Old Faces Drop By The Dome
Tonight, Syracuse will welcome a few old friends back to the Carrier Dome when they square off against Eastern Michigan, led by Rob Murphy, Da’Shonte Riley and a few staffers who once patrolled SU’s sidelines. The Orange are in the midst of the busiest portion of their non-con slate, as they just traveled to Arkansas last Friday, and after tonight’s game, will have just two days to prepare for Long Beach and will then face Monmouth on Saturday for a total of four games in nine days, including one halfway across the country. Considering that schedule, it’s probably fortunate that tonight’s game marks the first in a five-game stretch of matchups against vastly inferior opponents, with each game being played at home.
Like his mentor, Rob Murphy has installed a zone defense. While it’s been successful in some ways (the Eagles rank 17th in the country in effective field goal percentage defense and block 18.8% of their opponent’s shots), their schedule strength, which is among the bottom five in the nation, renders the defensive performance a red herring. While I’m sure it’s helped build the kind of confidence the Eagles need to even dream of staying competitive with the Orange, there’s no realistic way their performance can be considered sustainable against a high-powered and fast-paced offense like the ‘Cuse.
As long as Eastern Michigan continues to visit while Riley is still enrolled, it’d be a disservice to not mention him. EMU’s competition has left a lot to be desired, but don’t tell that to Riley, who is among the top 50 nationally in blocked shots and has some nice rebounding numbers to go along with it, despite huge challenges in his ability to stay on the floor. He’s mostly recovered from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss much of the 2011-12 season, but since it also robbed him of some time to develop over the summer, he still has a lot of catching up to do, and that’s evidenced by the fact that he’s committed four fouls in three of the Eagles’ six games this season. While he no longer shies away from contact, all that missed time leads me to think he’ll ever pan out into the presence that SU fans dreamed about when he came to Syracuse as a seven-foot lottery ticket in 2009.
In addition to Riley, Murphy’s other transfers appear to be solid pieces. Daylen Harrison, who defected from Wyoming, leads the team in scoring with 17 points per game and is second to Riley with seven boards per game. Glenn Bryant, who moved north from Arkansas to play for Murphy, gives the Eagles another double-digit scorer and additional size on the wing. Senior Derek Thompson, who decided to stick around despite not being recruited to Ypsilanti by Murphy, is primarily a three-point shooter and has hit on 42% of his shots from distance. I’d be shocked to see Eastern Michigan hang with Syracuse for more than a few minutes, and the MAC is not nearly the head-turning conference in basketball that it is in football, but until his roster completely turns over into one entirely composed of players that he recruited, Murphy can’t be expected to do much more than tread water.
The Orange will look to stay sharp, but there are some areas that really need fine-tuning. As spectacular as James Southerland has been this season, the team needs guys like Trevor Cooney and Brandon Triche to become steadier three-point threats. At first, I thought Cooney had just run into some bad luck in addition to showing some rust from not playing at all last season, but I’m afraid his approach has devolved into trying anything just to crack the scoring column. As I watched him go coast-to-coast late in the second half against Arkansas, he didn’t even see Baye Moussa Keita fade out to his right in perfect position for a dump-off, and instead of dishing for an easy assist, Cooney went straight at the basket but was called for a charge. While his defense has been good, he obviously needs to snap out of those bad habits on the offensive end before he digs himself into any deeper a hole, and as I tweeted Friday, finding the cure for what ails Trevor Cooney might be Gerry McNamara’s biggest test as a coach to this point.
The Arkansas game couldn’t have been a worse matchup for Dajuan Coleman. Mostly due to his conditioning in a breack-neck pace but also thanks to a few early miscues, all Coleman could contribute was six points in a meager 12 minutes, though he could’ve pitched in four more points had he not missed a pair of bunnies. In a more deliberate setting like tonight, Coleman should be a bigger part of the offense and get more opportunities to assert his dominance than he did against the Razorbacks. Avoiding an embarrassing upset is a priority of course, but if the Orange work towards filling some of the smaller holes that have started to emerge, the night will be a success.