Choose your Bonaventure

You are on a basketball court with the ball in your hands. Your team is losing by 10 to a decided underdog road team that hasn’t beaten you since 1981. The home fans are restless and your coach is steaming mad. You are being guarded by a much smaller player, who nevertheless appears to be both faster and stronger than you. What do you do?

To force up a contested three-pointer, turn to page 75.
To dribble into traffic and probably turn the ball over, turn to page 92.
To attempt an entry pass, even though your team has no post presence, turn to page 43.

To me, that’s how the first half generally looked for the Syracuse offense. Clunky and disjointed, with no good options available. Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, they were giving up offensive rebounds and open jumpers. It was uncomfortable to watch, and there was palpable concern

That said, you have to like how SU responded after halftime. Though they still had trouble cleaning their own glass, the offense started to really click. They were able to get the ball inside a bit more– it helped that Roberson was back on the floor after missing a large chunk of the first half with 2 fouls, and also that Coleman was able to throw his weight around early. But also SU seemed to put more of an emphasis on penetration drives, rather than just looking for threes. This forced St. Bonaventure to at least pay attention to what was happening in the paint area, and resulted in some wide-open threes for SU. I know the approach will be ‘focused’ on long-range shooting this season, but offense still needs to run ‘inside-out’, meaning drive the ball into the lane and then look for an open shooter. You can’t just pass it around. It’s also clear that SU’s best offensive lineup will have Tyler Lydon at center, at least for the foreseeable future. Coleman has not developed enough of a post game yet to be a reliable option, and the floor spacing is much better with Lydon. The issue with that lineup will be asking Lydon to battle on defense with the bigger ACC opponents.

By the way, it looks like Boeheim has already found his six-man rotation for the year. Kaleb Joseph was ineffective in limited first-half minutes on both ends of the floor, and Howard, while capably fitting into the offense (such as it was in the first half), was a big liability at the top of the zone. Right now he is biting on way too many pump fakes and letting defenders get past him. I expect that he will get better at that aspect of things. But he won’t get that chance in a game that SU is threatening to lose. It’s unsettling that Cooney and Gbinije had to each play 38+ minutes in this game, but it’s better than the alternative (i.e. losing).

I started to think during the game that this team reminds me a bit of the Dave Johnson team, 1991-92. What led me to that comparison was how Gbinije, as a senior, is being asked to basically do everything for this team — be the leading scorer, dangerous outside shooter, primary ballhandler, contributing rebounder, etc. — as Johnson was. Johnson had been a complementary player as a sophomore, became the #2 guy as a junior (on a team led by Billy Owens), and then had to be ‘the man’ as a senior, even though he was not what you would call a superstar. (He was a late first-round NBA draft pick, but didn’t amount to much in the pros.) The team that year was not expected to do much by prognosticators, but they ended up having a solid year.

I stopped by to refresh my memory about this team, and found some more similarities. The 1991-92 squad did not have much of a frontcourt presence. Johnson was a ‘forward’ but with a combo-guard’s game, and only 6′5″. (He averaged 7 rebounds per game that year, by the way.) They had two centers on the roster — Conrad “McNasty” McRae, who was a shot-blocking beast with a limited offensive game, and Dave “Gus” Siock, who was basically a human tree trunk. But there was no real power forward. That team also had five players who could shoot effectively from deep. And their second-best player was a freshman by the name of Lawrence Moten — the difference this year being that Malachi Richardson was a superstar recruit, and Moten sort of came out of nowhere.

Interestingly enough, that team provided 2/3 of SU’s current assistant coaching staff: Autry and Hopkins. Both were starters. Autry was the 3rd leading scorer, and Hopkins was the scrappy defender who could score a little but mostly who got floor burns and head wounds.

Anyway, it’s not a perfect comparison; in particular, there is no Adrian Autry on this year’s team — well, OK, there is an Adrian Autry on this year’s team, but you know what I mean. There is no reliable true point guard. And the 1991-92 team had no analogue to Tyler Roberson. But I think the comparison of Gbinije to Dave Johnson is a particularly close one, and I’m hopeful that the season will turn out in a similar way.

