Cuse Goes Nautical As Season Tips Off Against Aztecs
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
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.
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.
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.