Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 Highlights of Syracuse Basketball in 2014

Happy New Year to all the Orange fans out there.  As 2014 comes to close, here are my top 10 highlights from Syracuse basketball for the year.

  1. Syracuse beating Duke 91-89 in overtime on Feb 1st before an NCAA record crowd 35,446.
  2. Tyler Ennis’ 35 foot game winning basket against Pitt for a 58-56 victory at the Peterson Center on February 12th, extending the Orange's winning streak to 24 games.
  3. Syracuse’s school  record 25 game winning streak set against North Carolina State on Feb 15th.
  4. Syracuse reaching #1 in the polls on February 3rd, with the Orange being 22-0.
  5. Jim Boeheim throwing his coat and being ejected against Duke on Feb 22 at Cameron Indoor Arena.  It was Boeheim’s first career ejection, as he argued that C.J. Fair’s game winning shot should have counted; instead Fair was called with charging.
  6. Trevor Cooney scoring 33 points against Notre Dame on February 3rd.  He was 9 of 12 from three point range, and 11 of 15 from the floor in the 61-55 win.
  7. Syracuse beating Western Michigan 77-53 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament behind Trevor Cooney’s 18 points.
  8. Syracuse beating Miami 49-44 on January 4th, behind C.J. Fair’s 15 points. This would be Syracuse’s first game in ACC conference play.
  9. Syracuse beating North Carolina 57-45 on January 11th before 32,121 fans at the Carrier Dome. The Orange would lead by as much as 19 points with four minutes to play.
  10. Syracuse beating Kennesaw State 89-42 on November 14th to start the Kaleb Joseph & Chris McCullough era, kick off 115th season of Syracuse basketball and Jim Boeheim’s 39th season as head coach.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to wish all the Orange fans out there a very Merry Christmas! I hope you stockings were full of neat stuff, and that Old Saint Nick came down that chimney with a bagful for you and yours.

Appropriately, the only way to wish a truly Orange Christmas is:

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shaking Away Preconceptions

I think sometimes we as fans let our preconceptions of what a player or coach does cloud the reality of what we see.  There is a common perception among Orange fans that Jim Boeheim always plays a tight rotation of 7 players, and he is unwilling to change.  

Statistically, that is not true.  And surprisingly, we only have to go back two and three seasons to see contrary situations.

Using a guideline of players who played 10+ minutes a game, and who played in virtually all of the games they were eligible to play in (where they were not limited by injury of suspension), here is a breakdown from 1989-1990 to 2013-2014 of the number of players in Boeheim's 'rotation' (data from OrangeHoops)

2013-2014: 7
2012-2013: 9
2011-2012: 9
2010-2011: 8
2009-2010: 7
2008-2009: 8
2007-2008: 7
2006-2007: 7
2005-2006: 7
2004-2005: 8
2003-2004: 9
2002-2003: 8
2001-2002: 8
2000-2001: 7
1999-2000: 8
1998-1999: 8
1997-1998: 7
1996-1997: 7
1995-1996: 7
1994-1995: 8
1993-1994: 7
1992-1993: 8
1991-1992: 7
1990-1991: 7

1989-1990: 7

Over those 25 seasons, Boeheim did employ a seven man rotation thirteen times.  But, that means twelve times he employed a larger rotation.  Nine times he had an eight man rotation, and three times he had a nine man rotation. In 2012-2013 and 2011-2012 he had the nine man rotations... very recent indeed!

I do no think there is any doubt that Boeheim likes to play his primary five as much as he can.  And clearly a seven or eight man rotation is his norm.  He does however adjust to the talent he has.

Boeheim appears to be unwilling to play a player who has not proven himself in practice. He does not appear to be a coach who wants to play a guy 'just to give him experience'. Instead, he always works to put his team in the best position to win for that game.

It is true that Boeheim's bench will shrink during truly big games.  I would submit however, that is true for most if not all coaches. You play your best players when you need to play your best players.

In 1995-1996 Syracuse played a tight bench all season, and Kentucky, who was the dominant favorite that season was touted for the incredible depth of the team and how masterful Rick Pitino was for playing so deep into his bench.  And Kentucky did play 10 deep all season long; no player on that team averaged more than 27 minutes a game.

In the championship game, Syracuse played seven deep as they had done all year. But look at what Rick Pitino did.  Pitino, who is a great coach, went only eight players deep, and four of his starters played 27 or more minutes. Tony Delk played 37 minutes and Anthony Epps 34.

Part of that was because it was a real big game for Kentucky, and Pitino wanted his best players on the court (i.e. just like Boeheim). And part of that was that the game pace and tempo, which was dictated by Syracuse, not Kentucky, allowed Pitino the opportunity to keep his starters in the game longer.  However, read that last point again.  Pitino, in one game because of tempo, kept his starters in longer.  Boeheim plays with that tempo all 35+ games all year.  And by the way, which set of players do you think were less fatigued in that game? The guys who averaged 35-38 minutes a game all year, or the guys who averaged 22-27 minutes a game?  My money is on the guys who are used to playing those minutes.  

But I digress.  

The original point was that Boeheim never plays more than seven deep (which is false), and Boeheim won't change or adapt (which is also false). When Boeheim has the talent, he plays the talent, and when he has a small set of talented players, the rotation is smaller.

An interesting side note: back in 1977-1978, during the Louie 'n Bouie era, Syracuse went 11 players deep (10 if you don't want to count Marty Headd as a regular), and 12 players on the team had enough quality time per game they played to average 3.4 ppg or more.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Orange Are Improving

The Orange are improving, which provides me with some sense of relief.  It seemed early in the season that the team was never going to improve.  The 49th consecutive win against Colgate came rather easily, and with this team, prior to tip off, it may not have been easy. But there was nothing to worry about.

Trevor Cooney has gotten his game back on track and continues to keep himself involved in the offense as a playmaker, not just a shooter.  That type of play can only continue to help the Orange as the season progresses. It will take pressure off of Kaleb Joseph, help open up the middle of the court, and force defenders to guard Cooney honestly.

Rakeem Christmas has proven himself to be a strong inside presence this year both offensively and defensively.  The key will be how many minutes can he stay on the court without getting into foul trouble.  

The sophomore class continues to be inconsistent, but bright spots due appear. Ron Patterson had his opportunity to shine with a nice game against Colgate (13 pts on 3-6 three point shooting).  Proper perspective would remind you that it was against Colgate; however, Patterson has done very little recently and has been a healthy non-play in some of those games. So it was nice to see him get some quality time.

Chris McCullough seems to be regressing. He can definitely rebound but offensively he is really struggling, and defensively he isn't always in the right position.

The team is improving, and it will be interesting to see how much better they can get.

