Orange Face Blue Devils In Final Non-Con Tune-Up

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

There’s no mistaking the fact that the Orange are in a rut offensively. Dating back to the second half of the Detroit game, SU has looked, listless, lost, pressed, woeful and just about any other adjective you want to throw out there. The most alarming thing about the Orange’s current slump is that it isn’t limited to just one area of the game, but if you were to rank all the problems in order of importance, it’d be tough to argue against SU’s recent shooting.

You just can’t dress up a 40% mark from the floor, 15% from beyond the arc and 58% from the free throw line – SU’s performance over their last five halves of ball. This from a team with four players averaging double figures in the scoring department. Hitting shots of all kinds has been a major issue as of late.

In the Orange’s best games, their offense has fed heavily off their defense, relying on defensive rebounds and turnovers. However, despite turning Alcorn State over on a staggeringly high 46% of its possessions, SU failed to crack even 60 points against a SWAC team. If you watched the Temple game, you know how badly the Orange’s defense struggled, and in addition to the missed free throws, it may have been the difference.

The Orange have another chance to get back on the right track this afternoon against Central Connecticut State. The “other” Blue Devils have an interesting blueprint as a team. They can get out and run, but they do a very good job holding onto the ball even though they play at the nation’s 29th-highest pace. CCSU’s shooting isn’t anything to sneeze at either, as they sport the NEC’s third-best field goal and three-point percentages. The Blue Devils are also nails from the stripe, hitting 80% of their attempts, good for third in the country. The Orange will have to respect leading scorer Kyle Vinales and gunner Adonis Burbage.

Another reason why it’s important for SU to snap out of it offensively is because Central Connecticut State plays a very short rotation. Four starters average at least 33 minutes a game, and Vinales has sat for just six minutes all season. Not a single bench player for the Blue Devils plays more than 15 minutes per game. Suffice it to say they would love to have the kind of sixth men that the Orange have fielded in recent years.

Defensively, CCSU really struggles. Only eight teams in the country allow a greater percentage of threes to find nylon and the Blue Devils are equally poor on both the offensive and defensive glass, giving their shooters a razor-thin margin for error. Considering their limitations in second-chances, the fact that they’re second in their conferences in scoring says a lot about their offense, but it also says something about the quality of teams they’ve played. They were blown out by Indiana, but have played just one other team from the KenPom top 100 (La Salle, who they beat by 7).

SU will be a heavy favorite this afternoon, and I look for them to break the habits that have surfaced over the last two weeks and get off to a fast start on offense for a change. The Orange have such a big size advantage that the Blue Devils should struggle to get many clean looks inside and will be forced to rely on their perimeter shooting, where the Orange’s defense has held steady all season. A win won’t wipe away the doubts that have been raised about this team, but it would be nice to close the non-con schedule on a positive note.

Temple, The End Of Conference Play And Defense

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season. Conference play has really flown by – it’s hard to believe that the first league action of the season comes in less than a week when SU squares off against Rutgers. I’m not going to spend an entire post previewing Alcorn State because it’s just so low a quality of opponent (thanks, Gotham Classic organizers!), but I will touch on that and other things in this edition of notes.

