It’s Exhibition Night!
I know it’s not the real thing, but don’t tell me it doesn’t get you at least a little excited.
Tonight’s game may not count in the team’s final record, and one should always tread lightly when putting stock into preseason battles (you needn’t look any further than two years ago for evidence), but that doesn’t mean I’m not beyond pumped for the season to get rolling. It’s the first chance to see the team in a game atmosphere against competition different from what Midnight Madness had to offer, even if the level of competition may be a touch below what we saw a few Fridays ago. That said, there a few things I’ll hope to glean from the Tuesday night matchup, mostly pertaining to the role players rather than those expected to be the top performers.
Both starting guard spots, as well as the wing, are spoken for. It would take a significant injury or other unforeseen circumstance to unseat Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph from the starting lineup. I also feel pretty secure in Fab Melo’s standing as the starting center at this early stage in the game. That leaves one spot for either Rakeem Christmas, C.J. Fair or a dark horse in Baye Moussa Keita. Since practice started, a few reports have trickled in about the freshman, and suffice it to say they haven’t been very encouraging. Christmas’ conditioning isn’t quite up to par yet and his offense is leaving a lot to be desired. On one hand, I’m not surprised to hear about his struggles offensively, as that has been the main knock on him dating back to when scouts started paying attention to his defense. The conditioning problems, though, are a little more troubling. There was some concern about Christmas coming out of high school that he takes a few plays off and doesn’t always bring the motor, so while analysts cited a need for him to finish plays and keep it going as long as he was in the game, it wasn’t out of any physical shortcomings, moreso the mental hurdles. If both aspects are going to be issues, Christmas could find himself down a notch in the depth chart very quickly, if he isn’t there already.
While Boeheim hasn’t been shy about starting freshmen lately, I think he only prefers to do so when it’s out of necessity and I’m not wholly convinced that it’s necessary for Christmas to start. Fair and Keita have a season under their belts, and as players who didn’t start themselves last season, I’d be surprised if they weren’t highly motivated to see the opportunity in front of them. However, Boeheim leans towards longer arms and bigger bodies in the back of the zone, which is why I still give an ever-so-slight edge to Christmas. Still, if the freshman shot-blocker is still struggling when Fordham comes to town, Boeheim may not have a choice but to go with another option. Those who come here regularly to read my musings know my thoughts on Fair versus Keita, so I won’t rehash them, but in a nutshell, I think Fair is the better player and it’s not all that close.
Tonight’s game could also see the rotation hashed out outside of just the starting five. In my mind, exhibition games aren’t nearly as much about seeing the team’s best players as they are about settling the pecking order of the complementary players. Does Mookie Jones see the shooting talent around him threatening to cement his status as an afterthought, and will he do anything to change it? (my guesses: maybe, and no.) Has James Southerland, who has attempted 68 more three-pointers than two-point shots in his career, developed any offensive game inside the arc? (my guess: possibly). How about the freshmen guards who bring a lot of promise for the future? Preseason battles aren’t about answering the burning questions like the ones surrounding Scoop Jardine’s decision-making or Kris Joseph’s potential – To me, their importance have to do with settling the questions about the lesser-known quantities.
If Joseph puts up a clunker or Jardine is rushing passes, I don’t think I would put too much stock into it. Similarly, if Southerland has a crazy stat line at the end of the night like he did in last year’s preseason, I won’t hold my breath, but it could do some cool things for his confidence. To me, today’s game is about celebrating the approaching start of the season and getting a look at some faces that we haven’t seen very often.
To get more of my thoughts as we near November 12, have a listen to the podcast below. Sean Keeley, Dan Lyons, and Adam Gerard of Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, as well as Matthew McClusky from 7 News in Watertown and myself got together last night to talk SU hoops. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to once again mention Orange Tip-Off, which is available at Amazon. Everyone on the podcast also contributed to the preview magazine, so there’s no excuse for you to not be prepared for the upcoming campaign.