I am more concerned with the defense than the offense right now.  The bright side is that Jim Boeheim has found the team does reasonably well with their press defense, so there is a defensive scheme that works. The dark side is that they team is struggling with its bread-and-butter zone defense.  It seems to me that there is poor backside rotation covering the holes, and the wings are still slow at getting out on the shooters.  I am not sure that is something that can be fixed quickly in the season.  It can improve, but the key to a zone defense is everyone moving as one, and not allowing gaps to occur.  It is a very difficult defensive concept, one that takes time, and I think having only two returning starters is hampering that development.

It is good however to be going into the Christmas holiday with a recent victory.

Go Orange!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Going To Be a Rough Year

Here's where the 2013-2014 Syracuse Orange are, summed up fairly well by a man who should know:
"This isn't like the last six years. We're going to struggle to win a game. We're going to struggle to win a game, any game that we play. This game is not going to beat anybody that's any good if they don't play better. That means all 18 games in the ACC. I don't care if somebody thinks, oh, they're not that good. They're good enough. Trust me. We have to play a lot better, we have to get better and we have to figure that out and we'll see. Again, I don't know, I wouldn't want to be overly-confident about that right now because we're not talking about the difficult things we'd like to try to do. We're trying to get the basic essentials down and that's not good at this stage."

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim at the Louisiana Tech post game press conference, December 14th, 2014.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Flash of GMac

For at least one night, Trevor Cooney did a very good Gerry McNamara impression.  I am not referring to his three point shooting, though he was 4 for 8 from three point range.  I am talking about how all the elements of the game against Louisiana Tech were similar to GMac.

Gerry McNamara was a terrific shooter out of Bishop Hannon High School in Scranton.  Shortly before the 2002-2003 season began, Syracuse's projected starting point guard Billy Edelin found out he was ineligible for the first 12 games of the season.  McNamara assumed that role, and became the de facto point guard for the Orangemen.

McNamara would drive to the hoop, he would get the ball into the Carmelo Anthony, and let Anthony make the play, or get himself open so that Anthony could kick it back out.  McNamara had a knack for jumping the lane and getting the necessary steals.  During the closing minutes of close games, McNamara would hold run the clock down, often forcing opposing teams to foul him so that he could got to the free throw line with his 90% accuracy and seal the game.  

Trevor Cooney played that type of game against the Bulldogs earlier today.  The 25 point effort and the four of eight three point shooting are the obvious highlights.  The three steals and the 5 of 5 from the free throw line were critical.  Cooney brought the ball up the court during most of the games crunch time, taking the pressure off of freshman Kaleb Joseph, who struggled with eight turnovers.  

Cooney had no turnovers.  He demonstrated leadership on the court, provided a steady hand, and was the vocal encouragement on the court.  

There were some mistakes in the evening for sure.  And the Orange still had to come down to the wire to win the game.

But for one night this season, I felt like I was watching Gerry McNamara on the court. And that was a nice thing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Missing Grant

A front line of Rakeem Christmas, Jerami Grant and Chris McCullough would be quite impressive and formidable.  The Orange could have had the line up if Grant had not jumped early to the NBA last June.

That would have provided a front line with a lot of length, quickness and vertical space, perfect for Jim Boeheim's zone defense.  Grant was improving offensively last season, and with the improved offensive skills for Christmas plus the arrival of McCullough, there would have been a lot of ability to score up front.  It would get crowded at times, but I think McCullough would have been comfortable drifting a little further away from the hoop.  Plus, with the foul trouble Christmas has had each game, there definitely could never be too much depth up front.

The presence of Grant would not help the perimeter situation; with the exception of Cooney who draws a lot of defensive attention, most of the perimeter players are seeing good three point opportunities frequently.  But I think the addition of Grant on the back line would allow for more steals and force turnovers, and that would improve the fastbreak opportunities.

I had mentioned back in June that I thought it was a mistake for Grant to leave early.  I believe he left a lot of money on the table.  I would imagine that his family is not in dire financial need, as his father is former NBA player Harvey Grant.  Another year of college would have given him more time to improve his draft stock and more playing time per game to work on his skills.

An early season injury hampered Grant's start this year in the NBA.  He is healthy now, and playing for the worst team in the NBA in the Philadelphia 76'ers (and one of the worst in NBA history). He's playing 9-12 minutes a night, which isn't bad... but he could be playing 35+ minutes for Syracuse.  And again, I'll go back to my original statement... it's all about the money.  He was worth more if he stayed.

I wish I could argue that Tyler Ennis should have stayed. Without a doubt he would be helping the Orange out early this season. He would bring in another perimeter shooter, and he would run the offense, and let Kaleb Joseph mature and learn.  Ennis did tend to have a tendency to play it safe too much, and I think he missed opportunities to push the ball, but the results last year were pretty good.

Financially, Ennis made the right move. He is not getting the playing time, but he is getting the practice time.  He definitely would have improved with more playing time at Syracuse, but his draft stock wasn't going to change significantly in my opinion.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Shooting Woes

The Orange seemed stunk in a season long slump with their three point shooting, with a 20.9% accuracy for the season. The Syracuse team has not been shy about shooting beyond the arc, having taken 129 shots over the first 8 games, an average of 16 a game.  Unfortunately, they are making about 3.3 a game.

Trevor Cooney has been the lightning rod for the most criticism.  In part that is fair, as he is a junior, one of the most seasoned players on the team, and came to Syracuse with a reputation of being a perimeter shooter.  His bombing of Notre Dame last season showed he could do it when he lit up the Fighting Irish for 9 three point baskets on 12 attempts on his way to a 33 point night.  Cooney has hit only 13 of 46 attempts this season, for a success rate of 28.3%.

Cooney is, however, the best three point shooter on the team.  I am not just talking from a observation perspective.  Statistically, his 28.3% is the best on the team... and by a large margin. Here is the rest of the crew:

B.J. Johnson:   5 of 23 for 21.7%
Kaleb Joseph:   3 of 14 for 21.4%
Michael Gbinje:   3 of 21 for 14.3%
Ron Patterson:   2 of 18 for 11.1%

As a group, that foursome is 13 of 76 for 17.1%.  

All hope should not be lost.  It is highly unlikely that the Orange as a team are that bad at shooting the three, and things should come around.

Here are a list of the five worst three point shooters in Syracuse basketball history, minimum 30 attempts:

Paul Harris:  22 of 98 for 22.4%
Damone Brown:  20 of 89 for 22.5%
Elvir Ovcina:  37 of 153 for 24.2%
Louis McCroskey:   36 of 141 for 25.5%
Josh Wright:  34 of 120 for 28.3%

To give some perspective of how bad those five were as three point shooters, consider that Stephen Thompson, one of the all time great Orangemen, but a horrendous three point shooter, is only 9th worst at 30.3% (26 of 86).  So the five worst shooters are pretty bad.  

Right now, ALL five Syracuse perimeter shooters would be worse than #5 Josh Wright, and four would be worst than Paul 'I couldn't hit the broadside of a barn' Harris.  So unless Jim Boeheim coincidentally recruited the five worst shooters in Syracuse history at the same time, it is highly unlikely the shooting performance is indicative of their actual ability.