  • The Temple loss stings, and I won’t go through every aspect because it’s been covered in other spaces, but I do want to spend a little time discussing which problem areas seem like one-time occurrences and which ones seem like more prolonged issues. Many people have touched on SU’s free throw disaster on Saturday, claiming that it did them in. While it was abhorrent and the Orange have had well-chronicled struggles at the line as long as Boeheim has been head coach, I don’t see it being a consistent problem. Even after a lousy day at the stripe, SU is still 9th in the Big East in free throw percentage, and one percentage point (or about four makes) is all that separates them from being 6th in the league. That still wouldn’t be exceptional, but it’d be good enough in my mind. Too me free throw shooting isn’t nearly as big a problem as…
  • …Interior defense. The guards let up way too much dribble penetration on Saturday, but the last line of defense is just as culpable. It hasn’t really been a problem against some of the athletically inferior cupcakes SU has played to date, but against even a high mid-major team like Detroit, the Orange gave way too much. If it wasn’t back door cuts against Detroit, it was dribble penetration against Temple. For a team that plays exclusively zone, SU has let up a ton of points in the paint against higher-level competition, seemingly near 2007-2009 levels. The Orange have done a good job defending the perimeter for the most part, but against Detroit and Temple, the Orange gave up more than one point per possession, and Arkansas wasn’t far behind. Jim Boeheim has a significant challenge to work through here because Dajuan Coleman, the team’s best big man on offense, has trouble running the floor and isn’t quite where he needs to be defensively, and the best defensive big, Baye Keita, struggles on offense – though he seems to be back where he was freshman year as he’s held onto the ball more often than not and converted more close looks. SU’s defense has been progressively worse its last three games, so it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
  • The last problem area I’ll touch on from the Temple game is Michael Carter-Williams’ play. To me, it wasn’t his missed free throws as much as it was his uncharacteristically selfish play, a sign of his inexperience in a central role. With time, MCW can grow into a role where he can be relied on to score more than his average, and we’ve all seen flashes, but I don’t think that time will come until February or March.  He hasn’t had that much time to develop, but he also has more reliable teammates. Maybe he was just pressing, as Saturday was his first time running the point in a situation where his team needed to come back. As I said, it was very uncharacteristic of him, but until he’s tested again, all you can do is hope that he learned from what happened.
  • The Orange will be able to get the bad taste out of their mouths tomorrow night against Alcorn State, a team so bad that I doubt Syracuse would spend its own money to bring them in. They’re so inferior that a good performance won’t quell the doubts I have about the team, and I’m confident in saying the same thing about SU’s next opponent, Central Connecticut State, but if they can start to build some better habits, it will be a good sign moving forward.

Maybe it’s for the best that the Orange don’t face stellar Big East competition until a date with Louisville on January 19, because I think we all can agree that there are some significant holes the team needs to plug. I’m still high on the team in the long run, but while I don’t believe in the “good loss” theorem, it will be interesting to see how the team recalibrates.

 

Defense, Ball Control Key For The Orange Against Temple

December 21, 2012 Leave a comment

The headliner of the Gotham Classic tips Saturday afternoon with the Orange squaring off a highly inconsistent Temple squad at Madison Square Garden. For the most part, the Owls have taken care of business against the teams they were supposed to beat, which is one of the reasons why they bring a solid 8-2 record to New York, but poor shooting, a trend over its last four games, peaked in a surprising loss to Canisius, who Syracuse throttled last week.

The A-10 is good enough that with a top-half finish, Temple can be in decent position to capture a tournament bid, but through ten non-league games, their resume is wanting for quality wins. The Owls’ best victory to date is a win at Villanova, and in addition to Syracuse, they have a date with Kansas in Lawrence on January 6. Without a standout win on its resume, Temple will really have to make some noise in conference play, but a win on Saturday could change the conversation.

About Temple

The Owls’ are hurting for consistency on offense. The team has broken the 70-point mark just once since December 5, hasn’t cracked 45% shooting as a team in a game since its third outing of the season. The Owls mustered just 63 points in a win Monday against Alcorn State, one of the worst teams D-I teams in the country, and followed that up with just 62 against Alcorn State. Much of the inconsistency can be traced to seniors Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall, who the team intended to be its leaders when the season started. Aside from big man Anthony Lee, who has been better than advertised at 10.4 points and 6.6 boards per night, the supporting cast hasn’t quite developed to the point where they can reliably step up on offense if one or both of Wyatt and Randall struggle. That has put the onus on the other important fundamental element of offense – holding onto the ball – as well as its defense. The Owls have bought time for its stars to come around by playing solid defense and holding onto the ball. The team nabs nine steals among their ten 15 turnovers forced per contest, while only turning the ball over ten times per game themselves.