Welcome to the edge

Time to pop the lid on another season of Syracuse basketball. The “Fightin’ Citrus” finds themselves teetering on the edge of relevance. Not a single vote in the AP preseason top 25 poll. A coach who will (probably) miss a significant chunk of the season, and who can see the end of his career from here. Another tough schedule, both in and out of conference. This year we have, as has so often been the case the past few years, way more questions than answers. But nevertheless I will try to answer them. Just in case anyone is paying attention.

Q: Can Michael Gbinije be the unquestioned team leader?

A: Probably. He was almost there by the end of last season already. Rakeem Christmas was the focus of the offense but Gbinije was the spark. He made things happen. He’s gotten better every season and now is going to be asked to be “the guy” pretty much all the time. He’s going to play 38 minutes a game, anywhere from point guard to power forward. I think he will be able to handle the expanded role — just a little bit expanded from what he was already doing last year — and probably earn himself a pick in the NBA Draft.

Q: Can we expect anything more from Tyler Cooney?

A: If you are talking about Trevor Cooney, then… eh, maybe. We know he has the ability to “go off” and singlehandedly shoot another team out of the gym. We also know he hasn’t been able to do it with any regularity, when the other team’s defense chooses to focus on him. Last year he was often shut down. He showed flashes of a more complete game — taking advantage of overplays by driving to the basket — but was not consistently able to contribute in that way. That problem will only get worse unless someone on this team other than Gbinije shows that they are worth guarding.

Q: But what about the big guys?

A: We hope Roberson is ready for a starring role. His career trajectory so far mirrors that of Rick Jackson: raw flashes as a freshman, surprisingly positive contributions as a sophomore. Perhaps he is ready to make that next step to “reliable scorer and rebounder” as a junior. One difference, though, is that Jackson was playing alongside stalwart center Arinze Onuaku. Roberson is joined by Dajuan Coleman who is perhaps the most pivotal unknown of the season. If Coleman can stay on the court (not just his knees, but overall conditioning after missing so much time, and even foul trouble) we know he has the skill set to be a major factor. But until he proves it, I am not ready to count on much from him. And that will probably be the team’s biggest weakness, because the rest of the frontcourt bench is, to quote John Cleese, “wahfer-thin“. Obokoh probably is not ready for major minutes — though I will say I am higher on him than most pundit types seem to be, I think he’s got more court sense than (for example) DaShonte Riley did as a sophomore — and then there’s Tyler Lydon, who will be pressed into service in ways for which he is not prepared. He could surprise us all, but it’s dangerous to count on too much from freshman big men. Heck, remember Chris McCullough last year. He was… good. Occasionally awesome, dripping with potential, but spent a lot of time just being relatively ordinary. And he was a 5-star recruit, first-round NBA pick.

This is all to say that if Dajuan Coleman can be very good — scoring, rebounding, and defending (or at least two of those three) — the team can be very good. Without much from him, well, they will struggle against any decent competition.

Q: But these freshmen are awesome, right?

A: Sure hope so. Looks like Malachi Richardson is going to start, and based on last night’s game, he ain’t going to be shy about putting up shots. He’s going to have some great nights… but also some clunkers. Just like any freshman. (See again: McCullough, Chris.) Really, you never know with freshmen. A few are great right away, some are pretty good but take time to adjust to the college game, and some just flame out and end up off the team within two years. I’m not ready to pronounce any of these guys “The Next” anything until I’ve seen them in real action. Also, don’t forget that it usually takes a season or more for new players to master the rotations and positioning of the Boeheim 2-3 Zone.

Q: Did you forget about Kaleb Joseph?

