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Big East Hoops Slate Announced

June 30, 2011 Leave a comment

The announcement of the Big East conference slate always gets me going. Even though we have to wait until the facilities and the NBA sort things out before the dates and order are settled, this point marks the first sign that college basketball is awakening, although tipoff doesn’t come for another four months. I’ve mentioned my disdain for the unbalanced schedule in the past, but at the same time, I understand its necessity given the current structure and enormous size of the conference.

But if the conference is going to roll with an unbalanced schedule and have three repeat matchups, how can the Big East justify scheduling just one Georgetown-Syracuse tilt? While the collective strength of the conference makes it a national juggernaut, this rivalry played a big role in putting the Big East on the map. Even though both schools have experienced lulls, the intensity has generally stayed at a level that ought to warrant two battles in the regular season. Alas, this season will mark the first time since the conference schedule expanded to 18 games in the 2006-2007 season that the Orange and Hoyas will meet just once in the Big East slate. Most experts don’t expect Georgetown to contend for the conference title with Chris Wright and Austin Freeman having graduated, and perhaps the biggest factor in deciding the repeat matchups involves maximizing the number of games between the best teams in the conference, which begs the question of what the powers that be think of the Hoyas’ chances. While I don’t necessarily disagree, the national draw of the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry makes the omission of a second game highly questionable in my eyes.

As for the other home-and-homes, the conference gave SU two clashes with Louisville, Connecticut and Providence, a set that is arguably the toughest in the Big East. Despite what he says, the Cardinals are Jim Boeheim’s white whale. With two opportunities to quiet critics, it becomes increasingly important for Boeheim to top his old assistant. Louisville figures to hover around the top ten nationally, and will definitely be a contender for the top spot in the conference. The team’s only casualty from last season is Preston Knowles, and in addition to a superb recruiting class led by Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan and Kevin Ware, the Cardinals will have transfer Tony Woods, a center formerly of Wake Forest, eligible for the spring semester. Louisville will be tested all season, with non-con games against Kentucky, Memphis and Vanderbilt, and two games against Pitt in Big East play. We’re used to hearing people claim that it’s not important to have a noteworthy non-conference schedule when you play in the Big East, but apparently Rick Pitino disagrees.

Even though the Big East nerve center came up short in giving Syracuse and Georgetown just one game against one another, they did the next-best thing and scheduled Syracuse in two games against defending national champion UConn, even if it is a no-brainer. The Huskies will remain a force even without Kemba Walker, if the play of Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi in the final stages of last season is any indication. Throw in the flaky but supremely talented DeAndre Daniels and a fortunate draw with four games against a retooling Notre Dame and a Seton Hall squad without Jeremy Hazell and Jim Calhoun’s team could have it made. As for Providence, the Friars look set to toil in the dregs of the standings with Marshon Brooks gone as new head coach Ed Cooley gets introduced to the Big East.

The opponents which visit the Dome and who SU plays on the road break down thusly:

Home: Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, Seton Hall, USF, West Virginia.

Away: Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Louisville, Notre Dame, Providence, Rutgers, St. John’s, Villanova.

Upon review, the selection is very favorable to Syracuse. The Orange’s home schedule consists of opponents who are either fixtures in the top half of the conference or could plausibly finish there, plus USF, Seton Hall and Providence. On the road, SU gets UConn and Louisville, which comes with the nature of the home-and-away series. Outside of those two games, Villanova looks like the most challenging road opponent, and SU beat ‘Nova on the road last season. While Notre Dame was a surprise team last season, they’re due to fall after turning over a ton of key players, and that’s before getting into Carleton Scott’s surprise draft declaration.

St. John’s was a surprise in 2011, and they made huge waves on the recruiting trail, but it will take time for Steve Lavin to settle on his best rotation with his posse of freshmen coming in. The Red Storm have the look of a team that could struggle early and be much better towards the end of the season, so even though the Orange has a big fan presence at Madison Square Garden, I’ll have to withhold final judgment until the dates are announced closer to the start of the season.

