Home > Uncategorized > This Season’s Surprise Contributor… James Southerland?

This Season’s Surprise Contributor… James Southerland?

December 1, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Over the last few seasons as Syracuse has returned to “perennial NCAA Tournament team” status, the Orange have had a surprise contribution from someone in a reserve role. In 2009, it was the transformation of a junior Andy Rautins from a spot-up shooter to a sniper who was also a solid defender. The next year, Rautins continued to improve, but Wes Johnson’s historically terrific season, Kris Joseph’s efficiency off the bench and the dual threat of Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson down low helped propel the Orange to a regular season Big East title. Though Jonny Flynn and Jim Boeheim both warned us of Johnson’s domination, but I don’t think anyone was ready for the show he put on. In 2011, C.J. Fair emerged as a spark plug who let his game, and not his pedestrian scouting service rankings, do the talking.

Currently (and somewhat suddenly), we’re about 20% into this season. We’re approaching the point where we have a firm idea of what the team is, where it becomes harder to write off any given strong performance by a complimentary player due to small sample size or the competition on the other end. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting close. Seven games in, it’s starting to look like James Southerland might be that surprise player for the 2011-12 season.

Admittedly, it’s still too early to make a huge extrapolation, but as of this writing, Southerland leads not just the entire Big East in offensive rating (the closest thing to a catch-all offensive stat), but all of college basketball with a mark of 167.4. This is astronomical, but we’ll get to that in a bit. For a briefing on offensive rating, suppose that a player were to use 100 possessions for his team, which can be done in any of the following ways:

  • Making a shot from the field or from the free throw line
  • Missing a shot from the field or free throw line that is rebounded by the other team
  • Getting an offensive rebound that leads to a made field goal or free throw
  • Assisting on a made field goal
  • Turning the ball over

The offensive rating is the number of points a player contributes through the means described above per 100 possessions. At the current pace, Southerland is contributing 167 points for every 100 possessions he uses. For perspective, the national leader in offensive rating every season typically checks in around 125, but the early-season cupcakes inflate those numbers in the early going.

If you’d rather stick with the traditional stats, though, he’s fourth in the Big East in overall shooting percentage (61.7%), second in three-point percentage (52.4%), and has turned the ball over just once in 115 minutes of action to boot. Looking back at some of SU’s most prolific three-point shooters in recent memory, neither Gerry McNamara nor Andy Rautins ever started a season as hot as Southerland has this year, though Wes Johnson started 16-30 from deep for a 55% rate. If Southerland were to keep this up all season, it would go down as one of the most efficient individual seasons in modern college basketball history. Despite that, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to snatch up a 43 jersey anytime soon.

To elaborate, the competition has to be factored in when we look at why Southerland has been balling out of control. Fordham, Manhattan, Albany, Colgate and Eastern Michigan leave a lot to be desired defensively, as they rank 183rd, 231st, 255th, 291st and 218th in adjusted defensive efficiency, respectively. Against beefed up opposition in Stanford (10th in the country in defensive efficiency) and Virginia Tech (39th), Southerland logged just 13 minutes combined and didn’t sink any of the three shots he took in New York City. It wasn’t that he was ineffective, but C.J. Fair, who he’s battling for playing time, couldn’t be taken off the court against the Hokies, and the team needed to keep defense a priority in the final against Stanford.

Against bad teams, there was a big enough talent disparity for Jim Boeheim to freely use his bench from Baye on down to Mookie and beyond and get a feel for the complimentary players without fretting over the outcome. When facing tougher battles, as we’ve learned, the rotation slims down, and that’s when Boeheim is faced with tougher decisions. Some players get squeezed out, and Southerland found himself in that class in his first two seasons. While I feel he’s earned the right to get a long look in non-conference play, I’m still bearish on him in the long run.