Trevor Cooney is an enigma. He is a 34% career shooter, and has been a disappointment for all three seasons, with high expectations based on Boeheim's comments about his ability.  Opposing defenses are keying on him, but even when he gets open, his shot is not falling. 

We would expect the Orange shooting to start to regress to the mean at some point. They aren't likely to ever be a great perimeter shooting team, but they should be in the 30-33% range, at a minimum. Just keep taking the shots.

Or, perhaps give walk-on Carter Sanderson more playing time (playfully said).  Sanderson is a graduate student at Syracuse, and is on the team because he still had a year of eligibility left after completing his undergraduate work at Lipscomb University.  Sanderson made 32.4% of his three point shots at Lipscomb, 55 of 170.  

Anyhow, there will be a brighter future in the team's shooting. I just hope it is sooner than later.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

I would like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for having the privilege for being a Syracuse basketball fan, and for all the high and low moments every year.  There is joy in watching the team grow and develop each year.

I am thankful to have had the privilege to see Syracuse win a National Championship in 2003, and to see Hakim Warrick fly out of no where for one of the greatest game winning blocks ever.  I am thankful to have been able to watch the team win a dramatic 6 overtime game against UConn in the 2009 Big East Tournament, with players on both teams playing their hearts out.

I am thankful to have been able to attend the Syracuse / Boston College game with my dad on January 21, 1984, and watch a dynamic freshman Pearl Washington sink a half court shot to beat Boston College.

I am thankful for having been able to go to the Syracuse / Georgetown game in 1990 with my good friend Vady, and watch the Orangemen storm back from a big half time deficit to beat the Hoyas in overtime 89-87.  That may have been the loudest game I have ever attended at the dome.

I am thankful to have watched the 1996 Championship game with John Wallace carrying the Orangemen in the post season.  The Orangemen lost the game, but I was able to view it with my 3 month old son sitting on my lap.

I am thankful for having a wonderful family and having the time to share with them.  I am thankful that I have a home to live in, and always have food on the table. That I have friends to share the good times with, and those to support me in the bad times.  I am thankful the bad times are so far and few. I am thankful to have the lord in my life to provide me with inspiration each and every day.

Thanks thanks to all the Syracuse fans out there.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Searching for that Big Time Scorer (30 points)

Amidst Syracuse’s scoring woes in this young season, I find myself longing for a big time scorer on the team.  The type of player who could carry the team for a night, with a 30+ point effort.  It may seem that Syracuse does not have that type of player right now, but that would only be if you have a short memory.  Trevor Cooney bombed Notre Dame for 33 points last February 2014 as he hit 9 of 12 three point shots.   Of course, we all know that Cooney can shoot; it is just that he can be very streaky and inconsistent and he is currently in the middle of a long slump.

Overall, 58 different Orangemen have scored 30+ points in agame; this has been accomplished 179 different times.

The first time was in 1904 when George Kirchgasser scored 30 against Jenners Prep.  Kirchgasser scored all 30 from the floor; he took no free throw shots in the game.  Because it was an earlier era, it isn’t recognized today as an official accomplishment.

The first official 30+ point game by an Orangemen occurred in 1943 when Bob Shaddock scored 30 over rival Colgate.

The Syracuse record for points in a game is 47 by Bill Smith.  Smith shot 17 of 23 from the floor, and made 13 free throws in a high scoring game against LaFayette.

Dave Bing scored 30 or more points in 20 different games, or roughly 26% of the varsity games he played at Syracuse.  That’s just in case you ever really wondered about the greatness of Bing.

Sharpshooting Greg Kohls is next on the list with 14 games with 30+ points.  The amazing thing about Kohls was that he barely played his sophomore season (freshman couldn’t play in his era).  He played 54 varsity games his junior and senior season as like Bing, scored 30+ in 26% of the games. Kohls was a terrific perimeter shooter; who knows how many 30+ point games he would have had if there had been a three point shot in that era.

Billy Owens is third with 10 games with 30+ points.  Owens was the first player under Jim Boeheim to average 20+ points a game. 7 of those 10 games occurred his junior season, after Derrick Coleman and Stephen Thompson had graduated.

30 point games have occurred everywhere.  94 times they have occurred at home (53% of the time).  59 occurred at the opponent’s home court.  8 occurred in a mid-season tournament, 2 in the post season NIT, 1 in the ECAC, 7 in the Big East tournament and 8 in the NCAA Tournament.

It may be surprising to see what players never accomplished the feat.  Derrick Coleman, Syracuse’s second all-time leading scorer never scored 30 points in a game.  Part of that reason was that Coleman was always surrounded by other great scorers in Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly, Stephen Thompson and Billy Owens.  But Douglas, Seikaly and Owens all did it.

Stephen Thompson, Syracuse’s 7th all-time leading scorer never hit 30.  I’m sure besides playing with other great scorers, that the inability to make free throws and a three point shot kept Thompson from that mark.  Thompson was a great scorer though; I’m not sure if there was ever a better scorer in the Boeheim era.

C.J. Fair, who finished as Syracuse’s 15th all-time leading scorer, never did it. Nor did Brandon Triche at #17 (though his uncle Howard did it), or #18 Todd Burgan, or #22 Jason Hart.
There have likewise been some surprising players who have had the unexpected big nights.

NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown had the talent on the basketball court, as well as the gridiron and the lacrosse field. He was second on the team in scoring his sophomore season with 15 ppg, and he would score 33 against Sampson Air Force Base that winter. 

In January 1952, Bucky Roche scored 35 at Cornell.  The senior guard was second in the team in scoring with 14 ppg; but he had scored only 121 points in his career before his senior year.

In December 1962, sophomore guard Phil Schoff would score 30 points against Cornell in a big loss.  Schoff would finish the season as the teams third scorer at 10.4 ppg.  Schoff would lose his starting position his junior year with the arrival of Dave Bing, Sam Penceal and Chuck Richards, though he would remain a valuable reserve.

In December 1986, senior forward Howard Triche would score 31 points in win over Northeastern. Triche was the fifth leading scorer on the team that year, and that was the only time in his career he would lead the Orangemen in scoring for a game.

The most surprising was probably Gene Waldon.  Waldron put up 40 points against Iona in the 1983 Carrier Classic. Waldron did this in the non-three point era.  He was the fifth leading scorer on the team that year, averaging 9.2 ppg and Waldon had never been a big scorer before.

If not for Waldron, the most surprising may have been senior Allen Griffin.  Griffin would score 31 in a double overtime win against St. John’s .  He as the fourth leading scorer on the team at 10.8 ppg, and had averaged only 3 ppg his junior year.  His method of scoring 31 points was highly unusual too. Griffin only made 5 of 9 baskets that night.  However, 3 of those 5 made field goals were 3 point baskets.  And he was sent to the free throw line 22 times where he made 18 of the them.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014-2015 Season of Questions

The 2014-2015 Syracuse basketball season should be an interesting one.  It has been quite a long time since the Orange entered a season with so much unknown about the team.  The expected departure of C.J. Fair and Baye Moussa Keita, along with the early departure of Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant have left the Orange with a lot to be replaced.

