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Could Brian Oliver Be A Fit?

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.

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