Who’s Hot:

Anthony Lee – Averaging 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in his last three games

Will Cummings: 3.7 steals per game over his last three outings

Who’s Not:

Khalif Wyatt – 30% shooting last five games, including 17.8% from three-point range

Scootie Randall – 28% shooting last four games, including 11% (3-27) from three-point range

Bottom Line

Not surprisingly, Temple’s best chances for a win involve all their shooters getting out of the holes they’ve dug for themselves over the past few weeks, and the Orange would have to have an uncharacteristically poor game at the front of the zone for the to happen. At the same time, Syracuse loves to run, so a high-scoring affair by the Owls wouldn’t necessarily translate to a badly-needed win for them, and that’s where Temple’s defense would have to step up. Despite its recent performance, I don’t see them being able to keep up with the Orange, who have avoided the prolonged scoring droughts that have plagued the Owls.

One area to keep an eye on is how SU values the ball against a defense that can cause problems. Last season, the Orange turned the ball over on just 15.9% of its possessions, an overlooked key to its success. This season, that rate has rocketed up to 20% even with Michael Carter-Williams putting up a video game- like assist/turnover ratio. While the Orange have succeeded on offense in spite of suspect ball-handling outside of MCW, it’s still an area where Syracuse can stand to improve, and Temple will definitely look to frustrate the Orange.

The battle between Anthony Lee and Syracuse’s bigs should be an interesting one, though it’s a mismatch on paper. Dajuan Coleman has looked more comfortable with each passing game, and while Rakeem Christmas has been fed for easy looks down low, he’s also showed brief glimpses of range, so I’ll be curious to see how often he tries to pull Lee out of position by flashing out to the free throw line. If the Orange can exploit another mismatch and execute down low – Temple’s entire team has 40 blocks, or the same amount as Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita combined – they shouldn’t have much trouble.

Orange Take First Shot At Boeheim’s 900th Win

December 17, 2012 Leave a comment

The Orange brought Jim Boeheim one victory closer to 900 with an excellent second half on its way to an 85-61 victory over Canisius Saturday night. While Boeheim didn’t punish Michael Carter-Williams for shoplifting, one could make the argument that MCW punished himself by dishing out a sole assist in the first half. Unfortunately for Canisius, MCW saw the floor extremely well in the second half and handed out 13 assists to finish with 14 to follow up his 16-assist performance against Monmouth. In other words, Michael Carter-Williams had one assist in the first half and still finished the game with his second-highest total in that category on the year. It’s only mid-December, but I’m already running out of ways to explain just how good he is.

Carter-Williams wasn’t the only one to make some noise at the Dome. Dajuan Coleman looks more comfortable every game as he continues to use his body to create space and keep the ball away from opponents. While there haven’t been many opponents capable of giving Coleman trouble as of late, the reps he’s received since playing a very limited role in the Arkansas game ought to prove valuable as conference play nears and the level of competition is ratcheted up.

Speaking of the Arkansas game, it was a relief to see James Southerland bounce back. While it would have been foolish to think he’d be able to maintain the level of success he had in that game over a long period of time, it was nonetheless troubling to see him struggle as he did until Saturday night. At this point, I think it’s safe to assume that Southerland is like most shooters in that he’ll look like he could beat anybody one game and he’ll have other games where you’ll look at his line and wonder why he stayed in the game as much as he did.

About Detroit

Last season, the Titans won 13 of its last 15 games, including an excellent conference tournament run to seal a bid, before losing to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA’s. Despite returning three starters from that team and adding another experienced player, Nick Minnerath, to the starting lineup, 6-4 Detroit has needed two wins against non-DI opponents to stay above .500. Like Billy Baron, Ray McCallum, Jr., is in a starring role playing for his father and is the unquestioned leader of his team, averaging 19.4 points per contest. Detroit has three other double-figure scorers (Jason Calliste, Doug Anderson and Minnerath), but none of those players are very efficient scorers. The Titans have hit just 42.6% of their shots inside the arc this season, which is a worse performance than 300 Division-I teams.

