Archive

Archive for November, 2012

SU Faces Fast-Paced Arkansas In Tough Road Contest

November 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Four games into the season, the Orange have thrived behind the emergence of Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland, but the team has also been successful due to its ability to dictate tempo against each of its opponents to date. That may change when SU takes on Arkansas and its pressure defense tonight in Fayetteville (no, not that Fayetteville…). Razorbacks head coach Mike Anderson, a disciple of Nolan Richardson, has adopted Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” mantra at all three of his head coaching stops – UAB, Missouri and now Arkansas. When it works, it’s incredibly effective at generating turnovers on pressure defense and traps in the backcourt, leading to easy baskets at the other end. When it doesn’t, though, it puts a lot of pressure on the team’s personnel to generate offense in more traditional sets.

That’s been the story for the Razorbacks this season. Their three wins have come against teams that just couldn’t find the open man in time, but its two losses, while respectable, have come against squads that did a better job of breaking Arkansas’ press and were subsequently able to get good looks at the basket. The Razorbacks’ defensive style may be distinct, but that doesn’t mean it’s always effective.

While Syracuse hasn’t played at nearly as high a tempo in any of its games this season, its transition offense has been superb. The team’s height, athleticism and Carter-Williams’ savvy court awareness will give the Orange a very solid chance of cracking Arkansas’ press, though it will also have to contend with a raucous road crowd. SU’s chances to win rely heavily on taking care of the ball and forcing Arkansas into using halfcourt sets and not turnovers to generate points, and ‘Cuse definitely has those capabilities.

On a personnel level, Arkansas has a lot of talent. The battle in the backcourt between two potential first round picks in MCW and B.J. Young should be very exciting. Carter-Williams and Young are very similar physically and are equally important to their teams: Arkansas depends on Young to score while the Orange counts on MCW to run the offense and distribute.

Young gets a ton of attention for his pro potential and his absurdly high level of involvement in Arkansas’ offense (he takes 37.8% of the Razorbacks’ shots when he’s on the floor), but there are good players at the other positions as well. Mardracus Wade is an excellent three-point shooter, but Anderson probably wishes he would be less gunshy, as he’s attempted just ten threes on the year. Transfer Cody Clarke and Marshawn Powell, a 240-pound forward who was injured for all but two games last season, do a good job of snagging the rebounds that initiate Arkansas’ offense when it isn’t forcing turnovers.

Physically, though, Syracuse has all the personnel they need to match up against Arkansas’ style. Aside from Arkansas’ tempo, one thing to keep in mind will be how much the Orange will respect the Razorbacks’ shooters. Arkansas hasn’t been very successful as team from distance, hitting only about 30% of their threes, but Young, Wade and a few of the team’s complementary players have the potential to get hot if SU doesn’t close out.

Despite what should be a very hostile environment and a frenzied style, I like the Orange’s chances tonight due to their advantages in length and Michael Carter-Williams’ recent display of poise and vision, though like any road contest, there may be some early jitters.

Michael Carter-Williams: Digging Deeper And Looking Forward

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment
With four games under the team’s belt, it’s still early but no longer *that* early to start drawing some real conclusions about how things are going. While more time is needed to assess things like DaJuan Coleman’s potential and Trevor Cooney’s ability to make an impact this season, one thing is crystal clear: Not only has Michael Carter-Williams emerged as an incredible weapon, but he has a chance to end up with one of the best individual seasons of any player to wear a uniform for Jim Boeheim. It’s probably best not to get ahead of myself, but it’s hard not to when evaluating MCW to this point and the way the schedule is breaking.

I’ve touched on what makes Michael Carter-Williams unique in this space before, but it bears repeating. SU’s sophomore point guard shown incredible vision (thanks in part to his height relative to the players guarding him), superior athleticism and driving ability as well as a knack for knowing where his teammates are that borders on telepathy. His confidence level, which was already high when SU tipped off against San Diego State, has only risen as he’s put other players in terrific position to make shots. It says a lot about the trust level when a point guard racks up 13 assists and all his teammates can do afterwards is apologize and lament that they didn’t give him a few more dimes and his coach is quick to point out that he could have finished with 17 or 18 instead of 13. Carter-Williams had several moments on the U.S.S. Midway where he was out of control, but he’s handled the ball smoothly ever since, posting an A/TO ratio of nearly 5:1 in SU’s last three games.We knew coming into the season that SU’s lack of point guard depth would reduce the margin of error, but that couldn’t be a smaller concern based on his performance in the still-young season.