At first glance, the home/road breakdown of next season’s schedule looks balanced, but once you get past the road games mandated by the repeat matchups, it looks a little more favorable to the ‘Cuse. As we find out more about the schedule around the start of the academic year, we’ll be able to make more concrete judgments.

Rick Jackson’s Uphill Climb Continues

June 24, 2011 Leave a comment

In a way, it’s fitting that Rick Jackson wasn’t get drafted Thursday night. In the studded 2007 Syracuse recruiting class, Jackson was somewhat on the wayside next to flashy newcomers Johnny Flynn and Donte’ Greene. Though Greene left after his freshman year, Jackson stayed behind Kristof Ongenaet on the depth chart, only to finally be freed after the first handful of games of the 2008-09 season. Despite incremental improvements over his four years at Syracuse that resulted in him being a focal point of every defense’s game plan last season, Rick was again slighted, relegated to the All-Big East Second Team, even though he led the conference in rebounding, field goal percentage and blocks per game.

Going into Thursday night, there was a chance that Jackson wouldn’t get drafted. The players selected in the middle to late portions of the second round are typically organizational filler and are subsequently hard to predict, but having your name called is what these players work so hard for, so from that perspective, I was disappointed for the former power forward. The frustration mounted as I watched an alphabet soup of international players, accompanied by pixelated footage, plucked with the waning selections of the second round, and ESPN went in an unprofessional direction with their analysis, openly mocking the draftees’ names and video quality of whatever content they could pull.

All told, this was a strange draft from the early stages. In April, some of the top names in college hoops decided, without much public waffling, to stay in school. I remember hearing about Baylor’s Perry Jones being suspended for the Big 12 Tournament and a small number of games next season back in March, and everybody’s reaction was to the tune of “why bother suspending him for next season when he’s going to be a lottery pick in three months?” Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and Terrence Jones also stayed with their programs rather than test uncertain NBA labor waters.

Meanwhile, players like Darius Morris and Malcolm Lee, to an approximately equal surprise left their schools early, and while I understand that there are a few skeptical decisions made every season when it comes to declaring for the draft, it seemed like there was little reason for players to test the waters if they didn’t get the impression from evaluators that they would be a first-round pick. If they got that impression and reality didn’t match up, those players are probably looking around a little bit wondering about the people with whom they chose to surround themselves.I also understand (though certainly not firsthand) that the dangling carrot of millions of dollars does some funny things to people when it comes to decision-making.

On draft night, things got much stranger. Josh Harrelson, affectionately nicknamed “Jorts” by the college basketball community, was picked by the Hornets and later traded to the Knicks. Josh Selby had a Wile E. Coyote-esque fall into the late stages of the second round. I imagine his draft party was about as boisterous as SU’s 2007 NCAA Tournament Selection Show gathering.

Now, Rick Jackson will have a chance to work out for a few teams. With the summer league having been canceled earlier this month, it’s more important than ever for him to make an impression. It’s a tough hand to be dealt, but it’s nothing new for the big guy.

Could Brian Oliver Be A Fit?

June 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Last week, it was reported that Georgia Tech’s Brian Oliver would leave the Yellow Jackets in the aftermath of Paul Hewitt’s firing, rather than stick around for the rebuilding project facing new head coach Brian Gregory. Word later got out that the Delaware native has some Big East schools in mind, Syracuse among them. Since that point, I’ve seen many fans interested in the possibility of him coming aboard, particularly after recalling his 32-point performance against the Orange in Atlantic City last season. Oliver is an intriguing transfer candidate who may be able to help shore up SU’s three-point shooting in the future, and at the very least, would be an insurance policy against the Orange missing on the small forwards being targeted by the coaching staff.