The Orange’s game against Florida tomorrow night should present a great opportunity for Southerland to get some extended minutes, not because I think the team will separate itself early and allow Boeheim to look Southerland’s way, but because of the size advantage he’ll have on the floor. The Gators roll with a guard-heavy lineup small enough for Southerland to shoot over without much of a problem. Florida’s already thin up front, but with Erik Murphy expected to sit out with an injury, they’ll be even more depleted. I’d like to see Southerland crash the boards hard on both ends of the court, which is an area of his game that hasn’t been of great emphasis so far, at least going by the results.

James Southerland is hitting shots at a crazy pace and doing many of the other things the Orange need to win games. But, as in previous seasons, the question remains as to how he’ll do when the heat is turned up. He’s no Jimmer, but if he continues to shoot well and do enough on defense to stay on the floor, he’ll be an immensely valuable weapon in Boeheim’s system.

  1. GettinYucky
    December 1, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Southerland is a highly efficient player. This isn’t a fluke. Just check out his rating last season (if you’re looking this up on kenpom).

    I’m not sure what Boeheim has against him. From what I can tell, he has a great attitude, is a good guy, works hard, and his teammates like him. There’s definitely something there though, as he faces much higher scrutiny than I’ve seen other players receive (kind of a Boeheim trademark… there’s gotta be at least one guy in the doghouse every season).

    I’m definitely rooting for him to continue to blow up though.

  2. GettinYucky
    December 1, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    I’d also like to point out the fallacy of Southerland’s “lack of rebounding”. This was quite the topic last season as well, and it’s just not true. For much of last year Southerland was right behind CJ (and was ahead of Kris Joseph) when you look at rebounding pace. That stat really took a dive when he lost confidence and then got jerked in and out of games for random stretches of time.

    But I think you have to examine his “opportunities to rebound”. You can’t just look at the totals and say “Oh CJ’s a MUCH better rebounder.” Sure, he grabbed 10 vs Virginia Tech (one as the final horn sounded), but he also played 31 minutes. He played 35 against Stanford and only tallied 5.

    On the whole, this season, CJ has grabbed a rebound every 4.0 minutes, James every 4.6, and Kris Joseph every 4.75 (Rak gets one every 3.85, but don’t even get me started on that situation).

    On offense, CJ tends to camp out closer to the baseline which helps those numbers a bit. Southerland and Joseph tend to stay on the perimeter. Southerland is most often seen at the top of the key, setting picks, and then floating out beyond the 3-pt arc, making it kinda difficult to crash the boards. So I guess I don’t understand the complaint that Southerland doesn’t rebound enough. They’re different players with different roles/strengths, but Southerland still holds his own when you look at “opportunities”.

    Also, all three are pretty much interchangeable defensively. They all get steals. They all get blocks. They all get on the deck for loose balls. They all get beat by corner threes when they’re trying to help out the guards cover up top and can’t get back in time. I see very little difference among them.

    So, again, not sure why Southerland would merit extended bench time, while CJ and Kris get in 30+ min runs. Give him a chance against better competition (which should have happened in NYC) and he’ll do just as much as CJ and Kris.

  3. Rick
    December 2, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Excellent breakdown!

  4. Hurricane
    December 3, 2011 at 4:04 am

    Against easier foes (RPI of 100 or greater), Southerland is a beast. He averages 20mpg and scores almost 15ppg while shooting over 60% from 3. Against their tougher opponents (VT, Stanford, UF) he has averaged 8 minutes (almost all in the first halves) and has scored 0ppg. Why is this? My theory is it takes him a few minutes to get into the game. Against cupcakes Boeheim can afford a few minutes for him to settle in whereas he can’t afford that lack of production in tight and tougher games. I’d like to see a stat breakdown by minute of Southerland. I have a feeling he’s not going to sniff much PT after BE play starts.

  5. Hurricane
    December 3, 2011 at 4:11 am

    In the games he’s gotten significant time, he’s averaged 4.6 rpg in 20+ mpg. I don’t think his lack of rebounding is the issue.

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