A: Yes. My bad. Last year’s starting point guard is this year’s top backcourt reserve. He’s supposedly improved his jump shot (we shall see) but what will keep him on (or off) the floor is his defense. He had a lot of steals early in the season last year, but ended up being pretty bad in the zone when things got tough, to the point where he lost major minutes to Ron Patterson. Will he be better in his second year in the system? Honestly, who knows? He’s a major mystery. His chance to contribute will probably depend more on what is coming from the other new players. If Richardson in particular shows himself to be a capable wing player, particularly on defense, then Boeheim won’t often need to move Gbinije to forward and insert Joseph. But if Richardson struggles, that will open up time for Joseph to leave a mark on the season.

Q: Why are you talking about defense so much?

A: Because the pattern of success for Syracuse over the past several years has been built on their defense. Scoring comes and goes — how many times have you heard Boeheim say “we didn’t make shots” in his postgame statement? This is one of the huge differences between college and pro basketball. It’s (on the whole) rare for college guys to be reliable scorers. They do exist, but most college players run hot and cold and you just never know what you are going to get on a nightly basis. The usual formula for success for SU has been to play a lockdown zone, and hope you can score enough to win. It hasn’t made for many ‘pretty’ games, but it’s mostly been an effective strategy. This year, with the loss of last year’s highly effective rim protector, my guess is that the defense takes a measurable step backward. But keeping the 6′7″ Gbinije at the top of the zone will help ameliorate that problem a little. Expect to see a zone that is a little more ‘packed-in’ (to compensate for the lack of interior size and to cut down on driving lanes) and relies on length and recovery, more than quick rotations, to cover the outside shooters.

Q: So is SU an NCAA Tournament team?

A: Maybe. Probably they will be riding the bubble all season. There isn’t a lot of margin for error for this team. A key injury or unfortunate early upset could spell N-I-T. Or, they could have things break in a positive direction — Coleman comes back strong, Richardson is as good as advertised, etc. — and end up a solid mid-range NCAA seed. Preseason, Loony Lunardi has them as an 11 seed. Seems about right, until we have a better idea of who they will actually be.

See you when the season starts for real next weekend!


Hidden among the many, surprising, surprisingly many bright spots in last night’s victory over the South Bend University Turtlenecks was another example of Jim Boeheim’s brilliance. I shouldn’t still be amazed, but nevertheless I am, at how well JB understands the college game in general, and his team in particular.

The brilliant move was to leave Christmas in the game after his fourth foul. Not just for a few more minutes, but for as long as he was able to stay on the floor.

To refresh your memory: there were about 14 minutes left, and Syracuse led by 4, when Rak picked up foul #4. In this situation, probably 98% of coaches would take out their star player right away, and leave him on the bench until there were only a few minutes left — or until they lost the lead and felt the game slipping away. They would hope that their replacement would be able to ‘hold down the fort’ long enough that the game would still be in reach at the end. Boeheim did the opposite. He kept Rak in, to make sure the game stayed close for as long as possible. When he finally was disqualified, 8 1/2 minutes of game time later, SU had in fact increased their lead to 8 points. The margin shrunk but the lead never disappeared over the final 5:18, and SU came away with the win.

There are a number of reasons why this strategy made sense. But it took Boeheim just an instant of sizing up the situation to know immediately that it was the right move.

First, Rak has had his share of foul trouble and has become skilled at playing conservatively enough to not foul. You could see it several times on defense when he backed away from drivers (while still maintaining enough presence to alter some shots). There were a couple of semi-loose rebounds that he let go into ND hands, rather than sticking his nose in and fighting for them. He made extra sure to set very non-moving screens.

But more than that, JB knows his team. He knows that without Rak on the floor, the offense is going to stall. But — and here’s the key — that’s fine! Late in the game, with a lead on the road, you are already going to take the air out of the ball like you were Tom Brady. That’s something you can do with Chino on the court. In other words, if you have to play for 5 minutes without Rak, it makes more sense to play those 5 minutes with a lead at the end of the game, when ND is going to start getting desperate, than to do it in the middle of the 2nd half, and let the opponent gain confidence for the stretch run. This is Boeheim knowing his team AND knowing the other guys and, more generally, college basketball players. He knows how their psyches work, how momentum shifts are more pronounced in college than in the NBA (because shooters in college are so much less reliable) and he correctly assessed that their best chance to win was to get as much time out of Christmas as possible and then hope to hold on the rest of the way.

