Thursday, November 18, 2010

Should Syracuse Be Worried?

Syracuse basketball is 3-0, and on the surface it looks like the team has picked up where it left off prior to the unthinkable loss to Butler in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. However, when you take a closer look it appears that not everything is going according to plan.

The Orangemen are averaging 11 turnovers per game. Mind you this is against Northern Iowa, Canisius and Detroit. Brandon Triche is leading the team with 8 turnovers, while Kris Joseph Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson each have 6 turnovers through three games. If Syracuse can not protect the basketball versus early non-conference opponents, they could be in for a rude awakening once teams like Michigan, North Carolina St. and Michigan St. come up on the schedule in a few weeks.

The most glaring disappointment is in the teams shooting, particularly in the first half. Coupled with the turnovers, opponents have held Syracuse to points of 23, 32 and 25 in the first half of games. All at home. All against considerably weaker opponents. What's to make of this?

First off Syracuse is settling for outside jumpers extremely early in the shot clock. Playing these smaller teams early in the schedule, Syracuse needs to run the offense. The guards have to feed the ball inside to the big men, and if the other team collapses underneath, they have to kick the ball out and penetrate.

At this point when the ball gets kicked out, the guards are hoisting up 3-pointers like they are Gerry McNamara or Preston Shumpert, when in reality they don't have the range or ability to be taking that many shots from long range. Against Detroit Syracuse attempted thirty 3-pointers!! They made seven.

The truth is Syracuse is too athletic and too big to be averaging twenty-four 3 pointers per game against lesser competition! They need to use their size and speed to get to the rim, not waste it standing at the perimeter a la Donte Greene. James Southerland is 6'8" and he has taken 13 of his 20 shots from the floor behind the arc! He needs to take that length to the rim and be in position to get some rebounds and some easy buckets. Especially a guy who went 1-8 from 3 against Detroit in just 16 minutes.

Kris Joseph currently has taken 11 of his 23 shots from the floor from 3-point range (47.8%). He has made just two of them. Since when is Kris Joseph a 3-point assassin? Last season Joseph took 41 3's and hit 9 (22%). Now I don't doubt that Joseph has been working on his outside shot, and I guess that its a good time for him to practice taking 3's against bad teams, but come on! Through 3 games he has taken 12 shots from inside the 3-pt. arc? Four shots per game?! That's not going to get it done.

Fab Melo hasn't been the star-studded freshman that many pundits lead us to believe, and frankly I am not surprised. If you read The Cuse Connection season preview, we believed that Riley would be the starting center as Melo would need time to adjust to the college game. He has only played basketball in America one season. Almost every freshman in the country has played four years of high school basketball, Fab Melo has played one. However, circumstances being what they are Melo was thrust into the starting roll and he should not be crucified as a "bust" just yet. He is simply finding his way and its taking some time. "One and done" are words that will be removed from his vocabulary. They should be replaced with defensive positioning, footwork, and patience.

There have been some pleasant surprises. Scoop Jardine is evolving into a leader on the floor and Rick Jackson has been an absolute beast for the Orangemen. Off the bench, Baye Moussa Keita is probably the most pleasant surprise of the season. Its scary to think where we would be without Keita. Versus Canisius Baye Moussa Keita dominated the paint so hard he picked up 15 rebounds in just 17 minutes on the floor.

C.J. Fair has also been a welcome addition to the team. He is one of the few players on the team that gets the ball and drives to the hoop, and it shows in his shooting percentage. Fair is 8 of 12 from the floor and 5 of 7 from the foul line. He is currently averaging 7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 11.3 minutes per game. He is also one of the few players on the team not to attempt a 3-point field goal yet this season.

As long as Syracuse can settle down with the ball, run the offense, and get easy points inside rather than taking an average of twenty-four three pointers per game, Syracuse can be successful this season. The team defense has been good and can only improve once the Orangemen start clicking on all cylinders offensively. The Orangemen have held opponents to just 32.6% from the floor and 22.7% from behind the arc. Opponents are also averaging 14 turnovers per game. Those are good numbers, however our offense needs to become more efficient.

With just William & Mary standing between Syracuse and the tougher part of the schedule, now is the time to get these kinks out of the system and find our true offensive game. To answer the question posed in the headline, should we be worried? Honestly, if we keep trying to take 20-30 three pointers per game, yes. However, once this team realizes that there are no Andy Rautins' or Gerry McNamara's standing on the perimeter and that they have to lower the shoulder and take it to the hoop, the Orangemen will be just fine.

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