemed at the time; in some cases they look stronger then they actually were. That is one of the realities of college basketball, in that you most separate the expectations from the reality, along with recognize the opportunity.

I do think we will see a deep bench this year, not because Jim Boeheim has changed his coaching philosophy, but rather because that is what the composition of his team dictates.  He has ‘flawed’ players throughout the lineup, and match-ups will matter. He has a lot of talent on the bench, and the starters are not significantly better, so the replacement value difference is not too costly.

I think as the season progresses we may find a couple of the bench players become more significant, especially if their game has truly improved. If Waiters plays hard on both ends of the court, he would be tough to keep off the court.  Especially if Jardine starts showing his ‘Scoop moments’ late in the game, or Brandon Triche gets in a funk.  If Rakeem Christmas struggles, and James Southerland continues to play consistent basketball sticking his shot, and playing solid zone defense, I would not be surprised to see him leap over many others to start.

I have no expectations about who will do what in 2011-2012. I do like the prospect with so many guys with large upsides, that the competitive factors between the players will drive some to realize their potential, and some true stars will emerge.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

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
Clifford Steele

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.

Friday, November 04, 2011

2011 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. The next three years saw the addition of  Billy Owens (2008),  Billy Gabor (2009) and Lawrence Moten (2010).  So the list now stands at 9. Another year has passed, and now it is time for the 2011 inductee.

I established my rules for the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame back in 2007 and  you can catch up on them here. 2011 does have eight new eligible candidates (using the fifteen year rule): John Wallace, Lazarus Sims, J.B. Reafsnyder, David Patrick, Bobby Lazor, Elimu Nelson, Jim Hayes and Jim May. Wallace is a solid candidate, definitely one of the top Syracuse players of all time, and carried Syracuse his senior season to lofty heights. Sims was an outstanding point guard his senior season and helped lead the Orangemen to the National Championship game, but he was just a one year starter.  Reafsnyder shared the center duties with Otis Hill, while Nelson, Hayes and May were bench players. Patrick and Lazor would both transfer to bigger and better things at other schools.
I think this year’s viable top candidates come down to the following eight, listed chronologically: Lew Castle, Joe Schwarzer, Lew Andreas, Vinnie Cohen, Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr, Rony Seikaly and John Wallace.

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.

Wallace was a four year starter at Syracuse, carried the team to the National Championship game his senior season in 1995-1996.  He graduated Syracuse as the #3 all-time leading scorer and the #3 all-time leader in rebounds, and still holds both distinctions.

It is hard to believe some of these candidates still have not made the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame.  But I designed the criteria so that the selection would be very difficult, and only the best of the best would be represented.  And what good are rules if you do not follow them?

That was not entirely a rhetorical question for in 2011 I am going to break one of my own rules, and induct two players into the Hall of Fame.  And I have to, because you cannot induct one half of the Bouie 'N Louie show without the other.   The 2011 inductees are Roosevelt Bouie and Louis Orr.

Syracuse had a new basketball coach for the 1976-1977 in Jim Boeheim.  He had recruited Roosevelt Bouie as an assistant, and sent assistant coach Rick Pitino to recruit Louis Orr. The two players, under Boeheim, would take Syracuse to a new level of consistent success, and establish Syracuse as an Eastern basketball power, eventually leading to the formation of the Big East Conference.
Syracuse would go 26-4, 22-6, 26-4 and 26-4 for an overall record of 100-18 during the Bouie N' Louie era.  They would win the inaugural Big East Regular Season championship, and would rise to #2 in the AP polls their senior year.  
Roosevelt Bouie was a fierce defensive player with tremendous shot blocking skills. He was very athletic and could run the court very well, allowing the Orangemen to thrive in their fast break offense favored by Boeheim.  Bouie would graduate from Syracuse as the #2 all-time leading scorer, third in rebounding, and first in blocked shots (since surpassed in all three areas).   Bouie would be drafted in the second round of the NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks. He felt the Maverick's contract was not good enough and kept up on his promise to go and play in Italy.  Bouie found that he loved the lifestyle in Italy, the pay was very good, and he never came back to the NBA, having a long and outstanding career in the Italian league.  