While SU has guards in spades heading into the 2011-12 season, one thing they lack is a go-to three-point shooter. This has been apparent since Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins left in 2010, so it’s hardly a startling revelation. The Orange shot a collective 35.4% from beyond the arc, which is an acceptable clip, but lacked a truly reliable perimeter threat. Scoop Jardine led the team last season with 56 three-pointers, or about 1.5 per game. That pales in comparison to the Syracuse teams over the last decade, which have featured gunners like Preston Shumpert, Gerry McNamara, Donte’ Greene and the above-mentioned duo of Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins. The following list details where 56 three-pointers would have ranked among the team leaders over the ten seasons prior to 2010-11:

  • 2010: 2nd (behind Andy Rautins’ 98 treys)
  • 2009: 3rd (behind Rautins’ 102 and Devendorf’s 82)
  • 2008: Tied-2nd (Jonny Flynn had 56, but Donte’ Greene led with 90)
  • 2007: 3rd (behind Demetris Nichols’ 100 and Rautins’ 68)
  • 2006: 3rd (behind GMac’s 103 and D-Nic’s 73)
  • 2005: 2nd (GMac had 107 and then it was a looooooong way down to Louie McCroskey’s 19)
  • 2004: 2nd (another one-sided case; McNamara led the way with 105, and a freshman Nichols sunk a gentleman’s 17 treys)
  • 2003: 3rd (behind McNamara and Carmelo Anthony)
  • 2002: 3rd (behind Preston Shumpert and DeShaun Williams)
  • 2001: 3rd (Shumpert and Williams again)

You’d have to go all the way back to the 1999-2000 campaign to find another season when 56 threes would have led the team. While I’m a proponent of accuracy over volume, someone who can catch fire from beyond the arc is a dangerous weapon to have, a fact of which I’m sure many readers are already aware, but we didn’t really see it in action until this season. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some firestarters on the team right now. Given the current roster, all of SU’s returning guards are productive enough from deep that defenses have to at least respect their capabilities. As for the newcomers, Trevor Cooney is a catch-and-shoot type who is still developing other parts of his game, and Michael Carter-Williams projects as an all-around scorer, but the team lacks a sniper in the mold of a McNamara, Rautins or even Nichols. While I would hardly anoint him as the next GMac, Brian Oliver could fill that void if he were to transfer to Syracuse.

In the 2009-10 season, a freshman Oliver hit 38% of his threes, and his specialty was no secret, as an astounding 76% of his 218 field goal tries came from three-point land. In 36 games, Oliver hit 63 threes, the most on his team by a considerable margin. Among those 36 games were four in which he nailed at least four threes, a stat made more impressive by the fact that he played just 16.5 minutes per game.

In his sophomore year, Oliver developed other parts of his offense, but was still a three-point-shooter at heart. In 2010-11, *only* 52.7% of his shots came from deep. He made 44% of his twos, a decent mark for someone who doesn’t make their living in the post. It was a good thing that he started to branch out, because his three-point percentage dropped to 28.6%, highlighted by his 6-11 night against the Orange in New Jersey. He showed a defensive pulse as well; playing an undersized power forward by necessity at times after the early departure of Derrick Favors, Oliver snagged 4.5 rebounds per game, compared to his freshman mark of 1.5. His season ended quietly, though, missing almost all of February after breaking his left (non-shooting) thumb against Clemson. He would return for the Yellow Jackets’ ACC Tournament game against Virginia Tech, but Georgia Tech lost, and the team missed the NCAA Tournament. It was far from a glamorous season, but a lot of that had to do with personnel. After Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal left school after the 2009-10 season, the roster was full of inexperienced big men and at times, Oliver was miscast as a power forward.

That wouldn’t be the case if he were to transfer to SU with two seasons of eligibility remaining following the transfer year where he would have to sit on the bench. At Syracuse, Oliver would presumably slide in at the wing position, which is a position where the Orange don’t have much competition behind CJ Fair (remember, by the time Oliver becomes eligible, Kris Joseph will have moved on). While James Southerland is technically a member of the team, his play in limited chances hasn’t exactly inspired confidence. It’s too early to say that his ship has sailed, but it’s not looking good. Beyond Southerland, there isn’t a solution currently on campus. The coaching staff is looking at a number of small forwards in the high school ranks for the 2012-2013 season, but relying on freshmen in the Big East can be a very tricky proposition.