Now, this strategy of course was not guaranteed to work. Rak might have fouled out earlier, or ND might have made a couple more shots (or SU a couple fewer) in those last few minutes with Christmas watching helplessly from the sidelines. But it’s clear that the decision to just let Rak play as long as he could manage gave SU the best chance to win.

And, of course, they did. ROAD WIN!!

The streak survives

Syracuse basketball has once again guaranteed a winning season. That’s 44(!!) seasons in a row without a loss.

Once again I will shout it into the internet where nobody will hear it:


Here is your annual proof: a screen shot taken from the NCAA record book, published before this season. (The “2013″ refers to the 2013-14 season.)


This year it took longer than expected, but also not as long. Normally the winning season is assured after the team’s 17th win, but with the recently announced postseason ban there will be only the 31 regular-season games, so 16 is enough. On the other hand, never in recent memory have we had to wait until mid-February for that clinching win. Still, with the team likely to be the underdog in almost all of their remaining games, I’m (abnormally? unreasonably?) happy that they got it done tonight when they had their best chance.

I don’t know what it will take for the SU Sports Information Department to start including this sports information in their press kits. Is there someone I can tweet at? Should I start a hashtag movement? How close do they have to get to UCLA’s record — that’s John Wooden UCLA — before someone besides me notices?


Just get through it

I don’t think I have ever seen a Syracuse basketball season that was anything like this. Dancing on the edge of disaster for game after game. Trying to cobble together a successful season with essentially three competent players. It’s a testament to the post dominance of Rakeem Christmas that the team has even managed to get into the precarious position in which they find themselves. But not only do they have basically no margin for error, they have to even play above their standard game in order to pull out a win against even middling competition.

The closest recent parallel to this team would be the 2005-2006 squad. That team was on the wrong side of the bubble line going into the Big East Tournament. Their first-round opponent in that tourney was Cincinnati in what everyone essentially said was a play-in game. That squad was 1.5 seconds from the NIT before the Gerry McNamagic (TM) began. We all know the story. But think about it. Without Rakeem Christmas, this year’s team wouldn’t have won ten bleeping games. These guys were not ready. They needed him.

The other starters on the 2006 squad were Eric Devendorf (freshman year) and the junior triumvirate of Watkins, Roberts, and Nichols, who were all entering their first years as full-time starters (having played behind Warrick, Forth, and Pace). The team lost 10 regular season games prior to their BET run. But even that team had some amount of depth. Four bench guys played in 29 or more games, and a fifth (skinny freshman Andy Rautins) got into 20. This year, thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, there is no bench. There is Ron Patterson who comes in for Kaleb Joseph when Joseph is having a bad game. That’s it. Everyone else plays 40 minutes if they can. And good god help us if they can’t.

At this stage I don’t expect this squad will make the NCAAs. I don’t think anyone does, outside of the locker room perhaps. It is true that they have a lot of games against really good teams coming up and if they can come through and win a couple, they can end up with a tournament-worthy resume. But so far when they’ve had those opportunities, they’ve not been able to come through. The UNC game, sure, but primarily the loss to Villanova, and the loss to Miami. These were both games that SU gave away in one fashion or another. I’m not sure which hurts more. Nova on the road would have been a solid resume builder ’statement’ win. But losing to another bubble team — a conference foe no less — at home is the kind of thing that makes the difference in the selection room. It’s clear that SU will have to grab a couple of big wins down the road, whether in the rest of the regular season or the ACC tournament. I just hope they win enough games to at least qualify for the NIT.

Thanks to OrangeHoops for refreshing my memory about the 2006 squad.

Welcome back, welcome back

Basketball season has returned!

And so has the blog. We are gonna give this another try. Changes in life circumstance have left me hopeful that I can carve out some time every so often to keep the internet dream alive. At the very least we’re remaining active on Twitter during games, so drop a follow @CuseCountry when you have a minute.