Louis Orr was a thin rail of a player who was excellent at running the court, and grabbing rebounds.  He was a valuable sixth man his freshman season, and scored 9.4 points per game off the bench.  He would move into the starting lineup his sophomore season, and continued to improve.  Like Bouie, he was named to the Big East First Team its inaugural season 1979-1980.  Orr would be drafted in the first round of the 1980 NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers.  He would have eight solid, though unspectacular, seasons in the NBA.

Orr would later turn to coaching, and was an assistant coach at Syracuse under Boeheim, along with being the head coach at Providence, Siena, Seton Hall and Bowling Green. In 2002-2003 he would be named the Big East Coach of the Year while at Seton Hall.

Congratulations to that inseparable due, Louis Orr and Roosevelt Bouie.

Monday, October 31, 2011

2011-2012 Starting in a Lofty Position

Syracuse is starting the 2011-2012 season ranked #5.  The Orange have a reputation of often underachieving when highly rated, and overachieving when lowly ranked or unranked.   However, starting the year at #5 is a rarity for the Orange, something accomplished only three times before.  There are some strong similarities between those three seasons, as we will see.

In the fall of 1985, the Orange were ranked #4 to start the season. This was Pearl Washington’s junior season, and the underrated Rafael Addison was getting recognition as he entered his senior year.  Senior Wendell Alexis was finally getting a starting job, as was Howard Triche, and Rony Seikaly was moving into his sophomore year.  The Pearl played as well as could be expected, but an injury to Addison’s knee hampered the second half of his year.  Rony Seikaly improved, but not as much as hoped.  The Orangemen would go 26-6 over the season including 14-2 in the Big East, winning the Big East Regular season championship.  They would lose to St. John’s in a close game in the Big East Tournament Championship, and would earn a #2 seed for the NCAA tournament.  The Orangemen would suffer an embarrassing second round upset loss to Navy, though David Robinson was showing the world that he was a great player.  The Orangemen would finish the year ranked #9.

In 1987 the Orangemen were ranked #1, following their loss to Indiana in the NCAA Championship the year before.  The Orangemen had a lot of talent with junior Sherman Douglas leading the offense, and senior Rony Seikaly dominating the middle.  Sophomore Derrick Coleman and Stephen Thompson would provide the front court presence and Matt Roe the outside shooting.  The Orangemen would go 11-5 in the Big East, 26-9 overall.  They would win the Big East Tournament, easily beating Villanova in the finals, and would earn a #3 seed.  The Orangemen would unfortunately be upset in the second round in an upset to Rhode Island with an ailing Sherman Douglas struggling to play.  The Orange would again finish the year ranked #9.

Finally in 1989 the Orangemen were again ranked #1.  Senior Stephen Thompson moved to point guard, with sophomore Dave Johnson playing the other guard position.  Syracuse’s front court included senior Derrick Coleman, sophomore Billy Owens and junior LeRon Ellis.  The Orange struggled with Thompson and the point, and freshman Michael Edwards would move to the point, with Thompson moving back to the shooting guard.  The Orangemen would go 26-7 with a 12-4 record in the Big East. They would win the Big East Regular season championship, but lose in the Big East Tournament Finals in a close game to UConn.  They would earn a #2 seed, but lose in the Sweet Sixteen to Minnesota. They would finish the year ranked #6.

Those three seasons all had the Orangemen play very well in the Big East, winning a regular season championship or tournament championship each time.  They made the BET finals each time, and earned a good seed in the NCAA.  All three teams bowed out of the NCAA shockingly early (2nd or 3rd round).   So those teams were successful by most season standards, but they failed to live to the lofty pre-season.

So what can we expect in 2011-2012?  There are a lot of unknowns for the Orange, mixed in with a lot of pluses.  They do return a lot of talent from the previous season, and they do have a very experienced team.  It is also a very deep team with eleven guys who could see significant playing time (though that surely will shake down to nine).

The Orange could have an explosive offense with the ability to pound the ball inside, slash to the hoop, or score from the perimeter.  Defensively they could once again have the dominating Orange zone defense, with a lot of length and speed.

There are some questions that will need to be answered to find out what the Orange can really do.

Rick Jackson:  Can the Orange replace big Rick Jackson? Jackson provided consistency last year, dominating the boards all season long, and locking down the defense in the low post.  Players like Jackson are rare, an individual who had the strength, drive and hustle, along with the maturity of a senior.  Rakeem Christmas could replace Jackson, but that is an awful lot to ask of any player, much less a freshman.