Detroit stays in games behind an ability to hold onto the ball on offense and get steals on the defensive end. Despite averaging 9.6 steals per game, they’ve allowed opponents to score a league-worst 71 points per game. They’ve been merely average on the offensive glass and haven’t crashed the boards well enough on the defensive end to create the extra possessions necessary to make up for their woeful shooting.

Who’s Hot

G Ray McCallum, Jr. – Averaging 20 points, 5.7 assists and only 1.7 turnovers over his last three games

F Nick Minnerath – Averaging 15 points and 8.3 rebounds over his last three games

G Juwan Howard, Jr. – Averaging 15.4 points and only 1 turnover per contest over his last four games

Who’s Not

G Jason Calliste – Shooting 9-29 from the field his last three games

F Evan Bruinsma – Averaging just 5.5 points per game since scoring 14 against Pittsburgh on December 1.

G Doug Anderson – Averaging 6.6 points per game in December after averaging 14.8 per game in November.

Bottom Line

Two seasons ago, the Orange brushed Canisius and Detroit aside within two days, and I expect the same thing to happen Monday. Detroit stayed competitive against the Rick Jackson-led Orange in 2010, ultimately losing by 11, but I think everyone can agree that this season’s ‘Cuse team is better than that edition while the 2012-13 Detroit team is similar, if not worse than the 2010-11 team. McCallum, Jr. is still a draft hopeful and the Titans field a lot of experience in their rotation, but having veterans only takes you so far before the physical talent and skill sets have to present themselves. Detroit has only one starter taller than 6’6″ – Minnerath – but he weighs in at a lean 215 pounds, so the Orange should be able to throw its weight around down low once again. If Syracuse dominates the paint the way it can tonight, the team should also get some open looks from distance against a perimeter defense that has allowed its last six opponents  to hit 45.3% of their threes. Look for the ‘Cuse to need to just one crack to deliver Jim Boeheim’s 900th victory in the team’s final tune-up before Saturday’s tilt with Temple.

Orange Welcome Canisius Into The Dome

December 14, 2012 Leave a comment

After finals week featured very few games of consequences, it’ll be a relief to see the action resume Saturday when Syracuse takes on Canisius in the opening round of the Gotham Classic.

About Canisius

The Golden Griffins have raced out to a 6-1 record thanks to a very solid offense that averages 78 points per game, but in giving up 75 or more to Boston University, Stony Brook and Marist, they haven’t put forth nearly as inspiring an effort on the defensive end. Billy Baron, who followed his dad from Rhode Island when he was named as Canisius’ head coach, has been something of a low-major version of Michael Carter-Williams, but I say that somewhat crudely. The junior is averaging 17 points, six assists and 4.7 rebounds while playing 86% of his team’s available minutes. Additionally, he has assisted on 35% of his team’s baskets, which makes him an incredibly important player to Canisius. That’s about where the similarities end, though. Baron is one of the best three-point shooters on his team, having buried 12 of his 35 attempts, but has totaled just nine steals so far.

In addition to Baron’s firepower, the Golden Griffins have another zone buster in leading scorer Harold Washington, who is shooting a blistering 56.2% from beyond the arc. While that clip may give the Orange some Colin Falls-like jitters, the juco transfer stands just 6’1″, so Syracuse’s length may be one of the few things that can stop him from going off Saturday. As with most opponents, if the Orange close out on Canisius, they should be alright.

Defensively, Baron’s team has shown very little to write home about. They’re in the top half nationally in forcing turnovers, but they allow opponents to shoot 50.8% and let up more than their fair share of offensive rebounds. Forward Chris Manhertz is good on the glass, averaging eight boards a game, but their next-best rebounder, Jordan Heath, takes down just five a night. Help was supposed to be on the way in the form of 6’10”, 280-pound Kansas State transfer Freddy Asprilla, but a three-game suspension to start the season and foul problems after he was cleared have kept him from contributing in the way Baron envisioned when the Golden Griffins took him in.