I didn’t see any of the preseason contests but I was able to watch both of SU’s first two ‘real’ games. Some might call ‘em cupcakes, but you can’t blame Boeheim for this part of the schedule. Yell at whoever books the 2K Classic. (In fact, the nonconference slate looks rather challenging this year. Probably not going 25-0 again.) Having seen the guys in 80 minutes of live action now, a few things jump out.

1. We are young

Heartache to heartache, we stand!


Honestly, though. You’ve got Rakeem Christmas, suddenly looking like (and being looked upon as) a stabilizing veteran force. I’m pretty sure it was just last year when he spent long stretches looking lost and getting benched in favor of a guy with cheese wheels for hands. Now all at once he’s the rock that the whole team leans on. OK, fine, I’ll give that to you. But who’s next? Cooney and Gbinije. Each guy has been in the program a while, sure, but each has only one year of significant contributions. After them, the next most experienced player is sophomore Tyler Roberson.

Now, youth is not necessarily a bad thing. Syracuse has a proud history of being well-served by freshman talent. But as solid as Joseph and McCullough have looked so far, they are not Carmelo Anthony and Jonny Flynn. Not that I am expecting them to be, mind you. That’s more than one can ask from any player, let alone from freshmen. I’m just saying that they do not look ready to be leaned on the way those guys were. Hence, we are young.

2. We aren’t strong

No one can tell me I’m wrong. Kennesaw State was way overmatched but Hampton brought a few brutes along with them. They had some interior presence and strength to make up for their lack of height. I tweeted during the Kennesaw game that Rakeem looked like ‘a man among boys’ and it’s true. He’s had 4 years in the weight program and has bulked up to a serious playing weight. But after him the front line is… reedy. (Unless Dajuan Coleman comes back.) Roberson is probably the next biggest dude out there and he’s got a ways to go. For a long stretch against Hampton SU went with Gbinije and Johnson at the wings; those guys are “long and athletic” but not exactly bulky. Rak has been a rebounding machine so far but traditionally in the SU zone the forwards are the main rebounders. We got spoiled last year with Grant and Fair gobbling up everything in sight; I doubt we can rely on that this year. We’ll match up OK with a lot of teams but will probably have trouble with the ‘bruiser’ squads, the likes of Marquette… I mean can you imagine this team playing Marquette’s usual army of 6′8″-275lb. linebackers? Rak would foul out in 5 minutes and we’d get like 12 rebounds total.

3. We play defense

Lest it seem like all I am going to do is pick out flaws, let me point out some of the positives of what they’ve shown so far. The defense, which has really been the strong point of this team for the past several years, once again looks devastatingly effective. Hampton made a few good zone-busting plays but for each one of those there were four or five possessions where they could not get a good shot. The combined wingspan of the five guys is ridiculous. What they may lack in brute strength they will make up for in pure reach. Neither of the first two opponents has broken 50 points. Last year they held nearly every opponent not named Duke under 70; one piece of that, though, was the deliberate pace of the Orange offense reducing the number of possessions. Even with that slow pace, cupcake teams were still breaking 50 and sometimes 60 most of last year. This team plays faster and yet its opponents shoot worse. It’s not the most effective direct comparison, I know, but I am excited at the potential for another Shut It Down season.

4. We have weapons

Everyone is talking about the emergence of Christmas as an offensive factor (I won’t yet say “force”; give it a few more games) but when you look at the rotation, every single guy getting meaningful minutes looks like he has the potential for busting out a 20-point game. Nobody is probably going to do it all that consistently. And there will be games where it doesn’t happen for anyone. And we will probably lose those games. But this offense is dripping with possibility. We’ve seen Cooney go unconscious before, so there’s that. But honestly I think every one of the rotation players could have a game this year where he just gets into a groove and dominates. We saw BJ Johnson do it in game 1 already. Patterson for sure has that potential — he’s got some “Microwave” Vinnie Johnson in him, and we are all waiting for the game where he just tosses in threes like pennies into a fountain. Gbinije will find a matchup that he can exploit somewhere down the line.