That reserve role is where Oliver could fill a need, but it’s always possible that he can become more than that and SU can win the transfer lottery once again. In his year off, he could work to fix his shooting stroke while continuing to develop other parts of his game. It’s very possible that the lack of firepower on last season’s Georgia Tech squad increased the pressure for Oliver to succeed and shoot as much as he did when he was healthy, and with a deep core of perimeter players at ‘Cuse, the burden wouldn’t be so big. If he landed at Syracuse, I wouldn’t necessarily expect a Wes Johnson-type impact, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be productive. With many unknowns in the post-Kris Joseph world and scholarships available, Oliver might be worth a shot.

SU’s Busy Backcourt

June 17, 2011 1 comment

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.

Riley Transfer Loosens Frontcourt Depth Chart

June 15, 2011 Leave a comment

In a move that shouldn’t shock anyone, DaShonte Riley will follow Rob Murphy to Eastern Michigan. It isn’t uncommon for a player to follow an assistant coach to a new gig, and generally, it’s even more expected when that player struggles to find playing time with his original school. Additionally, it’s been reported that there are some health problems with Riley’s family and that while he originally wanted to transfer at the beginning of last semester, there was an obligation to finish up the school year academically before leaving Syracuse.

While the prospect of having a legitimate seven-footer in the back of the zone was refreshing, there wasn’t much else about DaShonte Riley to get excited over. We’re left with the memory of him making a handful of garbage time appearances and being called on way too early into his career as a reserve in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. He came to Syracuse with some tools to his game, but he didn’t get much of a chance to showcase them due to being buried on the depth chart as well as a foot injury that caused him to miss all of last season. There was a chance for him to crack the rotation in 2011-12, but the competition of Fab Melo, Baye Moussa Keita and Rakeem Christmas meant that there were no guarantees. It’s unfortunate that we won’t get to see Riley reach his potential at Syracuse, whatever it may be, but it’s also a challenge to project where he may have fit. I can’t fault his decision one bit, even aside from the family concerns. With a traditionally short rotation as Boeheim prefers, some attrition is to be expected. Rather than face a battle for playing time at a school without the presence of his lead recruiter, Riley will follow that mentor closer to home where he has a chance to be the face of the team.

Riley’s departure won’t drastically impact the construction of next season’s depth chart at Syracuse, pending the outcome of Fab Melo’s legal case, but it does cause us to take a look at how those roles will be changed. The top three still goes Melo-Keita-Christmas, but Riley’s absence from the roster has the residual effect of nudging Christmas towards a more meaningful role this coming season. Big men historically take a long time to adjust to the faster pace and more advanced competition of major-conference college basketball, but if a player is to develop, he has to be given opportunities until he proves he isn’t fit for the job. In that respect, Wednesday’s news could be a blessing to Christmas’ prospects both in the short term as well as down the line. He’ll still have his bumps in the road as a freshman, but he would still have those struggles if he had to share time with Riley. Without him as a cog in the rotation, there should be an extended window for Christmas’ development to be expedited. Jim Boeheim may not have that same patience, but he won’t have many alternatives (though maybe he’ll indulge my previous Scoop-Triche-Joseph-Fair-Center lineup). To compound things, if Melo’s case with SU’s judicial board ends with him packing his bags, there will be serious minutes in store for Keita and Christmas. That thought doesn’t exactly instill confidence when it comes to offense from the frontcourt, of course, but it’s hard to say for certain what may happen until the various judicial bodies have their say.

