Syracuse Basketball has Finally Returned!! (Sort of)

Baye Keita perfectly embodies my feelings about the start of another Orange basketball campaign.

Huzzah!!!

As much as I enjoy the agony that is the Syracuse football roller coaster, it’s well-known that I’m a basketball fan first and foremost. Football season is just a space for me to bide my time until hoops finally starts up again.  So, it was with great relish that I tuned into the Orange‘s first exhibition game against the Pace University Setters on Thursday night.

It was everything I expected it to be.  The dunks were dunktastic.  The threes were swisheriffic.  The rebounds were reboundonkulous.  And Syracuse cruised to a 30+ point victory over a Division II opponent.

Normally this is the part where I pour over the stats and draw conclusions about what they mean for the Orange.  But there’s really no point in going too in-depth into the shellacking of the Setters.  The Orange could have (should have) won by 60, yet they took their foot off the gas on both ends and allowed Pace to keep the game respectable in the second half.  the Orange’s 99 points don’t mean much.  Their 55 rebounds are the norm when playing against a team who only has one player over 6’6″, and he only played 12 minutes.  The same goes for the Orange’s 14 blocks.  Syracuse had the overwhelming size advantage and it showed, rendering statistical analysis pointless.  Instead, we’re left with the good ol’ eyeball evaluation.  First, the good.

The first thing that stood out to me was young DaJuan Coleman.  Clearly, the freshman is a big boy.  It’s worth repeating.  He’s a BIG boy.  But he’s not fat.  He’s listed at 288, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s actually closer to 27.  He looked quick and agile, defending the wing well in the zone, getting himself in position for rebounds and running the floor well.  He also played 20 minutes, most of which came in extended stretches.  Regardless of size advantage, getting himself up and down the court and playing hard at both ends is the same whether you’re playing Pace or Georgetown.  It remains to be seen if he can maintain that energy as the season hits the 20 and 30 game mark, but the young man’s conditioning looks good so far.  Oh, and DC 2.0 was 5/5 from the free throw line.  He’s going to get fouled a lot, so have a big guy who isn’t a liability at the line is an unheard of luxury for the Orange.

Then there was C.J.  At first, I was a bit disappointed in his performance.  I wanted him to flex some and drop 30 on the poor Setters.  I liked that he showed more confidence in his long range jumper (2-3 3PT) and made some strong moves going to his off (right) hand.  But it seemed to me like he was still playing the secondary role.  Until I looked at the box score.  His eleven shot attempts were most on the team, but still showed is characteristic attacking style with only the three 3PT attempts.  C.J. being a stat ninja is great.  I just hope he has it in him to put the pedal to the metal and be dominant when it’s needed.

After that, nothing really stood out.  James Southerland rained threes.  Micheal Carter-Williams was solid, if a bit loose with the ball (5 TO) at times.  Baye Keita got his garbage buckets.  It was everything you’d expect.
Now, the not so good.  First, the one glaring stat; 63 points scored by the setters.  Now, sure, the Orange still won by 30, so why does it matter.  It doesn’t, really.  Perhaps Syracuse got complacent.  Perhaps Coach Boeheim told  his team to ease up a bit in order not to needlessly embarrass an over matched opponent.  After all, Jim B was there with Team USA when they blizted Nigeria in the Olympics.  All that is well and good.  But for a team that’s been talking about defense the whole preseason, they certainly didn’t show it out of the gate.  A team that takes pride in its defense takes every opponents’ made basket as a personal affront.  They don’t let Pace drop 63 on them.  They hold Pace closer to 30. Let’s give the Setters some credit.  They did make nine threes (in 30 attempts) and hit some difficult shots going into the lane.  Still, 63 points is far too many to allow in a game like this.

Along the same lines, rebounding trouble for the Orange reared its head again.  Part of the reason Pace was able to score so much was because 11 of their 24 total rebounds came on the offensive end.  Now, some are just dumb luck.  There was one play were Rakeem Christmas hustled back to swat away a fast break layup, only for the ball to fall into the hands of a trailing Setter for an easy put back.  But a lot of the offensive boards were simply the product of the Orange not boxing out, not hustling for a board or not securing the ball once they got a touch on it.  These are all things that can be, and need to be fixed, but it was disappointing to see the same problems arise after last year’s rebounding troubles.

And lastly, C.J. and J-South at the two guard spot.  I hope for the sake of my own sanity that we only see this in the most extreme emergency situations.  On defense, it’s fine.  Having a 6’8″ guy at the top of the zone is a rare luxury.  But it hurts on offense, especially in transition.  Part of what made Syracuse so dangerous in the open floor last season was that no matter which guard got the ball on an outlet or long rebound, they could turn and run the break.  And that even extended to Kris Joseph as well.  Neither Soutie not CJ look at all comfortable pushing the ball up the court, though.  It’s not a huge detriment to the team, but the Orange will be much better off running like they have in the past.  The best way to do that is to keep two true guards on the floor at all times.  In this one it was tough with Trevor Cooney sitting out as he recovers from his tonsillectomy.  But as the season wears on, I truly hope to see both CJ and Southerland at the three spot where they belong.

Again, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from an exhibition game like this.  The match up causes both good and bad to be overblown.  Still, with some game action finally under their belt, the Orange have a better idea of where their strengths are and what they still need to work on.

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