In addition to leading the country in assists per game, he has assisted on a brain-scrambling 51.4 percent of his team’s baskets when he’s been in the game. That number probably isn’t sustainable (the Big East’s leader in the category is typically between 35 and 40 percent), but the ranking is an identifier of how well he’s playing relative to the floor generals around the country. On top of that, the rest of SU’s non-conference season doesn’t figure to throw a big wrench into MCW’s momentum.

Five of Syracuse’s last nine non-league opponents currently rank in the top 100 nationally in tempo. Of those five, two are in the top 20, including Friday’s opponent, Arkansas. Carter-Williams has proven that he can slow the game down and execute half-court sets when need be, but he thrives more in transition and off the dribble. With more opportunities to run, the scariest thing is that the numbers might not settle down until the start of Big East play. With more possessions, MCW may have another crack at the single-game assist record referenced by many on Twitter in the first half of the Colgate game. It may very well come down to how much rest Jim Boehiem thinks he needs, and a fresh point guard for Big East play is much more valuable than a single-game record, but the thought of a sophomore posting Pearl Washington-esque numbers in just his first full season with full-time responsibilities is definitely a great sign for SU’s prospects.

Orange Open Home Slate Against Wagner

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s been a very nice few weeks for the Syracuse athletic department. The football team scored two of its biggest victories of the Doug Marrone era, the basketball team cleaned up on the recruiting trail and opened its season with a blowout over San Diego State, and even the field hockey and soccer teams are getting in on the action. This afternoon, the basketball team hope to keep momentum rolling with a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Wagner Seahawks. Bashir Mason and his squad shouldn’t present much of a challenge. Like the Aztecs last Sunday, they lack the size needed to go against Rakeem Christmas and Dajuan Coleman and rely heavily on their shooters to do damage from distance. Within its conference, Wagner is expected to fair quite well, returning much of the personnel that led them to an upset win over Pittsburgh and a second-place finish in the Northeast Conference in 2012. Against bigger and better talent, I don’t expect the Seahawks to keep it very competitive, though they do have some nice players.

Though SU’s players and coaches were ebullient in describing their experience about the U.S.S. Midway, they’re probably ready to switch to the more traditional indoor setting that allows them to be so much more versatile on offense.

Who To Watch Out For:

Kenneth Ortiz – The Southern Mississippi transfer had five turnovers in Wagner’s win against Delaware State, but also led the team with eight rebounds despite standing just 6’0″ tall. Last season, Ortiz put on some theatrics with this game-winner against Santa Clara.

Latif Rivers – Rivers can score in volumes. He scored at least 15 points in 15 of Wagner’s games last season, and had four 20-point games. The problem with Rivers, though, is that he’s not very effective, with a career 38.3% field goal percentage. He’ll be a long range threat on Sunday, though.

Jonathon Williams – Williams settled in very nicely last season, averaging 13 points and five rebounds after transferring from junior college in San Francisco. The senior led the Seahawks in scoring in its first game of the season and is one of the team’s biggest players at 6’6″ and 225 pounds.

Keys To The Game

  • This is going to sound like a broken record from last weekend, but Wagner has some nice balance among their scorers, so the Orange will have to contain the Seahawks, especially from the outside. Apart from 6’11” junior Naofall Folahan, they just don’t have the size and strength necessary to stick with the Orange down low, so their margin of error will be slim.
  • Accordingly, the Orange shouldn’t have any trouble exploiting their size advantage in the post. After a frustrating debut, I expect Dajuan Coleman to be more comfortable and have a few more opportunities than he did last Sunday.
  • As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, playing in controlled conditions should allow the Orange to flex and develop their perimeter shooting, either running set plays to get the shooters open or being successful enough in the post to draw the extra attention that will allow Brandon Triche, Trevor Cooney, James Southerland and even C.J. Fair to get open.

The Bottom Line

Syracuse won’t have much trouble against an undersized Seahawks team playing for a first-year head coach in Bashir Mason. While SU’s scoring core of MCW, Triche and Fair should be steady once again in the scoring column, I’ll be most interested in seeing the team open up its playbook and show off what it can do from distance. Against San Diego State, the Orange packed it in (and rightfully so, considering the conditions), so we didn’t really get a chance to see the entire picture of Syracuse’s potential.