The Centers:  Last year Fab Melo was disappointing most of the season, and Syracuse was saved by the fact that Baye Keita came out of nowhere to provide a spark in the middle.  Will Melo display the promise that he had coming out of high school? Will the NCAA game slow down for him, and will he be able to stay out of foul trouble.  If Melo doesn’t improve, the loss of Jackson will be more apparent, and it will put a lot of pressure on Keita.

Scoop Jardine: Which Scoop Jardine will the Orange see most of the time? Will he be a leader on the court, and run the offense for a whole forty minutes, or will he continue to have an over abundance of ‘Scoop moments’, along with forgetting about his teammates in crunch time and trying to do it all himself?

Team Chemistry: What type of team will the Orange have? Will it be a cohesive unit like the Rautins-Johnson team of two years ago, or a fragmented teams of super egos? There is a lot of talent coming in from the freshman class, and a lot of returning talent, all of whom are going to want playing time.  Are the players going to be able to work together, or is each going to try to show off his talent any chance he gets ala a Donte Greeen?

The Orange should have a very good season, and I would be surprised if they are not a 3 seed or higher come tournament time. The experience on the team cannot be overstated; it is very important for developing the ‘basketball IQ’. 

I know I eagerly await the season tip off. Go Orange!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Goodbye Big East, Hello ACC

I know I have got a lot of company when I say I am not happy about Syracuse leaving the Big East. The only thing that makes this palatable is that defections of this scale were going to happen to the Big East, and it is nice to see Syracuse proactive and choosing where it goes, as opposed to its Big East brethren who are now scrambling for replacements and/or a new home.

The ACC would be my conference of choice for the Orange. A rich basketball tradition, though down the last couple of years, some former Big East teams in the mix, and it covers a part of the country the Orange recruit from already (Maryland / Virginia and Florida).

The Big East stopped being the conference I grew up to love years ago. Those who are about my age would remember the formation of the league from primarily small private independent Eastern schools: Georgetown, Providence, Connecticut, Seton Hall, Boston College, St. John’s, Villanova and Syracuse. The Orangemen and the Hoyas were the prime time players the first year, with the Redmen, Nova and BC on the rise. A few years into the league history and the Big East had three teams in the Final Four, with the epic upset of the mighty Hoyas by Nova.

The league had home and home games for all the teams, and characters as coaches, ranging from the leprechaun Carneseca, to the rumpled Massimino, the hulking Thompson, and the whining Boeheim. Memorable college players such as the ultimate gym rat in Chris Mullin, to the dominating Patrick Ewing, the bullish John Pinone, and the speedy Michael Adams.

Football became very important in the college landscape, and the Big East found it had to add other teams to form a football league; else it would lose some of its members. The initial growth wasn’t too bad, though it started to monkey with the quaintness of the league, and some of the home and home games. But as the years progressed, the league continued to gain members, and became quite bloated.

The Big East became the dominant basketball league in the land, but members only played each other one time a year (which the exception of three home and homes). Legendary games such as the Hoyas invading the Dome would actually not occur some seasons.

So while I regret the Orange leaving the Big East, I realize the Big East I loved left the Orange a long time ago.

An irony could exist if some rumors play out. It is possible that UConn and Rutgers would also join the ACC, allowing the ACC to have a 16 team league. It would then split into two divisions. Hypothetically, let’s say they were a North and a South division. The North Division could be comprised of UConn, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Syracuse. If that looks somewhat familiar, it should, as that looks much like the Big East football conference in 2002.

The things I will miss the most from the Big East? Not having Georgetown as a meaningful game on the schedule each year, though I’m sure they will schedule that as a non-conference game annually. If UConn doesn’t come south, not having the Huskies to taunt. And not playing in Madison Square Garden each March, a special event each and every year.

Another question at hand will be what will this do to Jim Boeheim’s eventual retirement plans? Will it expedite the process? Boeheim loves Eastern basketball, the coaching camaraderie. Would the change be something enough to make him decide to step down before the move, or is his desire to keep coaching enough to have him lead the Orange into their new adventure?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Farewell to a Gridiron Legend

Syracuse Football and NFL Legend John Mackey passed away yesterday at the age of 69. Mackey had suffered from dementia the past few years, the probable result of years of contact in football (ten in the NFL, four in college).

