Depth Disparities Highlighted In Win At St. John’s
The Orange are fortunate to have gone 2-1 in Fab Melo’s absence. If not for a torrid stretch of play from Kris Joseph at Fifth Third Arena and a game-deciding no-call against West Virginia, today’s post may have been about how Syracuse is entering a key stretch of three games in six days which could loom large in the team’s efforts to maintain position for a one seed. However, since the team escaped with only limited damage and Melo’s return on Saturday restored confidence, that topic will have to be covered another time.
Today, I want to talk about what was learned from the drubbing at Madison Square Garden. Usually, in a game with as wide a margin of victory as this one was, there isn’t much to glean. Sure, everyone chips in, and it’s nice as a fan to be able to sit back and enjoy rather than getting caught up in the one or two possessions that decide a game, but when a team isn’t challenged, we rarely learn anything new. I think Saturday’s game was an exception, as it highlighted the differences in depth at the center and guard positions.
As Melo emerged early in the season as a game-changing horse on the defensive end while Baye Keita struggled and Rakeem Christmas got limited reps, it became evident that Melo was the team’s most indispensable player – this after many had no clue what to expect from the seven-foot sophomore. That notion was affirmed last month as the Orange had to gut out a couple wins against some of the league’s more average teams without its pick-and-roll specialist and charge-drawing, shot-blocking behemoth. When Melo returned with force on Saturday, any remaining doubt was eliminated. His 14 points established a new career high, breaking a mark of 12 he first established against the Johnnies last season, and a pair of authoritative blocks helped set the tone defensively. While I liked what Christmas did against the Bearcats, if the Orange find themselves without Melo again this season for any reason, they’ll be in an incredibly tight spot.
I can’t say the same thing about the guard position after the revealing show put on by Michael Carter-Williams. The freshman point guard took the game (and Twitter) by the horns with an efficient 13 points in 17 minutes, with none of those points more memorable than these two:
With the team rotating among a stable of steady guards, Michael Carter-Williams will remain a luxury until either his sophomore season or until one of Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche or Dion Waiters gets sidelined with an unforeseen absence, whichever happens first. In 2010, we saw a blindsided DaShonte Riley forced into significant playing time in an elimination setting. In January, it was revealed just how vitally important Fab Melo’s availability is to the team’s fortunes. Should one of the three guards receiving the vast majority of minutes have to miss time, Carter-Williams could fit in without being a liability, though there would be no guarantee that he’d duplicate the work he put in on Saturday. That just doesn’t apply to the reserve centers SU has on its bench.
He may not see this kind of playing time for awhile with the Orange’s schedule being cranked up a level, but he won’t be short on confidence the next time his number is called. I’m really looking forward to seeing Carter-Williams take the keys to the offense. His height, listed as 6’5″ but perhaps closer to 6’7″, allows him to see – and shoot – over the player guarding him and his long arms are ideal for disrupting passing lanes and finishing on drives. Anything he provides this season will be gravy, unless he’s forced into the lineup due to circumstances elsewhere in the depth chart. Even if that happens, I would rest much easier than I would if Jim Boeheim was sent scrambling again to band-aid the middle of the zone.