Prediction: Syracuse 85, Wagner 63

Orange Score Another Forward For 2013 As Roberson Commits

November 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Syracuse’s 2013 class is complete (for now), as combo forward Tyler Roberson announced his intentions to join up with the Orange Friday night. While the Orange had been in on Roberson for a couple of years, SU’s depth at the wings and interest in two other forwards, Noah Vonleh and Jermaine Lawrence, injected just enough drama to leave a little bit of doubt. Villanova and Kansas stayed on Roberson’s list until tonight’s announcement, but Jay Wright failed to nab the New Jersey product (an emerging issue for him and his staff) and KU, which does well in the state despite the distance, ultimately fell out of favor as well.

In Roberson, the Orange get a very good forward to go along with what’s already a highly talented core of forwards. The combination of Roberson, B.J. Johnson, C.J. Fair, and Rakeem Christmas should be as skilled and versatile as any in the country next season. At 6’7″ and 200 pounds, you can conjure up any of several players to suit up for Jim Boeheim as a comparison, but while many of those players have taken time to develop into SU’s system, Roberson is already very far along in his development, possessing a skill set that makes him a perfect fit in the zone.

There’s not much that Roberson can’t already do. He can score in the paint with his back to the basket, he can drive and he can hit jump shots out to the arc, though his range will probably be reigned in so he can focus on scoring more a little more like a post player than a small forward. As developed as he is on offense, the scary thing is that Roberson is one of the better defenders in his class at his position. Like Patterson, he possesses great instincts on the defensive end, and Roberson’s length helps him invade passing lanes, get deflections and block the occasional shot, but mostly rebound.

In the big picture, Roberson’s commitment rounds out the class of 2013, unless someone – you should be able to guess the most likely candidate by now – leaves early for the NBA, or there’s a defection somewhere farther down the roster. As such, there probably won’t be significant recruiting news for awhile as far as the 2013 class is concerned, but on the flip side, it’ll be nice to not have to sweat it out in-season for the services of the Tobias Harrises of the world.

Orange Open Season By Stifling Aztecs

November 11, 2012 Leave a comment

No, the conditions were not favorable. Despite the wide margin of victory, the wind and sun aboard the USS Midway made life difficult for Syracuse as well as the Aztecs. But while it’s tough to glean a lot about either team with the conditions altering each team’s strategy throughout the game to such a vast degree, it can be done. The Orange forced San Diego State into a horrific shooting night, 18 turnovers and SU blocked ten shots; The Orange’s length should terrorize opponents throughout the year. Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair combined for nearly 80 percent of SU’s scoring output; Those three, or some combination among the three, will probably lead the Orange offensively most nights. Fair pulled down 17 points and ten rebounds, plus two steals; His versatility will keep many an opposing coach up at night. MCW scored 17 himself and led the team with five steals; He was also second on the team with four turnovers and fouled out as he was caught gambling on multiple occasions. How his aggression is maximized for the good of the team is something to keep an eye on throughout the season. The weather simply took SU’s strengths and exaggerated them as the Aztecs were never really in it after the first four minutes, but those strengths were still on display.

I saw a lot of good things from Carter-Williams, but like many young point guards, he also made some questionable plays. In the first half, he put up a few ill-advised shots that only looked worse in the wind and almost led Brandon Triche right into the stanchion with a long lead pass. Like many fans, I’m excited to see MCW inherit all those minutes that were spoken for last season. However, it’s also clear that for him to emerge and reach his potential, he’ll have to make some adjustments. In 2011-12, MCW could afford to be aggressive because as the fourth guard, all that was at stake was playing time. If he made a poor decision, Jim Boeheim could pull him for one of the many other guards on the team, and that was that. Now, Boeheim won’t suddenly drift from his coaching style and leave players in the game despite their mistakes, but with more limited depth this season, MCW will have to learn much faster. That being said, I’d rather see a young player be too aggressive than too passive. He won’t always be able to get into the lane as easily as he did on Sunday, but with as quick a first step as he has, it will be an option more often than not. How often he takes it on his own instead of finding his talented teammates will be very interesting to see as the season progresses.