Who’s Hot

Billy Baron: Averaging 18 point over his last three games on 40% 3FG to go along with 6.3 assists in that time.

Harold Washington: Averaging 19.7 points per game and shooting 11-22 3FG his last three games.

Who’s Not

Alshwan Hymes: Shooting 37.8% this season with 15 turnovers to just 6 assists.

Freddy Asprilla: Committed four fouls in ten minutes in Sunday’s game against Marist.

Bottom Line

Canisius isn’t good enough to make the NCAA Tournament on anything but an automatic bid, and they’re just a middle-of-the-road team in the MAAC. SU shouldn’t have much trouble Saturday. While Canisius’ comes into the Carrier Dome fielding one of the nation’s top 80 offenses, it’s does so having faced a porous schedule.

SU won’t run into many problems, but they do need to focus on holding onto the ball. If they can’t, we’ll see a game like the one against Eastern Michigan, but the key differences are that Canisius doesn’t mind running, and the Golden Griffins have the shooters who can make SU pay if the Orange don’t take them seriously. Still, Canisius will have to catch lightning in a bottle to stay in this one, and I just don’t see it happening.

The End Of The Big East, MCW And Gotham

December 14, 2012 Leave a comment

There’s been plenty of news since the last post, so this is as good a time as any to catch up as Finals Week ends today.

  • For some, the end of the Big East came in 2003, when Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, South Florida and DePaul joined the league. For others, it came as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and later Louisville boarded their lifeboats. For many, though, reality set in with Thursday’s announcement of the basketball-first programs’ intentions to break away from the Big East was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I thought it would be a slower bleed as UConn, Rutgers and Cincinnati groped for the emergency exit (and still are), but yesterday’s gash will be fatal to the conference as we know it. I have all the faith in the world that whatever combination of the “Catholic 7,” A-10, Missouri Valley and other programs ultimately emerges will be competitive, fun to watch and relevant, but I also echo the sentiments of many that it just won’t be the same. The Orange are about as safe as it can be in the ACC, but at the same time, it’s hard not to feel a little bit dusty as the league that did so much for so many schools has essentially been put out of its misery. It’s beyond unfortunate that the mothership in Providence lacked the foresight needed to keep the league afloat, but that ship sailed years ago.
  • While the Twitterverse took the news solemnly, it seems lost on many that there are still four months left to go at this party before the lights come on and the music stops. This season, the conference right up there with the Big Ten, and it’s especially strong and balanced at the top. Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown are a combined 50-4, with the losses coming against Indiana, Michigan, Duke, and St. Joseph’s, and all away from their home courts. As always, conference play will provide the perspective needed to determine the true juggernauts of the Big East, and the middle will be competitive as always, but the early returns at the top of the league have been fantastic.
  • It’s tough to write a post without mentioning Michael Carter-Williams’ outstanding play this season. Eventually, we’re going to start running out of ways to describe it, but not anytime soon. It seems like every night, he does something we haven’t seen out of him, but at the same time, he’s been remarkably consistent especially considering how high a level he’s playing at. After Thursday’s action, there are still 36 teams with fewer assists than Carter-Williams’ 83 on the year, and of those 36 teams, four have played more games than Syracuse.  It goes without saying that MCW is on pace to have one of the best seasons in program history, but Sherman Douglas’ single-season records of 326 assists and 8.6 per game, set in the 1988-89 season, are on high alert until further notice.
  • While the realignment news was plentiful throughout the week, the action on the court was slow as final exams led me to spend the week cleaning out my DVR. Games resume this weekend, and the Orange will take on Canisius before facing, Detroit, Temple and Alcorn State to round out the calendar year. Initially, I was upset to hear that the event involves an RPI anchor in the form of Alcorn State, but you just have to accept that it’s the cost of throwing in a competitive matchup like Temple in a favorable environment at Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, Detroit has improved slightly from last season, but not enough to make them a threat, and Canisius, despite a 6-1 record, hasn’t proved much at all.