DaJuan Coleman continues to remain hurt, and the most experienced returning sophomore Tyler Roberson only played in 20 of the teams 34 games.  The only 'known' quantities are returning starters Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas, and reserve swingman Michael Gbinije. 

Cooney and Christmas are both inconsistent players, with flashes of outstanding play, and periods of disappointing play.  Normally on any given season, you can find some dependable returning upperclassmen, or at least one star to rally the team around, but that is not the case this year.

The Orange are going to need Cooney and Christmas to both be more consistently good in their play, and Christmas will need to be a bigger part of the offense.  The freshman Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph are going to have to contribute quickly, and the sophomore trio of Roberson, B.J. Johnson, and Ron Patterson are going to have to be ready to play. Those last five mentioned players all have a lot of potential; it will be curious to see who has matured and developed since last year.

The last time the Orange had a season with this much doubt would likely have to be 1983-1984.  This was Pearl Washington's freshman year; in restrospect it seems funny to question that year, but there was concern if the Pearl's playground style would translate to the NCAA, and how good would he really be.  Plus, regardless of his talent, he was a true freshman, and the early 80s was not an era where most freshman excelled.

Syracuse was coming of a good (but not great) 21-10 season, with 9-7 in the Big East.  The trio of Erich Santifer, Leo Rautins and Tony Bruin had all graduated. Those three had been starters since their sophomore season.  Gene Waldron and Andre Hawkins were returning players, but neither was a star. Waldon was a competent point guard, but most of the offense had previously gone through Rautins as a 'point forward'.  Hawkins was limited on offense, undersized as a center, and prone to foul problems.  Raf Addison was the key reserve returning, and he had shown some promise in his bench role; however Addison wasn't a highly recruited player, so there were not big expectations for him

Things worked out well for the Orangemen that year.  The Pearl was as good as advertised, if not better. Addison turned into a star player, and led the team in scoring with a solid game of mid range jumpers and interior play.  Senior Sean Kerins showed that he had learned something after four years on the bench behind Rautins and Bruin, showing a combination of perimeter shooting and rebounding.

Hawkins learned to be comfortable at the post, and became a reliable 10 point scored, and sophomore Wendell Alexis developed into a very important sixth man backing up the forward and center positions.  The Orangemen would go 23-9, 12-4 in the Big East, and actually improved from the previous year.  

You could argue the 2002-2003 season had as many question marks.  The team had lost leading scorers Preston Shumpert and DeShaun Williams, and it was a team that had collapsed and had missed out on the NCAA tournament, having to settle for the NIT.  However, the team did have three returning starters in Kueth Duany, Hakim Warrick and Craig Forth.   Duany was a senior, and Warrick had played very well down the stretch, including in the NIT tournament.  

Plus the Orangemen the highly touted Carmelo Anthony joining the team, along with highly rated Billy Edelin, and a scrappy sharp shooting guard Gerry McNamara.  The team definitely turned out to be much better than anyone could have expected; winning Syracuse's first National Title one season after being in the NIT was definitely a tremendous feat.  Anthony turned out to be as good as he was touted, and Gerry McNamara was much better than anyone could have anticipated.  Warrick had improved tremendously, as had classmate Josh Pace, and Duany was a solid senior.  The Orangemen unexpectedly did not have the services of Edelin for most of the regular season, but the team excelled.

So anything could happen in the 2014-2015 season. Jim Boeheim does have a good track record of exceeding expectations when the team is low rated; they are starting this year at #23 in the country.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Veterans Day 2014

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
Ross Bibbens
Meyer Bloom
Jim Casey
Ed Cronauer
John Cronauer
Charles Fasce
Russ Finsterwald
Loyal Greenman
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
Earl Ackley
Lou Alkoff
John Balinsky
John Beaulieu
John Beck
Leo Canale
Dick Casey
Larry Crandall
Wilbur Crisp
Dan DiPace
Les Dye
Alton Elliott
John Emerich
Bill Estoff
Bob Felasco
Paul Ferris
Billy Gabor
Ed Glacken
Joe Glacken
Marc Guley
Mark Haller
Lew Hayman
Bill Hennemuth
Bill Hoeppel
Tom Huggins
George Jarvis
Ed Jontos
Walter Kiebach
Jim Konstanty
Stan Kruse (Kruszewski)
Glenn Loucks
Guy Luciano
Saul Mariaschin
Bob Masterson
Paul McKee
Don McNaughton
Tom McTiernan
Francis Miller
Joe Minsavage
Andy Mogish
Roy Peters
Hank Piro
Paul Podbielski
Edward Pond
Phil Rakov
Joe Rigan
John Schroeder
Bill Schubert
Bob Shaddock
Wilmeth Sidat-Singh
Red Stanton
Mike Stark
Chester Stearns
Bobby Stewart
Joe Sylvestri
Charles Taggart
Ray Tice
Joe Weber
Bill Wyrick

In Korea the following served:
Reaves Baysinger, Jr
John Beaulieu
Paul McKee
Paul Podbielski
Fred Serley

In Vietnam, the following served:
Reaves Baysinger, Jr
John Beaulieu
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
Chuck Steveskey

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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Orange Hoops Hall of Fame 2014

In 2007, OrangeHoops inducted its charter class into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame: Dave BingDerrick ColemanSherman DouglasVic Hanson, and Pearl Washington. The next six years saw the addition of Billy Owens (2008), Billy Gabor (2009), Lawrence Moten (2010), Louis Orr (2011), Roosevelt Bouie (2011)  John Wallace (2012), and Rony Seikaly.  So the list now stands at 12. Another year has passed, and now it is time for the 2014 inductee.

I established my rules for the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame back in 2007 and you can catch up on them here. 2014 does have four new eligible candidates (using the fifteen year rule): Elvir Ovcina, Josh Watson, Eric Williams, and Malik Campbell.

Elvir Ovcina was a four year player for Syracuse, primarily as a backup center and forward.  He was a decent short range perimeter shooter, but fancied himself as a three point shooter.  Unfortunately, he wasn't as he hit only 37 of 153 attempts for a 24.2%. He also struggled at the free throw line making 53% of his shots.

Josh Watson was a walk-on his senior year. He was a big man, and was primarily used to help Syracuse's big men have a big body to practice against.  Watson's only game was on senior night.

Erik Williams was a highly recruited forward.  He did not get much playing time his freshman season; he was a starter the beginning of his sophomore year, and showed he was a strong rebounder.  However, Damone Brown would outplay him and replace him before the Big East season began, and Williams would transfer to UMass.  Williams was never more than a reserve there.

Malik Campbell was a valuable receiver on the Orangemen football team for three seasons.  He was a reserve on the basketball floor scoring 66 points in his two seasons.