But the one guy who might explode more than any other is Kaleb Joseph. Right now he is focusing on running the team and is really not looking to shoot. He’s only taken 8 shots through two games; Patterson takes 8 shots getting out of bed in the morning. But he is so quick, and “sneaky strong”, that as he gets more comfortable being the lead guard and orchestrating the game, he is going to start putting up much bigger numbers. You heard it here first. He’s going to become more of a scorer as the year goes on, and the offense will be much more dynamic. This is particularly because he’s probably the best on the team at creating a shot for himself. (Maybe Christmas, but post players are really a different breed in this regard.) Gbinije too, but Joseph probably more so. When defenses get tougher, and guys like BJ Johnson and Trevor Cooney are not able to shake free for open jumpers, it will be up to Kaleb to put some points on the board.

5. Boeheim gonna Boeheim

You may not like him as a person, but damn if he doesn’t just get it done Every. Single. Year. Take whatever coach you want, and give me James Arthur and five “wing forwards” and a few months for him to teach them the zone, and I’ll take my chances.

Dome is a battlefield.

Handling their business

Syracuse’s win over North Carolina yesterday was a thing of beauty — as long as you don’t care about shooting percentages. Which I don’t. Sure, it’s nice when you hit shots and it fires up the crowd, but in my dotage I’ve become much more of a fan of SU’s defense. And boy were they playing defense yesterday. The shot blocking was ridiculous. The hustle was turned up to 11. Scrapping, clawing, tipping passes, smothering opposing players. Everything worked just as it’s supposed to, and the result was a historically bad day for the Tarheels.

It helped, I guess, that UNC does not have many legitimate outside threats. After enduring periods of unreasonable long-range bombing from both Miami and Virginia Tech, it was refreshing to face an opponent who didn’t make a bunch of 30-footers. But SU (read: Cooney) was almost as bad from outside in this game, but they had so many more possessions thanks to rebounding, steals, and hustle. Whatever they are putting into Jerami Grant’s Gatorade before the games now, don’t stop. That kid has turned into the Tasmanian Devil out there, whirling around like a madman and consuming every loose ball that comes his way.

As Tyler Ennis goes up for a shot, Jerami Grant is already crashing the offensive glass.
As Tyler Ennis goes up for a shot, Jerami Grant is already crashing the offensive glass.

It’s funny, but I am only now starting to believe that this team has a chance to go deep into the tournament. And it’s not because they have “so many weapons”, because we’ve seen some bad shooting performances from the Orange this year. It’s because of the defense, which they rode to the Final Four last year and which, despite an entirely new starting backcourt, is still really, really good. Only two of SU’s sixteen opponents have reached 70 points this year: Fordham and Cal. Meanwhile, eight of the sixteen have been held to 54 points or less, including all three ACC opponents to date, and Indiana. That’s just dominant defense. And bodes well for the future. I am quick to assume the worst and always hesitate to believe, but it’s getting harder and harder not to.

Reese’s Gold (Pro Update January 2014)

Happy new year to all you out there in Orangeland. The fruits of the Syracuse basketball program are spread far and wide across the globe, and from time to time we extend our cybertendrils and draw them in from the far corners all to one place. In other words: the whole world is Cuse Country.

Boeheim likes to complain about reporters Greensboro the RPI the NCAA’s rating system that doles out program penalties based on athletes’ student-athletes’ academic progress, or lack thereof. His contention is that if a basketball player gives up school to pursue a professional playing career, then his program has prepared that person for a career and a life just as well, if not better, than a college degree would, and isn’t that the whole point? And he should know, because there are currently TWENTY-ONE former Orangemen getting paid to play someplace. (It would be twenty-two, except that Jonny Flynn’s bad hip acted up again so he got cut from his Chinese team before the season even started. Once again: screw you Kurt Rambis!) And we’ve got info on all of them, including photographs, interviews, a surprising number of highlight videos, and all-around general amazement.

Read More »

Blacksburg? More like Orangesburg! Amiright?

Is this thing on?