Orange Try To Find Even Rhythm Against Long Beach State

December 6, 2012 Leave a comment

The Orange take the court tonight coming off a win that was a little more troublesome than the score indicated. SU didn’t take control until midway through the first half when it turned on its press and forced action from Eastern Michigan, who had preferred to walk it up the court and burn clock in a fashion eerily reminiscent of South Florida.

While Syracuse’s defense has been terrific, the team hasn’t enjoyed a game on offense where more than a couple players have shot it well. That may sound odd considering the team scored 60 points in about 22 minutes once they started pressing on Monday, but I think you’d agree that the team needs to be more consistent when it comes to valuing the ball.

Early on, the Orange just didn’t take care of the rock. There were lazy passes, off-target passes that put teammates in awful position to do anything with the ball and suspect dribbling. Michael Carter-Williams’ high usage rate means he’s bound to cough it up more than usual from a raw statistical standpoint, but he made some highly questionable decisions Monday, and those moves were a big reason why the Eagles were able to stay with the Orange as long as they did. I’m not very worried about him struggling to get his shot going because he’s done enough and then some in the other aspects of his game that it’s really difficult to get on him. He could use a good shooting night, but it’s not the most pressing issue for him at the moment.

We also saw Trevor Cooney finally get off the schneid with a pair of threes and a big-time display of athleticism, and now we’ll have the chance to see if he can build on it. As his first three went in, you could almost see the pressure lift, and if he can supplement James Southerland’s firepower from behind the three-point line, Syracuse will really be in business.

Down low, Dajuan Coleman broke loose after the Arkansas game where the pace was just too far out of his league for him to contribute much. Against EMU, he was able to get position and convert without much trouble despite picking up two early fouls. Long Beach State has some size, with four regulars who are 6’7 or taller, but the bulk isn’t quite there aside from 255-pound West Virginia transfer Dan Jennings.

About Long Beach State

Dan Monson and the 49ers have made a name for themselves with an insane travel schedule over the past few years. They received a ton of attention last season for upsetting Pitt and hanging with the likes of Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina. They’re at it again, but since graduating four starters from last season, the results have left much more to be desired as LBSU has been thumped by Southern Cal, North Carolina and Arizona. The 49ers ran a very efficient offense in 2011-12, but the roster had so much turnover during the summer that it’s hardly recognizable. They haven’t hit shots inside the arc and have been only average from distance, which has put a ton of pressure on its defense, which just hasn’t delivered. LBSU’s defense hasn’t shown an ability to get extra possessions on the glass or generate enough turnovers to make up for the shortcomings on offense. Also, while James Ennis and Peter Pappageorge are a combined 42-47 from the stripe, the rest of the team is an Onuakian 49% from the line. The Big West won’t give the 49ers a ton of problems come conference play, but they’ve had major issues hanging with the big-name opponents Monson has lined up for the non-con.

Who’s Hot

F James Ennis – 23 points, 7-13 shooting, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks in a loss to Fresno State Monday

Who’s Not

G Mike Caffey – Shooting 29.2% on the season (20% 3FG) despite 96 attempts in seven games

G Peter Pappageorge – Shooting 37% on the season and 2-13 for five points in his last two games

F Dan Jennings – 11 points combined in his last two games

Bottom Line

This would have been a much more interesting game had it been scheduled last season, when LBSU’s offense ran much, much more efficiently. Hell, last season’s team probably would have been favored against USC, who beat the 49ers by 18 in November. As things stand, though, I wouldn’t count on LBSU to present many problems for SU’s offense and I expect the Orange to avoid the early-game struggles that made Monday night such a sloppy affair at the start. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to see Jerami Grant put up another stellar game after playing so well against Eastern Michigan.