The frontcourt did an excellent job, and C.J. Fair looked fantastic. I have to admit that my eyes lit up when I saw him set the pace by hitting a wide-open three in the early going. The weather limited opportunities for Fair to show us more long jumpers, but it didn’t stop him from being all over the court throughout the game, but especially in the first half. He only had one assist, but it was a beauty as he made  a pinpoint lob to Rakeem Christmas. The wind also suppressed James Southerland’s ability to contribute, but he still found a way to pitch in a solid effort from the bench. Though he didn’t go up against the tallest players he’ll see, Baye Moussa Keita took the first step towards proving last season to be the outlier rather than the Keita we should expect, adding in eight rebounds and a block.

SU’s three freshmen didn’t contribute much at all. Dajuan Coleman, Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant combined for 19 minutes, but I don’t think that’s indicative of what we’ll see all season. SU rightly veered away from the three-point shot so quickly that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a conscious decision made by Boeheim. While going inside was the smartest style to play (just take a look at SDSU’s three-point numbers as they continued to hoist at will), it also squeezed Cooney out of the rotation for the rest of the game, and since the Orange didn’t have any trouble getting into the lane, inserting Dajuan Coleman and his big frame wasn’t necessary. SU’s depth at the wings will make it tough for Jerami Grant to see more than a handful of minutes, but it’s nothing I’m concerned about.

The challenges of staging and executing the weekend’s three aircraft carrier games (or do we just call it one?) made it clear that they shouldn’t continue. While it’s a thoughtful gesture to the servicemen and woman who fight so I can sit on the couch and talk about something as trivial as college basketball, the conditions outside changed the way teams play in ways they’ll likely never see again in the season. As they often do indoors, the Orange prevailed at making the adjustments necessary to win, but it’s not a case for planning more outdoor games moving forward. Still, it’s not hard to picture SU winning 25 or 30 more games on the strength of its long-armed defense and biggest playmakers on offense, just as it did on Sunday.

Cuse Goes Nautical As Season Tips Off Against Aztecs

November 9, 2012 Leave a comment

After seven long months of waiting, the 2012-13 season is finally here. Despite losing four key players from last year, I remain excited about the Orange. While the team won’t have as much experience as it had last season, it’s always fascinating to see how players mature into new roles and adjust to expectations they haven’t encountered. I think the process will involve a few early bumps, but with a good chance that things will be ironed out by the time they matter most.

SU starts the season in the rarest of circumstances – playing a ranked team on the road. Oh, the whole aircraft carrier thing is a factor too. I’ll get more into the specifics on how the conditions might affect play, but first, I want to talk about the Aztecs. Coming into the season, they’re getting a good deal of hype because they return four starters, including the reigning conference POY, from a successful campaign in 2011-12. They’ll boast a backcourt that will be right up there with the Orange’s, and maybe higher by the end of the end of the season. While SU’s frontcourt isn’t believed to be the team’s strength at such an early juncture, they’ll have a sizable advantage over the smaller Aztecs down low.

Who To Watch Out For

G Jamaal Franklin – Averaged 17.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game as a sophomore in 2011-12

G Chase Tapley – 15.8 PPG, 43.3% 3FG

G Xavier Thames – 10.1 PPG, 4.1 APG

F Winston Shepard – Top 60 ESPNU recruit, 21 Rivals, #4 PF in Scout’s 2012 rankings

Backcourt

The Aztecs have a deep, versatile and skilled backcourt led by the aforementioned Franklin, a fringe All-American candidate. He can score at will, but it’s hard to say how effective he’ll be against the 2-3. He’ll get his points, but the game may hinge on SU’s ability to neutralize him. As a team, the Aztecs are nothing special from distance, ranking sixth in their conference in three-point accuracy, though Tapley can get hot if he gets into a rhythm. Senior James Rahon, another guard, was hobbled by a foot injury last season, but hit 43% of his threes two years ago. While that normally wouldn’t bode well for a zone defense, the outdoor environment, coupled with SU’s length at the top will make it hard for the Aztecs to get going. Defensively, they had a very good season last year with a group that allowed fewer points per possession than all but one team in the Mountain West, a strong achievement for a team that was so desperate for size by the end of the season that Steve Fisher played Franklin at the 4 in the home stretch.