Mackey revolutionized the tight end position in the NFL by making the position a legitimate receiving threat. He was not only a possession receiver with the ability to catch the short pass over the middle, but with his size and speed, he was a deep threat. In Super Bowl V, Mackey caught a deflected pass from Johnny Unitas and then went 75 yards for a touchdown. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1992.

Mackey would later be the president of the NFL’s Player Association, and spearheaded changes that would occur after the NFL/AFL merger.

Mackey was a multi-sport star at Syracuse. Besides staring in football, Mackey was also a track and field star. He also spent one winter helping the Orangemen Basketball team. The football stars were always looking for activities in the off season that would help keep them in shape for football, and the 1960-1961 Syracuse basketball team was in need of help. A LOT of help.

That team would finish the season 4-19, but struggled to find scoring and rebounding, outside of senior star Pete Chudy. Ernie Davis, who was a star basketball player in high school joined the squad to help out down the stretch. Mackey decided to join Davis and fellow football star Don King in the endeavor.

Davis would quickly adapt, and showed promise with 10.2 points and 9.2 rebounds a game (including 18 rebounds versus Canisius). King provided some scoring off the bench with 5.9 ppg. And John Mackey provided some scoring and rebounding in his limited playing time (only 6 games) with 4.7 points and 4.7 rebounds.

From all accounts, John Mackey was a classy individual and well respected. He was a Syracuse Letterwinner of Disctinction in 1986. My condolences to his family and friends.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Bye Bye DaShonte

DaShonte Riley is not the first player to transfer from Syracuse University, nor will he be the last. There is a long list of transfers over the program’s history, long before Jim Boeheim was the head coach.

Players transfer for many reasons: academics, homesick, family issues, lack of playing time, conflicts with the coach, disciplinary reasons. I will not speculate on why a player left, though Riley states it is because of his ailing grandparents and homesickness, and being that his hometown is near Eastern Michigan, it makes sense. Obviously, having Rob Murphy as the new head coach there makes it more attractive to him.

I wish Riley the best of luck. He does resolve the scholarship issue Syracuse was going to have this upcoming season, but the lack of his 7’ frame off the bench will be missed. Having Fab Melo backed up by both Baye Keita and Riley would have been a luxury for the Orange, with the graduation of Rick Jackson. Syracuse could be fine with the development of just Melo and Keita, and having prized recruit Rakeem Christmas on the team this fall may completely hide the fact that Riley is gone.

Transfers follow many different paths upon leaving Syracuse. Some end up with very good collegiate careers for reputable Division I programs. This includes the likes of Rich Manning (who would get a taste of the NBA), Keith Hughes and Bobby Lazor. Others have success at smaller programs such as Tony Bland at San Diego State, Ramel Lloyd at Long Beach State, and Mike Sheehey at St. Bonaventure. Some fail to do any better at their new school, which includes the likes of Eric Williams (UMass), James Thues (Detroit-Mercy) and David Patrick. And some basically disappear upon the transfer: Billy Edelin and Mike Jones are recent examples.

I have a sense that Riley will do well at Eastern Michigan. He showed some promise his freshman year at Syracuse, and at 7’, he has the raw physical tools. Rob Murphy is an excellent assistant coach and a very good recruiter; if a decent team is built at EMU, Riley could have a solid college career. I do not see him being in the NBA, but that’s just statistical probability; it’s very tough getting there.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Season is Over

Syracuse earned their loss tonight to Marquette. Syracuse consistently made poor decisions all game, was sloppy with its ball handling and lacked the hustle of its opponent. It’s a shame to see the season end that way, a bad taste to have to sit in the fans and players mouths for the summer. The ‘unfinished business’ will remain that way.

I’ll give Marquette credit for its game plan. They executed their ball movement well, with sharp crisp passes. They double teamed Rick Jackson all night and stymied the Orange offense.

I feel bad for Rick Jackson. I hate to see a senior’s career end, particularly on a night where he is having a bad game. Jackson was clearly frustrated all night, and though his shooting wasn’t bad (3 for 6), he only had 6 attempts, and he had only four rebounds. The box score is showing he has 3 turnovers, but it seemed like more.

