A Strong Start To The Season
Last week in the sports world was one that was as strange as I could ever remember, and most of it wasn’t the least bit positive. It started with the complete unraveling of sanity in Happy Valley, topped off by the incendiary reaction to Joe Paterno’s firing. Elsewhere, things got worse later in the week when it was reported that the Washington Nationals catcher, Wilson Ramos, was kidnapped in Venezuela. According to people way smarter than me, this is an occurrence that’s unfortunately way too common in the area. But then the weekend came, and things turned up. The Penn State community unified in solidarity leading up to and during their game against Nebraska, and Ramos was found alive and well. And to a far, far, far lesser extent, SU’s college basketball season was ushered in with the Orange’s blowout over Fordham.
Before I go on, I want to explain that there won’t be much here in the way of game recaps. There are plenty of places around the Internet that are happy to provide that, just not here. Instead, I’ll point out a few observations that came to mind while taking in the game and throw them up here the day after. There’s no shortage of storylines to follow with this team, but I’m just not good at rehashing every play that was made or missed and how the game flowed from start to finish, and I have a feeling most of you who are reading the blog watched the game anyway. On to the notes:
- Dion Waiters’ play impressed me, but he’s always been good for stretches like what we saw Saturday. He looked much better on defense than he did last season, and he showed some nice shot selection. Though he hit two of his four threes, he abandoned the long ball after his miss with about ten minutes left. While many are lamenting the lack of a go-to assassin from deep, I think the team will be better off with a collective effort than by trying to force the issue by perhaps shoehorning someone into a role they aren’t suited for, so in a way, I was happy to see the heat check on that miss keep Waiters attacking the basket for the rest of his time in the game.
- The interior defense this season may be the best I’ve ever seen. You can’t swoon too much yet because of the competition, but the combination of Fab Melo, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita is going to keep many coaches awake at night as they prepare to face ‘Cuse. Throw in a C.J. Fair, who makes up for his lack of bulk with a high basketball IQ to stay relevant on defense and things will get really painful for those who have to formulate gameplans against the Orange.
- Within that core, it was nice to see Fab Melo’s improved conditioning keep him on the court, but I was more intrigued by his court awareness. Over the last month or so, I’ve been keeping up with the reports of his missing baby fat, but wanted to withhold judgement on how it would affect his play until I had the chance to see it for myself. Fordham struggled all day trying to get inside, and while some of it was due to the Rams’ lack of size, some of it was also due to Melo’s improved court awareness, as he took a charge and swatted four shots. I’m not at all worried about his rebounding numbers after one game, but it may be something to keep an eye on, since trying for blocks can affect one’s ability to rebound effectively.
- Michael Carter-Williams’ shaky play on Sunday is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, but by the same token, it’s too early to chalk it up to anything more than jitters. Many of his mistakes came from being overly aggressive. For what it’s worth, for someone like MCW who projects as a scoring point guard, I’d rather he be too aggressive than not aggressive enough if he’s going to make mistakes. There isn’t much reason to be concerned, but hopefully it doesn’t become a habit.
- Short of an injury to Kris Joseph or C.J. Fair, I think significant playing time will be hard to come by for James Southerland, but his contributions were definitely encouraging. Recalling that he spent a postgrad year at prep school before coming to Syracuse, where he’s come off the bench his entire career, he’s always had a lot to fight through, so to see him play well and make a case for run was another good takeaway. He’ll have to keep it up if Boeheim is going to seriously entertain thoughts of going ten deep once the games become more meaningful, and consistency has always been an issue for Southerland, so it’s especially important for him to play well in the opportunities he gets.