None of the new eligible candidates from 1998-1999 would make my list of top 10 eligible candidates.

I think this year’s viable top 10 candidates come down to the following, listed chronologically: Lew CastleJoe SchwarzerLew Andreas, Ev KatzVinnie Cohen, Jon Cincebox, Jimmy Lee, Rudy Hackett, Leo Rautins, and Stephen Thompson.

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.

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).

Katz was part of the famed Reindeer Five at Syracuse, that went 45-10 their three years together a Syracuse. Katz was very speedy and one of the early pioneers of the one handed set shot.

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.

Cincebox was on the best rebounders in Syracuse history (in an era when rebounding numbers were admittedly high).  He helped Syracuse to the NCAA Elite Eight in 1956-1957, as the dominant big man for the Orangemen.

Lee was a clutch shooter with terrific perimeter range, and outstanding free throw shooting ability. He was able to use his shooting ability to set himself up as a solid passer. Lee's 18 foot jumper with five seconds remaining led the Orangemen to beat heavily favored North Carolina, as the Orangemen eventually moved on to their first NCAA Final Four. Lee would end up making the All-Tournament team for his outstanding performances.

Rautins was a terrific ball-handling forward with a nice shooting touch, solid rebounding and scoring skills. He is most well known for his game winning tip in basket to win the Big East Championship in triple overtime against Villanova in 1981.  Rautins also recorded two triple-doubles in Big East action.

Thompson was an explosive swingman, with incredible quickness and vertical leap, and excellent defensive skills. He was extremely adept at playing above the basket though he was only about 6'2". He teamed with Sherman Douglas to perfect the alley-oop basket.  Thompson was an extremely proficient scorer, despite the fact he was a terrible perimeter shooter.  

All are worthy players, and tough selections to make.  I designed my selection rules to make it tough; the Hall of Fame should be the 'best of the best', and I would rather have a line of worthy players outside the Hall of Fame, than cheapen it by having lessor players included.

My selection for 2014 is Vinnie Cohen.  Cohen was the first true African American superstar basketball player for Syracuse. Cohen and his classmate Jim Brown were the individuals who helped integrate Syracuse sports at the high levels.

Cohen was an explosive leaper and quick to the basket.  He was only 6'1", but played forward. Cohen would average 24.2 points a game his senior season, becoming the first Orangemen to break the 20 ppg barrier. He would lead the Orangemen into the NCAA tournament. Syracuse played #1 North Carolina in
the Elite Eight.  Cohen would score 26 points to lead the Orangemen; it would not be enough as the Tar Heels were much bigger and stronger off the boards.

Cohen was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals to play in the NBA, but turned down the opportunity to pursue his law degree.

Congratulations to Vinnie Cohen, the 2014 Inductee into the Orange Hoops Hall of Fame.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

2013-2014 Historical Context

The 2013-2014 season started better than any Syracuse fan could ever have hoped, winning a school record 25 games and catapulting the Orange to a #1 ranking.  It also crashed and burned at the end of the season, losing six of the last nine games of the year, including a first round exit in the ACC Tournament and a 2nd round exit in the NCAA.

The team did finish with 28 wins, which is an impressive total.  However, they did exceed that total in four of the previous five seasons. Jim Boeheim has put his program at such a high standard, that 28 wins is now below par.

However, the purpose of this article is really to focus on how the players individual career accomplishments ended.

C.J. Fair, as a fourth year senior, reached the loftiest heights.  He did lead the Orange in rebounding the last three seasons.  The last player to lead the team three years in a row was John Wallace.  Jerami Grant was a better rebounder, but he played in two less games and had fewer minutes.  Only Jon Cincebox, Rudy Hackett, Derrick Coleman and John Wallace have accomplished that before.  Though in Fair's case, I think it was more the lack of competition that gave him the title three years.  Fair also lead the Orange in scoring his last two seasons.

Fair finished as SU's 15th all-time leading scorer with 1,660 points, just behind Eric Devendorf.  He was the 16th best rebounder, putting him near Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku.  Fair was way down the list in assists, at #72. He finished as the 249th most accurate 3 pt shooter, and 29th on the all-time list in terms of 3 point baskets made.  And to round it out, he was 43rd all time in free throw shooting percentage.

Tyler Ennis finished as 49th all time in assists, five less that Rick Jackson and 2 more than Dave Bing (though in Bing's case they only had assists as a statistic his senior year).  Ennis was 44th all time in 3 point shots made, and 19th all time in 3 point shooting percentage.  Ennis was clutch in free throw shooting all season, and finished at 18th all-time at SU.

Jerami Grant finished his career 64th in rebounding and 99th in assists. He was 60th in 3 pt baskets made, and 86th in career free throw percentage (in the ball park of Conrad McRae, Otis Hill and Rakeem Christmas).

Baye Moussa Keita finished at 43rd in rebounding.and a woeful 97th in free throw shooting percentage (putting him in the range of Rony Seikaly and LeRon Ellis).

Saturday, June 28, 2014

2014 NBA Draft for the Orange

Three starting Syracuse basketball players had an opportunity to be drafted in the 2014 NBA draft.  The draft went okay for Tyler Ennis, while both Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair have to be disappointed in the results.
I think Ennis made the right choice financially. His game was stellar for Syracuse at the college level, and I wish we had three more years of him with the Orange.  But I’m not sure his game would have improved significantly enough over the next year or two to make him better than the 18th overall pick, and if he didn’t continue to develop in those years, this ‘potential’ would have decreased as the reality of who and what he was became more clear.  He could have actually dropped by staying around.  There are some strong points to his game, but he needs to improve his shooting, and he needs to prove he can consistently play up tempo if needed.  In 2013-2014 those were unknowns and thus ‘potentials’ he could build upon; but if he did not improve in those areas next year, that would cause him to drop.

Ennis has the guaranteed money for 2014-2015, at about $1.24 million (Forbes article)  for the next two years, and that could go four years if his NBA team wants him that long.  That’s $1.24 million this year, instead of no income, and $4.96 million over four years.  If he stayed around one more season and went 15th in the draft in 2015, he would have made about $1.57 million a year, or $6.28 million over four years.  BUT, by going in the draft his year, he would be an unrestricted free agent in 2018-2019 and free to earn what he could get on the market, instead of making the $1.57 million he would have had going in next year’s draft at the hypothetical #15.  Assuming he is successful, he almost certainly would be making more money in 2018-19 in the first year of a free agent contract, than the $1.57 million.

You can use the math of any of the top picks, and I think realistically Ennis would never go higher than #10.  But when you take the impact of getting the $1.23 million this year guaranteed (which is money he would never be able to make up because his career will now be one year longer) and that his free agency will start one year earlier, it’s the smart move.