Frontcout

While SDSU doesn’t have a ton of size, Franklin can fight through traffic and get rebounds at a surprisingly strong rate, and is one of many parts of his game that gets scouts drooling. The Aztecs’ core of forwards is somewhat piecemeal, as it’s composed by two transfers, including Dwayne Polee, who some fans may remember from his brief time at St. John’s. Shepard, a 6’8″ freshman, comes in highly touted and is expected to make a big impact immediately. As a freshman, a big question will be what he does with the ball when the zone collapses on him. He’s being thrown right into the fire, but despite his youth, he’ll provide a solid early test for Dajuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas. SDSU’s lack of frontcourt depth should provide ample opportunity not only for the Orange to feed its big men, but also for Michael Carter-Williams and maybe even James Southerland to try their hands at driving.

Keys To The Game

  • The efficiency of SU’s backcourt, especially on the defensive end. The ability to force turnovers and easy runouts made life easy last season. With different personnel, it’s reasonable to expect a step back in that department, but there’s no reason why MCW, Triche and Cooney can’t be effective, either.
  • SDSU’s three-point shooting. The conditions may make things very tricky for the Aztecs (though the Orange have the same conditions). If the shots don’t fall early, Fisher may be forced to change his strategy, but doing so will only reduce the Aztec’s margin for error.
  • Post offense hasn’t been a strength of the Orange since Arinze Onuaku graduated, but the scales appear to weigh heavily in SU’s favor. The Aztecs will need help to deal with the Orange’s bulk down low.

Bottom Line

I don’t expect this game to be the smoothest one, especially in the first half. Both teams will go through an adjustment period as they adapt to the conditions. With an earlier tip time, the Midway floor shouldn’t have the condensation problems that made Friday night’s slate such a disaster, but the sun may be a factor in its place. San Diego State’s strengths don’t appear to match up well with either the natural settings or SU’s weaknesses. Franklin may be one of the top 20 players in the country with the ability to score at will, but while Tapley is no slouch himself, the Orange seem to have the upper hand in every other matchup on the court.

Prediction: Syracuse 69, San Diego State 61.

SU Lands 2014 Target McCullough and Dakari Johnson Reclassifies

November 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Because it’s just been way too quiet in the world of SU recruiting.

Chris McCullough has been on SU’s radar for so long that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he’s still a junior at Brewster Academy. Between multiple visits and several hints of his leanings to SU, it would have been a surprise if McCullough committed elsewhere, but at the same time, a verbal this early wasn’t exactly expected.

The 6’10” Bronx native may have the greatest pro potential of anyone in Syracuse’s plans for the next few years, and that’s saying something with all the long, athletic talent currently on the roster. McCullough’s length, mobility, leaping ability, rebounding skills and ball-handling are very advanced for a prospect his age. More notably, if he keeps on the current path, he may give Syracuse something it hasn’t had in several seasons – a post player with a face-up shot. There aren’t many blemishes to his game at the moment, but the themes among scouting services are a low release on his jumper, an inconsistent motor and a basketball I.Q. that could use some improvement, but those weaker areas are easily correctable in Syracuse’s system if they aren’t refined by the time he gets to campus in two years.

Projecting SU’s depth chart so far down the road isn’t the easiest thing in the world due to the depth SU has compiled in the back of the zone, but we can dream a little. The most likely scenario at this stage involves McCullough manning one of the wings alongside Dajuan Coleman and Jerami Grant. If Rakeem Christmas is still with the program at that point (he’d be a senior), I’d be surprised, but there’s plenty of time to see how the roster will shake out.

While the class of 2014 giveth in the form of McCullough’s commitment, it taketh away as 5-star center Dakari Johnson reclassified to the 2013 class. The move was not expected, as Johnson sat out last season at Montverde Academy in Florida after transferring from his home in New Jersey and figured to make up the time as a junior this year.

Landing Johnson would give the Orange an embarrassment of riches, but he is not a must-have for by any means with Coleman likely staying awhile. Still, it doesn’t make the coaching staff’s jobs any less stressful as they plan for the future. With just one scholarship available for the 2013 class (supposedly reserved for Jermaine Lawrence, Tyler Roberson or Noah Vonleh), the coaching staff was already looking at a crunch unless there’s an early draft declaration or other variety of departure this spring. While this season will be exciting enough on the court, it will be just as intriguing on the recruiting trail.