Orange Open Season By Stifling Aztecs
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.