Jerami Grant , on the other hand, has to be regretting the move.  Assuming he was in good academic standing, he would have had an opportunity to be the central star on the 2014-2015 Syracuse Orange.  He came into the 2014 NBA draft with a ton of potential, but a lot of areas with need for improvement. He could jump explosively and leap quickly, he blocks well, rebounds well, and has a very long reach.  But he needs to dramatically improve his shooting, ball handling and defense.  The real skills he has in 2014 are not uncommon skills in the NBA; they are unteachable, which is what makes him attractive, but it’s not a unique skill set.

Grant ended up the 39th overall pick.  He is not going to get a guaranteed contract, and he’s going to make less than $800k (possibly around $500k) if he makes the team at all. Philadelphia is a good fit for him because it is in a youth movement, but he left a lot of money on the table. If he does sign with the 76’ers and stays on the team, he will have earn about $2.5 million over his first four years of his NBA contract.   Grant has the athletic ability and potential to have moved into a lottery position in the 2015 draft, and he could have earned that amount of guaranteed money in his first season.    He could've earned $10 million over his first four years in the NBA, instead of $2.5 million, and he would be unlikely to make up that difference in the first year of his free agency.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim thought Grant could have made All-America next season, and I agree with that assessment.  

"As far as what he should do, I think, what I think if he came back, he would have had a good chance to make 1st-team All-American based on what he can do and what we would ask him to do next year," Boeheim said. "I think that would have helped his draft stock quite a bit. But players have to decide what they want."  

C.J. Fair made the right decision to stay another year in college. He was not going to be drafted in the 2013 NBA draft. He got another year under his belt to improve his game, and I hope he finished his degree.  The 2013-2014 season did not elevate Fair to a level where he got drafted.  He struggled to score once he became the primary scoring option for the Orange, and his perimeter shooting decreased as he was now a focus of the opposing defense.  Fair struggled at times to be the ‘go to’ man for Syracuse, and really wasn’t able to carry the team on his back many had hoped.  He was a good player last year, but not NBA draft worthy.  

At least Fair is an undrafted free agent and has the opportunity to try to find the right fit himself. 

Fair is a lesson to what could have happened to Ennis if he had stayed.  Fair did improve his senior year, but the ceiling for his potential also dropped as it became clearer what he could and could not do. 

Good luck to all three former Orange on their future professional endeavors, whether it is in the NBA, another league, or another business venture altogether.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Winning the Conference Tournament

The question rises each season as the conference post season tournaments begin:  is the team better off losing the tournament to rest themselves for the NCAA tournament, or is it better to win the tournament and keep the momentum going?

Syracuse does have 34 years of Big East history to draw from.  Five times Syracuse won the Big East Tournament.  The Orange were only 2-4 in the NCAA tournament those years, never advancing beyond the second round.  That seems to be pretty damning evidence.  These were the seasons: 1980-81, 1987-88, 1991-92, 2004-05 and 2005-06.

Some of those losses can be mitigated.  In 1980-81, the Orangemen won the Big East Tournament, and because the conference was only in its second season there was no automatic qualifier. The NCAA ignored the Orangemen, relegating the Orangemen to the NIT, so Syracuse played no NCAA game that year.  However, the Orangemen did do very well in the NIT going 4-1, and losing in overtime to Tulsa in the NIT Finals. That is a very successful post season.

The Orangemen in 1987-88 beat North Carolina A&T in the first round, and then were upset by Rhode Island in the second round when Sherman Douglas struggled with a high fever and cold.

The Orangemen in 1991-1992 beat Princeton in the first round before losing to higher ranked UMass in the second round.

The Orange in 2005-2006 had the embarrassing first round loss to Vermont.

The Orange in 2005-2006 was the year that Gerry McNamara carried the team to a Big East Championship.  The Orange lost to Texas A&M in the first round with an injured GMac struggling to score. However, the Orange would not even have qualified for the NCAA had they not won the Big East Tournament, so it is tough to count the NCAA post season failure against their winning the Big East Title.

Regardless of the reasons, 2-4 in the NCAA following a Big East Title is fairly strong evidence that the Tournament takes a lot out of you.

However, ten times the Orange played in the Big East Championship and lost.  That means an additional 10 times they played just as many games as they would have had they won the tournament, and they had the extra baggage of losing their last game before the NCAA Tournament.  The Orange are 21-9 in the NCAA Tournament when they lost in the Big East Championship.  Never had the Orange lost in the NCAA first round when they reached the Big East Finals and lost.  They lost in the second round twice, in the Sweet Sixteen 4 times, Elite 8 once, the Final Four once (2013) and the NCAA Championship  Game once (1987).  They were banned from NCAA Post season action in 1993, so no wins or losses that year.

And consider the 2008-2009 team that reached the Big East Finals.  That was the year of the epic 6 overtime win over Connecticut, followed by an overtime win against WVU in the semi-finals.  The Orange would lose to Louisville in the finals, but would play the equivalent of 4 7/8 games in four nights. That team would go 2-1 in the NCAA Tournament, losing to higher seeded Oklahoma in the Sweet Sixteen.  Fatigue was not an issue there.

When you combine the two sets, you have fifteen seasons the Orange went to the Big East Championship game (five wins, ten losses).  The Orange were 23-13 in the NCAA Tournament following following playing in the Big East Tournament Championship game, reaching the Final Four Twice.

Compare that to how the Orange have done in the NCAA following Big East Tournaments where they did not reach the Big East Finals (19 times).  The Orange went 27-13 in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Final Four two more times, including the 2003 National Championship.   Five of those seasons they did not even reach the NCAA; they were regulated to the NIT Tournament.

So we are really comparing going 23-13 versus 27-13, two Final Fours on each side of the ledger.  I don’t see a real difference there, not one to suggest that it’s better to than the conference tournament in favor of the NCAA. 

Given that, let’s go ORANGE!  Let’s do some damage in the ACC Tournament.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Orange and Blue Devils: The Coach Perspective

Not sure what else can be said about the end of last night's Syracuse / Duke game , or the game in general.  Instead, I thought it best to hear it from Jim Boeheim and Mike Kryzyzewski, two of the greatest coaches in college basketball today.

I transcribed portions of both of their post game press conferences from last evening.  Enjoy.

Jim Boeheim:  

I thought we played as well defensively as we played all year long and I thought the game was extremely well officiated, as well as any game we have had all year, and … don’t laugh, I do make jokes but that’s not a joke… I thought it was tremendously well officiated, three great officials.  The first half Michael Gbinije was in the same position, got in front, and the new rule is it’s a block. That is the new rule, it has been explained 100 times.  C.J. [Fair] got into his motion, I saw the replay, and the guy was moving.  That’s it. It’s as simple as that. It’s a new rule. It’s a block… and I wanted to see if I still had it in me to go out there.  I did, I got out there pretty good. I thought I was quick.  I stayed down, and I didn’t get injured, so all those things are good.   But that was the play,that was the game.  That was the game decider right there.  I would have been happy with a no call, let the players make / finish the game and see what happens, but it was a great game.  A tremendously well officiated game.  I just disagree with that last call there. That’s all.