It could definitely be a lean year, but one positive to take away from Riley’s transfer is that it frees up a scholarship that could be used on any of a number of players in the high school class of 2012 or beyond. With production from the frontcourt very much up in the air, there shouldn’t be a stone that’s left unturned until the current players prove otherwise. While I’d love for them to make such a statement, it’s also important to stay realistic.

The transfer of DaShonte Riley is of benefit for all parties involved. Riley gets to play closer to home for a coach with whom he has a very good relationship, Rob Murphy gets a Big East transfer help his efforts at Eastern Michigan, and with more playing time available to Rakeem Christmas, the Syracuse staff can hasten the development of a big-time defensive stopper in the making. In the short term, Christmas and Keita will be thrust into more important roles for next season. While that won’t catapult Syracuse into any discussions when it comes to deciding the best frontcourt in the Big East, it allows the program to focus on developing those players who will be most important to the team’s future.

Where Does ‘Cuse Stand With Ricardo Ledo?

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Ricardo Ledo’s standing with Syracuse is an intriguing situation. After de-committing from Providence in the middle of last season, the rising high school senior opened his recruitment back up, much to the relief of several top programs, including the Orange.

SU is reported to be after Ledo, and while he stands 6’6, he profiles as a shooting guard with a nose for scoring. His strengths come almost exclusive from his diversified array of offensive tools. He can shoot from anywhere on the court, can drive into traffic and finish with the best of them and contort his body while in the air. While he hasn’t put much focus into his defense, a 6’6 frame at the front of the zone can mask some (but by no means all) shortcomings on that end of the floor.

But on a team that figures to be chock full of scoring guards when Ledo starts his college career, it’s hard to project where he would fit at Syracuse if he were to pop for the Orange. At that point, Brandon Triche will be a senior, Dion Waiters will be a junior, and Michael Carter-Williams and Trevor Cooney will both enter the 2012-2013 season as sophomores. While nothing is guaranteed, Ledo profiles as someone who would play from the get-go, though most of the backcourt minutes could be spoken for by that point. However, if Waiters is still on the outs with Jim Boeheim, it could very well explain why the Orange is among the leaders in Ledo’s recruitment. There’s no new information on that front, but the relationship has definitely been strained in the past and it could be that SU’s involvement with Ledo is a sign of the staff planning for the potential of Waiters parting ways from the university, whether or not it’s on his own accord.

Following recruiting naturally raises questions, and this period isn’t any different. After all, we’re talking about a teenager who committed to a school only to withdraw his pledge just a month later. But as long as it involves the ‘Cuse, you’ll find my analysis here.

CJ Fair’s Stupendous Start

June 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Today’s post is one I’ve been meaning to get around to for a little while. Unfortunately, since that time some things have (allegedly) gone down surrounding Fab Melo, and as much as I would have liked to turn the other way, those happenings command our attention as fans. While we can endlessly debate what should happen if and when Fab Melo’s status as a member of the team is dramatically changed, Jim Boeheim’s approach concerning these matters renders such conversations useless until the judicial systems have their say. You can never say never, but it looks like there won’t be any significant developments between today and Melo’s court date next Tuesday. With that in mind, today is a great opportunity to get back to the positive, and resume talking about what makes next season so promising.

One of the main reasons why writers are citing next season’s team as a top five squad is the blend of experienced players with incoming high-ceiling youth. However, there’s one player who doesn’t quite fit either of those descriptors. I’m talking of course about CJ Fair. Watching his freshman campaign was one of the most enjoyable parts of last season, right after seeing Rick Jackson roll through opponents on a regular basis. While the season had highlights, there was also no shortage of blemishes. The season conference schedule was tumultuous and streaky, Melo was a massive disappointment, Kris Joseph didn’t make the leap that I was hoping he would, Brandon Triche started to turn the proverbial corner about four times, only to spin out, and I gnawed my fingernails to their roots watching Scoop Jardine with the ball in his hands late in close games*. Still, next season’s roster will have an interesting mix of players who have been through the meat grinder and younger players brimming with upside as they descend on Syracuse. Not to be forgotten, though, are players like Fair, who are caught in between.

