SU’s Busy Backcourt
Earlier this week, we talked about the departure of DaShonte Riley and the impact it might have on next season’s Syracuse team. On its own, Riley’s transfer to Eastern Michigan won’t cripple SU’s season, but if the worst is realized for Fab Melo, the team will definitely feel the pinch with a suddenly paper-thin frontcourt. With or without Melo, Jim Boeheim is going to lean heavily on his guards as well as the small forward position to shoulder the scoring the load. As big a blow as it may be for Syracuse to lose one or potentially two big men, some consolation can be taken when you look at how SU’s guards plan to get ready for those responsibilities by participating in several off-season opportunities to better their games before the season.
Though Brandon Triche has been with the Orange for two full seasons, it feels like longer because there have been so many occasions where he appeared to have turned the corner and broken out, only to retreat back into his shell. In some of those cases, injuries have held him back, but in others, he posted very good games before quickly regressing. The first sign was in his freshman year against Oakland, where he poured in 27 points on a perfect 6-6 performance from beyond the arc. It wouldn’t be practical to expect that type of performance on a regular basis, but that was our first introduction to the possibility of Brandon Triche being a game-changing player. Alas, he would score just 23 points in his next four games. Part of that is because he was sharing the court with Wes Johnson, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, and he was rarely anything more than a fourth option, but it wasn’t that unrealistic to expect a little more. Later that season, he would score 15 points against Providence, only to go quiet by averaging less than four points over his next nine games. Though his scoring average crept up from 8.1 to 11.1 points per game last season, some of the inconsistency carried over. He had a slow start to 2011, cracking double figures just once in his first nine games, against Canisius. He was very aggressive against Michigan State, despite making one shot, getting to the free throw line more than he would for the rest of the season. A back problem sidelined him later on, and while Triche dished out some assists, his shooting really suffered.
Earlier this month, Triche participated in Chris Paul’s skills camp with a slew of other major conference point guards. Later this summer, he’ll play in the newly-accredited King of Kings league in Upstate New York before jetting overseas with Baye Moussa Keita to play in an international event against European teams. In the latter two events, the competition may be a little harder to peg than what he’s going up against in a week-long clinic led by NBA players, but the experience gained should make him a better player. Triche is already plenty skilled, but the transience of his aggression has been the most frustrating part of his game. Maybe he doesn’t want to risk further injury by driving so much, but it would be nice for him to get to the line more often, where he shot 84% in nearly 100 attempts. Despite his health hangups, I still maintain that Triche has a high ceiling that is yet to be realized. If he can channel that aggression more often without risking a toll being taken on his body, I think he can be one of the breakout players in college basketball next season.
I’m not sure the same window for improvement is open for Scoop Jardine, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get better as well. As with Triche, Jardine’s scoring average increased last season, along with his assists, but as we know, he was very nerve-racking to watch at times. I don’t think that turnovers should be an end-all, be-all when it comes to measuring ball-handling, because a scorer’s ruling in whether the passer or recipient was accountable for a turnover can vary, and to a less frequent extent, the same goes in determining whether a player had possession of a loose ball before it went the other way. This is one of the few areas where the scouting eye trumps the numbers, because there isn’t a catch-all metric for quantifying smart decisions, and any SU fan will tell you that Jardine’s decision-making could use some instruction. Later this summer, Jardine will participate as a member of Team USA’s men’s select team. One of the coaches at that event is Butler’s Brad Stevens, who preaches smart shot selection and the importance of not giving away possessions, the two biggest areas where Jardine has room to improve. While their time will be limited, I like the idea of the two being paired together. I can take the disappointment of missing a shot late in a close game as long as it’s a good one, but heart disease runs in my family and few things frustrate me while watching basketball than seeing poor decision-making by an upperclassmen guard.
On a related note, Trevor Cooney will participate in international competition later this June. He still faces an uphill climb for playing time with at least four guards in front of him, but his fate for next season isn’t set in stone. I’m uncertain of his chances to contribute this season, but still excited for what he brings to the table. It’s only been two seasons since SU had a reliable three-point shooter, but many fans (myself included) are so used to having someone in that role that we really miss it when it’s gone.
There’s been more bad news than good news this offseason, but hearing about the guards’ busy basketball schedules this summer is something to get excited about.