Jeez, I’ve only been thrown out only once in my life and that was an exhibition game. I just thought that was the worst call of the year, that’s all.  I just hated to see the game decided on that call. 

You’re going to lose tight games, it’ s part of the nature of the game.  If you are in tight games … we were down six, we weren’t ahead.  We had a six point deficit and made a great move to get back into the game.

There’s not much difference between great games in this league or that league.  Both teams went at it as hard as they could, you know the whole game.  It was a tremendous basketball game just like the one in Syracuse was.  This was just a different game. But it was a great game… if in the beginning of the year I could’ve split with Mike[Kryzyzewski] I probably would have taken it without any hesitation.  But once we won in Syracuse I might not have… it’s great, two great games… games lived up to everything.   People will remember this one for 30 years ‘cuz the old coach went out there a little bit. Got a little excited.  So, they’ll always remember you for something.  Down here I think those fans will remember Jim Boeheim, down here, after that.

Mike Kryzyzewski:
Another great game.  Different from the first one because it seemed like both teams were scoring easy up at Syracuse and today it was really difficult to score.  I don’t know how either team could play any harder.  What a great environment.  I want to thank our fans, the whole … their celebration of basketball  up there [Syracuse] and our celebration of basketball here [Duke] was phenomenal.  It’s what makes our sport so good.  I mean I love the NBA to death but this is something they can’t do.  And we should always recognize that… the thing at Syracuse and here… that’s our product.  That’s our product. Genuiness, purity,  and my guys to fight like they did today, that’s their fourth game in eight days, coming after one of our worst halves of the season at North Carolina, and they played great there… I’m not knocking them.  They made us look bad.  

But to come back and play with this level of intensity was spectacular.  Just absolutely spectacular.  Our defense was really good; their defense adjusted.  What they did in their zone when we flashed , they stayed with shooters, and so up there when we flashed they collapsed a little bit and you  could kick out and you have a shot. They stayed with shooters today, and so that’s why we , what turned out to be a good move, putting Rodney [Hood] there, and what that did was then he could run offense in there a little bit, not great, but better, and Rodney, that part of the game was amazing.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

24-0, 24 hours later

As the Orange faithful and most NCAA basketball fans are aware, the Orange are now 24-0 after beating Pitt 58-56 on Tyler Ennis' 35 foot buzzer beater last night.  Simply amazing... but as this season has gone, we cannot say it is unexpected.  We have seen the Orange comeback and pull out victory after victory in close games this year.

I had circled the Pitt game on the calendar as where I thought our winning streak would end.  Pitt is incredibly tough to play at home, even if they had struggled recently.  Pitt has been extremely tough against the Orange under Jamie Dixon, with the Orange only 5-10 against him going into last night.  The odds makers had #1 Syracuse, at 23-0, as the slight underdog to #25 ranked Pitt.  That says a lot about how tough it is to win at Pitt.

But once again, the Orange played shutdown defense during the crunch time, and they made all the baskets they needed to make.  Tyler Ennis is superman down the stretch, something I discussed in detail a couple of weeks ago.  He just ramped up his game a few more notches to show us he could do a little bit more.  Now Ennis has joined the club of players like Jimmy Lee, Gerry McNamara, John Wallace, and Pearl Washington, with a buzzer beating shot.

Ennis made this 35 footer to win the game. He of course added 2 made free throws in the previous possession to tie the game up, before Pitt once again took the lead.  Ennis' stature in close games is becoming mythical, as the ESPN graphic from below shows.
Ennis has one blemish during these minutes of play, a simple missed field. Overall he is 8 of 9 from the floor, including one three point basket (from 35 feet nevertheless!), and 14 of 14 from the free throw line. He is flawless as the floor general with six assists and no turnovers.

It was not all Ennis last night.  Syracuse was down by 6 points with less than two minutes to play in the game.  C.J. Fair made a clutch three point shot to make it a three point game, and a short time later may a two point shot to bring the game within one.  The last play of the game was actually designed to go to Fair. Pitt had defensively prepared for that, and so the second choice was Ennis, and he came through.

I have seen my fair share of memorable Syracuse games over the years and several fantastic finishes. I have no idea where to rank this one, but it will remain in that discussion for one of the best.  If you put it into context, extending the unblemished season to 24-0, and extending the school record for consecutive wins, and doing it on a hostile court, that makes it quite impressive.  Some of the other memorable finishes include Big East tournament and NCAA tournament games, and some are games I attended in  person, so I may not place this game ahead of those.  But it was a wonderful night.

Jim Boeheim and Syracuse have now beaten Pitt three straight times, and four of the past five meetings.  You have got to wonder when the Syracuse/Pitt game might kick itself up a notch and become a real rivalry. I know many Syracuse fans, myself included, do not quite get that same vibe with Pitt as we do with UConn or Georgetown, or with Villanova or St. John's.  I think part of that is that Syracuse and Pitt only met 5 times in the Big East tournament in 33 years of Big East Conference play.  

But consider that Syracuse and Pitt have now met 104 times, the fourth most games in a Syracuse basketball rivalry.  Geographically, Pitt and Boston College are the closest physical opponents in ACC play.  The games are almost always meaningful; they were the two winningest programs in the Big East the past 10 years.  Pitt has played 8 games at the Dome in front of 30,000+ fans; only Georgetown has done it more.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

We Are #1

The Syracuse Orange are now the unanimous #1 ranked team in college basketball, following the weekend where they beat Duke in a thrilling overtime game, and former #1 Arizona lost to California.  Many fans, and particularly the media, will say this is meaningless.

I disagree.

College basketball, for me, has always been about the journey.  It is about the thrill and excitement of each game.  It is about how the team grows and develops, and how specific players grow into their roles.  It is about the ebb and flow of the season.

The #1 ranking is something to be proud of.  It is an accomplishment; it is not the ultimate accomplishment, but it is nevertheless a goal to achieve.  The players and coaches work hard for every game, and the #1 ranking gives them, and the fans, a good benchmark for what they have achieved so far.

The post season is important, and it is what you build the season towards.  However, I am not a believer that it is National Championship or bust.  For me, it is about being the best that you can be.  I am not disappointed about an overachieving team losing a game and ending their season; I am disappointed about a team that I had high expectations for bowing out very early in the postseason.

I hold a high importance on winning conference regular season championships.  I think it is great to be the best team over a prolonged period of time. I also enjoy it when the team wins the conference tournament.  A good run with exciting play in the NCAA tournament is a lot of fun. 

I was not disappointed with the 1986-1987 team that lost to Indiana on the Keith Smart shot.  That team shook off a lot of demons for the program, allowing the team to advance far into the tournament.  Making it to the championship was surreal; the fact they came within a shot of winning it all was unbelievable.  It was heartbreaking when they lost, and it wasn’t until the 2003 championship that the heartbreak was totally gone. But I have never considered the 1986-1987 season disappointing.

The same with the 1995-1996 season.  That was a proud moment, not a disappointment.