Scoop had more than his share of ‘Scoop moments’ tonight. Lord knows what he was thinking at the end of the first half when he jacked a three point attempt with 19 seconds to go, and the Orange had the opportunity to run the clock down for one shot. Instead SU missed, and Marquette scored. He is being credited with only 3 turnovers too, but it surely seemed like more. You knew he was going to rush a three point attempt at the end when the Orange were down by three… and he did, even though he was guarded, there was plenty of time, and the Orange had no rebounding position.

The foul calls seemed lopsided but I don’t recall seeing bad calls or missed calls. I think it was a case of the more aggressive team drawing more fouls. Marquette consistently beat the Orange down the court; they did it at least twice after the Orange made a basket. Shameful for Syracuse!

The future for the Orange should be bright. Dion Waiters is going to be one heck of an offensive player in the future; if he can learn to play solid defense he’ll be outstanding all around. James Southerland showed flashes tonight. He has a summer to grow and mature some more. C.J. Fair was hampered by fouls tonight, and was pretty much a non-factor, but we have all seen his ability to stuff the stat sheet all year long.

The team frustrated me all season long with their sloppy play at times, and tonight is really a fitting ending to the season.

Mid-Majors Get Robbed (Predictably)

The Big East did deserve 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament this year, despite the fact that many of Syracuse’s Big East brethren are working hard at tarnishing that with all the upsets. As I pointed out the other day, eleven Big East teams were going to make the tournament and it was not even going to be close (and it wasn’t based on the seeding). If you look at the Big East team’s records, ignoring which conference they were in, and compared them to all the other ‘at large’ teams out there, there was no question about it.

Fans upset about the mid-majors being denied should look at the lower teams from the Big 10, Pac 10 and ACC. Their resumes were far less impressive, and for the most part, their results have equally been sub-par.

The mid-majors are suffering from a scenario where they had no strength of resume to make the tournament. This has evolved over the past four to five years from how the NCAA Committee looks at team’s schedules. I had stated in 2007 that mid-majors would find it more difficult in the future to get at-large bids in the NCAA, and it is true.

A team like Syracuse has no reason to schedule a mid-major. The national experts, such as Dick Vitale, will only criticize Syracuse for playing a mid-major, screaming that they should be playing major conference teams. If they beat a mid-major team, they get no respect from the analysts. On the other hand, they have a chance of losing those games, and that loss will kill them later in the year from a voter perception.

Plus scheduling the mid-majors hurts your RPI. 25% of the RPI scoring is your opponent’s opponent SOS… so every time you schedule a mid-major (and for that matter any lesser conference team), you drag down your RPI, because you get the total results of that entire conference. Playing Georgia Tech, Michigan and North Carolina State this year in the non-conference schedule helped Syracuse, regardless how well those teams did, because you tie in all the teams in those conferences into your RPI.

So now we are in the position where none of the major teams will play mid-majors on a regular basis, thus giving the mid-major conferences little opportunity to get wins for their resumes. As I had pointed out the other day, none of the mid-major conferences looked particularly good in 2011. That doesn’t mean they were not good; they just had no body of evidence to suggest it because of limited exposure against the ‘better’ conferences.

A side note on the NCAA scheduling Connecticut and Cincinnati, and Syracuse and Marquette to all meet in the 2nd round of the tournament: shame on the NCAA. It’s clear they wanted the Big East schools to knock each other out of the tournament. The NCAA implied it was the mathematics of the situation that caused the situation to occur. Well, mathematically, there are sixteen ‘pods’ in the NCAA first two rounds, and only 11 Big East teams. All 16 Big East teams could make the tournament, and not be required to meet each other until the Sweet Sixteen.

Look, it’s fine if the NCAA wants to have Big East teams knock each other out of the tournament. Just admit it. As representative of schools of higher learning, you just look like fools stating a falsehood as your reasoning, and you insult the intelligence of your fans. As a Syracuse fan, I do feel cheated having to play a Big East team in the NCAA. I would like to see the Orange play a school they have not played, so we can see how the Orange really measure up. Playing Marquette, this early in the tournament, really offers us nothing new.

Besides, with the historical tradition of the ‘Madness’ in March Madness, you know that Big East schools were not all going to survive anyhow.