My Syracuse Basketball Wish List
Today’s post is a little more scattered than my usual ones, yet there is a theme that will tie all the ends together. This is my Syracuse basketball wish list for the upcoming season. As with holiday or birthday gifts, some things you’ll find here may be a little bit outside realistic expectations (still waiting on that Game Gear, Mom and Dad), while others are more sensible and will still keep me happy even if they aren’t particularly flashy. There are some things I’d like to see that aren’t on this list, but these are the highlights:
- A New-and-Improved Fab Melo: Admittedly, the bar isn’t set all that high. As we saw Tuesday, Melo’s body is definitely new and improved, and he put up a stat line to back it up. While you can’t properly evaluate an exhibition game performance without qualifying the bejesus out of it due to the competition, weight loss and other factors of conditioning aren’t subject to those terms and conditions. Melo didn’t show us much last season, but all indications are that he now has the body to make things work; Hopefully the stat lines come along as well.
- Brandon Triche Becomes a Steady Dual Threat: Last season, Brandon Triche regressed as a shooter, declining both inside and outside the three-point arc. He hasn’t been bad, but he leaves a bit to be desired. Triche shoots threes just well and often enough that opponents have to respect his range, but he hasn’t strung together the consistency to make him a true force from the perimeter. Doing so also involves driving more and taking enough contact to create foul trouble for the opposition and contribute a few extra points here and there with his reliable stroke from the stripe.
- Improved Consistency By Scoop Jardine: This is the no-brainer. I’m not asking him to become Jordan Taylor, the Wisconsin point guard who can score while posting obscene assist/turnover numbers, but we all know that smarter play from the floor general would yield big dividends. He’s saying all the right things, but as the face of the team, he won’t be able to run away from the questions if he’s the same erratic player we’ve seen throughout his career.
- Flashes of Potential From MCW: While Scoop Jardine will carry a heavy load for better or for worse, he won’t play all 40 minutes, and that’s where Michael Carter-Williams comes in. Most of the narratives surrounding this team will rightfully be about the senior leadership of Kris Joseph and Jardine, but come April, I want to be comfortable with MCW holding out his hand to take the keys. Based on scouting reports, there’s nothing that leads me to believe he can’t be as good, if not better than Scoop down the road, but I’m hoping to see enough of him this season for me to be more confident in that statement.
- C.J. Fair – Matchup Nightmare: Call it an irrational mancrush or over-the-top favoritism, but I think it’s justified. There isn’t much the sophomore can’t do that you would want out of a prototypical Syracuse wing – he rebounds well, has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, already has a formidable mid-range game and a decent first step. If he starts hitting shots from deep…well, it may become tough to find room in the chamber for all the bullets. I won’t be disappointed if this specific wish doesn’t come true, because it is a lot to ask of a sophomore, but I really, really, really, want it to.
- A Spotless Non-Con Record: This should probably be more of a necessity than simply a nice thing to have. As Matt Norlander of CBS pointed out Wednesday night, the Orange is the only team in college basketball that will start its regular season against four teams that won less than ten games. While no one should reasonably expect a schedule full of matchups that could be interpreted as Elite Eight previews, the combination of Oklahoma State/Virginia Tech/Stanford, Marshall, N.C. State (even on the road) and Florida at home doesn’t come close to making up for the dreck at the front end. Also, with realignment leading the Big 12 to become the third power conference to move to an 18-game league schedule, joining the Big East and Pac-12, the excuse of having a long conference slate won’t hold the water it used to. Winning the biggest challenge of the non-con schedule against the Gators could be huge for seeding purposes, because the other chances to make a big statement early just aren’t there.
- Snap The Louisville and Pitt Losing Streaks: I haven’t talked too much about the particulars of realignment here. The combination of the selfishness and greed of the conferences (and to a lesser extent, the schools), grandstanding, posturing, and the non-announcement announcements … there isn’t much to like about it, really. Rick Pitino’s recent comments that amounted to him wagging his finger at Pittsburgh and Syracuse for leaving the Big East while Louisville’s administration pleaded for a Big 12 invite got me fired up, though, so I’ll breathe a heavy sigh of relief and celebrate a little more than usual if the ‘Cuse picks off the Cardinals in February. Pitt is a different animal – the thirst there pertains solely to the history on the hardwood, with SU having dropped five straight to the Panthers and 13 of the last 16 overall. Jamie Dixon is an excellent coach on and off the court, and his teams tend to do the most without an eye-popping amount of raw talent. Since the Big East expanded for the 2005-06 season, Pitt is one of just two schools (the other being West Virginia) to have a winning conference record in each season. The Panthers, of course, have done it without much talent – This season’s squad will be Dixon’s first to have two McDonald’s All-Americans, with Khem Birch joining Dante Taylor, so knocking off Pitt this season would be a highly notable accomplishment.
- Getting The Elite Eight Monkey Off The Back: Since cutting down the nets in New Orleans in 2003, the chance to play two games in the second weekend of the Tournament has become some sort of forbidden fruit. The 2010 team seemed destined to get back, but we all remember what happened courtesy of Georgetown, though however probable the Elite Eight may have been with a healthy Arinze Onuaku, even great teams get bounced before that point. This season’s team has the kind of blend of experience, talent and coaching to make it back to the Elite Eight. While there’s plenty of talk of getting back to the Final Four, anything beyond three wins in the Dance is gravy, and anything less than three will be disappointing.