The game is about the moments.  The 2003 National Championship was a great feeling, and a fantastic moment, particularly the Hakim Warrick block.  It was a culmination of 24 years of being a Syracuse fan, and having it all pay off with a win. Very tough to explain that feeling, but a wonderful one.

It is not my only great memory from Syracuse basketball.  Syracuse beating North Carolina in the Elite Eight in 1987 is very high on my list.  Other NCAA memorable games include Syracuse beating Georgia in the 1996 NCAA tournament, and Syracuse beating Texas in the 2003 Final Four.

I have memories from games I attended in person.  The Syracuse – Georgetown game in 1990 when the Orangemen overcome a large deficit to beat the Hoyas in overtime in front of a then record crowd at the Dome remains a top memory for me.  Pearl Washington hitting the half-court shot to beat Boston College in 1984.  Gene Waldron bombing Iona with 40 points in the Carrier Classic in 1983.  Sherman Douglass setting the all-time assist record and SU scoring record in 1989 versus UConn.

Big games such as the Duke / Syracuse game last weekend are what it is all about. That game was fantastic, and it will remain fantastic, regardless of how the season plays out.

The Big East tournament has brought many great memories. Far too many to mention them all.  Pearl Washington versus Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas in the early 80s.  Gerry McNamara carrying the Orange on his back his senior season with perhaps the greatest single MVP performance in Big East history. 
The greatest moment for me is the Syracuse / UConn six overtime game in 2009 is at the top.  That game wasn’t for a National Championship, and it wasn’t even for the Big East Championship. The game was just a quarter final game in the tournament.  Yet it was everything I love about college basketball, with two teams playing their heart out, tremendous skill being shown.

Regardless how the 2013-2014 season ends, it will likely end as a great memory to me.  They have overachieved in so many ways right now. It is rightful to hope for a National Championship, because this team can win one.  However, I don’t think it would be a great disappointment to me if they do not win it.  It will be a disappointment to me if they don’t play well in the NCAA tournament, but if they lose to a team that outplayed them , so be it. 

Right now the Orange are ranked #1, and that is something I am enjoying.  That enjoyment does not disappear because next game, or next week, or next month, they lose a game.  Today's moment is today's moment, and that is what is important. I will worry about tomorrow's moment when it presents itself.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Orange Beat Duke

The Orange are at 21-0, uncharted waters for the Syracuse basketball squad. They should also move up to #1 in the nation come Monday night, following #1 Arizona’s loss to California on Saturday night. 

The Syracuse / Duke game at the Dome on Saturday night was college basketball at its finest. Two well coached teams playing in front of an extremely hyped NCAA record crowd, in a tight well-played game. The two winningest coaches in men’s Division I history, with teams with collegiate All Americans, McDonald’s All-Americans, and highly touted freshman. Both teams committed only eight turnovers each in the game, and only a combined two in the second half. There was well executed offense and well executed defense. Add in a dash of the game being the first game between Syracuse and Duke in ACC conference play, and throw in a dramatic three point basket to send the game into overtime, and you have a great game. 

Both teams played very well. Here’s some of the numbers for Duke: 15 of 36 from three point range (41%); 18 offensive rebounds; 20 assists and only 8 turnovers; 89 total points; the opponent was held to only 3 three point field goals. If you told Mike Krzyzewski his Blue Devils would post those numbers, I am sure he would have felt his team won the game. And Syracuse Jim Boeheim would have been concerned about those numbers. 

Syracuse, however, had some impressive numbers of its own. The Orange shot 57% from the floor, had only 8 turnovers, a +5 rebound margin, only 8 turnovers, 9 blocked shots, and an impressive 26 – 32 from the free throw line. Those types of numbers will win most games. It was an interesting game. Krzyzewski’s game plan seemed to recognize that the Blue Devils would not be able to beat the Orange on the inside, and he was committed to working the three point offense. Duke ran that offense well, though it was surprising they did not challenge the Orange more inside. Then again, when you successful from the perimeter, and unsuccessful inside, it is alluring to keep going outside. I think Amile Jefferson was outstanding at cleaning up Duke’s perimeter misses, especially in the first half. Duke did struggle inside when it did try to run its offense there. A tip of the hat to the Orange who were smothering inside on their defense. Whenever Duke thought they had an open opportunity, the Orange (primarily Rakeem Christmas) were there to block or alter the shot. 

Defensively, Duke had problems all day with the Orange inside. Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson both picked up 4 fouls costing them valuable playing time in the second half, and both ultimately fouled out. And when Jefferson or Parker were not on the court, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant had a field day. Krzyzewski was stuck in a hard place; Jabari Parker likely faced the toughest front court he’s seen, and struggled with it. In three weeks, the rematch should be interesting, as both teams do have areas they can improve upon, and they have adjustments they can make. 

The Orange are playing at a very high level right now. The win against Duke was a combination of all five starters playing well, and the bench contributing enough to let most the starters get some rest. C.J. Fair had a career high 28 points, and proved he was worthy of Naismith consideration. When the Orange needed him to score, he scored. He recognized and took advantage of the defensive mismatches when he saw them. A brilliant game. 

Jerami Grant just continued to keep his stock rising. He had an outstanding day on the boards, with a total of 12 rebounds, and Duke was hard pressed to stop the long limbed explosive leaper. They fouled him several times, and Grant made them pay for every single foul by making 10 out of 10 free throw attempts. I was concerned when he picked up his third foul early in the second half, but he played smart and did not pick up another. 

Rakeem Christmas was a difference maker in the game. He showed up and was aggressive on both ends of the court. Defensively he shut down the Blue Devils with 6 blocked shots and two steals. On the offensive end of the court he made 2 out of 4 shots, and had four offensive rebounds. Baye Keita and Christmas, the two headed monster, had 9 points, 6 blocked shots and 16 rebounds in 45 minutes of play. That type of contribution from our center position will go a long way in winning games. 

Trevor Cooney was shadowed all night and had a tough time getting open for three point attempts. No problem for Cooney as he mixed up his game and drove the lane for layups, and pulled up for mid range jumpers. Twice in the game he had a chance for a three and twice he nailed it. Cooney also is displaying more confidence with his ball handling and provided Ennis relief on the full court presses from Duke. 

Tyler Ennis played like Ennis does every game. Flawlessly running the offense with 9 assists and only 2 turnovers. He threw Duke for a loop when he decided to score himself, rather than work the ball, and I am sure that helped to loosen the defense up on the inside for the rest of the game. 

Michael Gbinije had 12 minutes of solid basketball where he provided some good defense and three assists. Tyler Roberson had five minutes of time in the first half where he presented himself well. He had a nice drive along the baseline which drew the defense to him, and finished off a fast break with an impressive dunk.

You know it was a great game when Jim Boeheim flashed a big smile after Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon drained the 3 point shot as time expired, sending the game into overtime.  It was an epic game and Boeheim realized it. He had coached 1,255 games at Syracuse, and he knew this one was a special one.