*I enjoy unpredictable theatrics when I’m at the movies, but in a Big East point guard, it’s not such a desirable trait.

Melo was the crown jewel of the recruiting class, with Dion Waiters a step behind in the high school hype machine, having committed to Syracuse before he even played a game at the varsity level. Fair and Baye Moussa Keita weren’t afterthoughts, but they didn’t figure to make impacts as soon as they did. As we know, Keita flourished early, but things started moving a little too quickly for him once the calendar turned and a hand problem that couldn’t be fully addressed until after the season also held him back. Fair followed an opposite path, as he was sidelined earlier in the season and broke out later on, but it should be noted that both players benefited from opportunities made available due to starters’ various struggles. The small forward began his season modestly, averaging just five points per game in 11 non-conference games, playing just under 14 minutes per contest, but a turning point came in mid-January, when the team traveled to Pittsburgh.

After Kris Joseph was injured, Fair had to answer the bell and produce from the wing spot on the road against a very good Pitt team. SU’s struggles against the Panthers are out in the open, but that didn’t matter to the freshman, as he poured in 16 points and nine rebounds. If you recall, Syracuse fell in a 19-0 hole early only to claw all the way back. While the Orange became gassed and lost, I came away that night very impressed and confident in Fair’s future. What he did was with very little precedent in recent seasons. In the last ten years, only two freshmen forwards have scored 16 or more points against the Panthers: Donte’ Greene and CJ Fair. No one else from that stretch can claim that feat; not Hakim Warrick, not Paul Harris, not Arinze Onuaku and not Rick Jackson. Not even Carmelo Anthony. Some of that is a testament to how the Orange have consistently struggled against the Panthers through the years, and some of it is due to the offense relying on scoring guards like Gerry McNamara, Eric Devendorf and Jonny Flynn over frontcourt play (though the last few years have seen a transition to bigger production out of the forward and center spots), but it’s still very impressive.

Boeheim realized the value that Fair could provide, and in conference play, he was on the court much more often (21 minutes per game) than the 14 minutes per game in the non-con set. In a six-game stretch between February 5 and February 21, Fair averaged 32 minutes per game, and was productive in tallying nearly ten points per game to go with six rebounds. That stretch includes a February 21 game against Villanova with zero rebounds, where his afternoon ended earlier than expected after he tweaked his ankle stepping on Antonio Pena’s foot.

Fair isn’t a finished product, but how many freshmen are? To this day, I remain unconvinced that he’s actually 6’8, and while his leaping ability helps to dissuade that notion, I’m curious to see how much bulk he adds to his frame, to which he can add as much as 20 or 25 pounds over time. It’s a stretch to imagine him putting on that much size in one summer, but added strength will make him an even more dangerous threat when you consider his athleticism. Watching him, I’ve also noticed that Fair does an outstanding job of defending without fouling, and considering his tendency to drive on offense, it’s amazing how he turned the ball over so sparingly.

Bearing in mind how production from the low post is a major question at this point, I’m intrigued by the idea of a small lineup consisting of Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph, CJ Fair and one of the several unproven centers. This lineup would definitely leave the back of the zone vulnerable, but I feel that Fair’s production on offense, which should improve from about 14 points per forty minutes last season, would more than compensate for his lack of height on defense. By no means do I think this should be the starting lineup on the first game of the season, because Rakeem Christmas’ potential is exciting even if he has a long ways to go on offense, and I respect the energy that Keita injects into the game.

Pragmatically, Boeheim will willingly get his hand burned on the stove a few times before learning to keep it away, because that’s just how things go in his system. Ultimately,  though, Fair has earned the opportunity to show what he can do in an increased role, even if it’s still off the bench. While it poses a conundrum in how to delegate time between Joseph and Fair, it’s an important one that the coaching staff will have to solve going into next season.