A college town just off I-81… sounds familiar…

I wrote the following to conclude my recap of the win over Miami:

…Miami’s shrewd strategy of continually making 28-foot three-pointers ultimately proved untenable. They are approximately the eighth team to try that strategy against Syracuse this year, and so far all have failed. Evidently it’s tough to keep up that pace for an entire game….

You can now add Virginia Tech to the list of bomb-tossers. Seriously. How many games are we going to have to watch where the opposing team makes multiple 30-foot shots in the first five minutes? It just delays the inevitable, and makes the other guys think they might have a chance, when they really… actually… don’t. The funny part is, Tech was somewhat successful when they were able to get the ball inside. Their big men had decent hands and made a few nice interior passes. But the operative phrase there is “a few”. Even with the SU zone defense extended way out on the perimeter to challenge the shooters, the Hokies just couldn’t reliably get the ball in close to the basket. They were regularly too hesitant, too unsure of their next move — and if you wait for that half-second, the defense will be reset and you’re stuck launching deep threes with the shot clock running down. (PS. My favorite play of the night was when VT was inbounding the ball with three seconds on the shot clock and threw it out to midcourt, resulting in a 50-foot heave. You don’t have a play you can at least try to run in that situation?)

Props in this space to the usual suspects, but also to Tyler Roberson, who played nice minutes in the first half while the game was still close. He contributed on offense and on the boards, but perhaps most importantly he did a solid job on defense. Nothing will get a freshman (or anyone for that matter) yanked by Boeheim faster than a lapse in defensive rotation. I watched Roberson in particular on D to see how he was coming along, and he did great. Closed out on the high wing on ball reversal, dropped into the paint when the center stepped up, even helped trap a guy in the low corner. Not to get too ahead of ourselves, but his season so far reminds me of Jerami Grant’s season last year. Not a lot of minutes in the important early games, because he is learning the college game and the SU system in particular, but the coach starts to trust him a little more as he improves. For Grant, he was thrust into a bigger role by necessity when James Southerland got suspended, and he shone at times. Let’s hope that Roberson doesn’t get thrust into any such situation, but that he keeps developing his game along a similar arc. There are going to be plenty of frontcourt minutes available next year, and though he may not start as a sophomore, Roberson is establishing himself as the early favorite to slide into that sixth-man forward role that Grant is playing this year. (See also: James Southerland, CJ Fair, Kris Joseph, et al.)

Welcome to Big Ten basketball

In their first league game in their new conference, the Syracuse Orange persevered through a hideous slog of a game to emerge victorious. Fans knew there would be an adjustment period as the usually high-flying Orange got dragged into the morass that is Big Ten basketball, but I don’t know if any of us was quite prepared for Saturday’s unsightly mess. The traditional features of midwestern “basketball” were all on full display: an opponent holding the ball for 30 seconds on nearly every possession; rims that suddenly seem to be made of granite; some sort of magical fairy dust that allows the opposing defenders to continuously grab and poke yet almost never get called for fouls. Legends have long been told of these sorts of games, though I never quite believed the rumors of final scores in the 40s until today. It was as if the living ghost of Bo Ryan suddenly grabbed a clipboard on the opposing sideline.

The balls they use in this league also make it quite difficult to shoot.

It makes me wish that Syracuse, when all the conference realignment happened a couple years back, decided to join the ACC, where (for all their intrinsic godlessness) they do decent and proper things, like scoring points. Instead we are stuck in the fast-break-forsaken swamp that is the Big Ten. At least, that’s what appears to have happened. I can’t come up with any other explanation for what I just witnessed.

Being in a new conference stinks.

The good news is that they won the game, displaying grit, fortitude, heart, and any number of other slog-worthy adjectives. Several guys each made a shot or two, which was enough to pull away at the end, as Miami’s shrewd strategy of continually making 28-foot three-pointers ultimately proved untenable. They are approximately the eighth team to try that strategy against Syracuse this year, and so far all have failed. Evidently it’s tough to keep up that pace for an entire game. One day it may work for someone, though. I just hope it’s not in the first round of the NCAAs.