So, SU handled their biz last night against Kutztown. And I didn’t get to see it. Sadly, I don’t get TWS or SNY down here in Washington. I would have splurged for the online subscription to SUAthletics.com but for the fact that I work on Tuesday nights and wasn’t going to be home between 7 and 9 in any case. So I am reduced to making exaggerated claims of knowledge based primarily on the box score. Sad.
The media narrative of the game provided by syracuse.com and the Daily Orange centers primarily around the play of two reserve forwards: C J Fair and James Southerland. Both provided strong numbers off the bench: Fair with a team-high 14 points on 5-7 shooting, along with 6 rebounds; Southerland with a team-leading 11 rebounds and 4 steals to go with 6 points. Prominent coverage was also given to JB’s highly unusual decision to start the 2nd half with 5 reserves on the floor, as if to directly reinforce his statements from a few days ago that implied he’d have a much deeper bench this season. We’ll get to that in a moment.
As befits a preseason game story (unless you lose to LeMoyne), the tone of these reports is generally positive and upbeat. SU beat down a smaller, less athletic, less talented squad, playing some full-court press and forcing 24 turnovers. Great. Well, perhaps I’m just grouchy this morning, but there is a lot about what transpired last night that has me concerned. SLIGHTLY. Only slightly. I know not to put too much stock in exhibitions one way or another. But concerned nonetheless. Look at the following and tell me you aren’t just a little bit disturbed:
3-point shooting: 5-29 (17%).
Southerland: 0-5. Jones: 2-7. Waiters: 0-4. Jardine: 0-3. Joseph: 1-4. We lost two guys from last year who each shot over 40% from deep, and each took a ton of shots. Jardine ended up shooting well last season, but was streaky. This performance is consistent with that. And Triche did go 2-4 which is a good sign. But we are going to need at least one of the “new” guys — Waiters, Jones, or Southerland — to develop a reliable outside shot. Nobody showed it yesterday.
Fab Melo: 4 fouls, 5 turnovers.
Scanning through the play-by-play (thoughtfully provided by Kutztown, since for some reason SUAthletics.com didn’t post it) the breakdown is as follows. He had one offensive foul (which was also a turnover), committed the other three fouls while playing defense; had one ‘unforced’ turnover and had the ball stolen three times (which could be actual strips, or it could be that he threw a bad pass or mishandled a pass or something). He also had 4 rebounds — not terrible, but not great. I love the 4 blocks and like the 9 points (all on dunks and layups, plus one foul shot) but this doesn’t exactly look like the performance of the 5-star, NBA-ready talent that we had been led to believe he was. Again, I know it’s the first game, but I was hoping for a more dominant performance against this type of competition.
On the plus side, I was pleasantly surprised by Baye Moussa Keita. He had more rebounds (6) than Melo, nearly as many points (8), and the same number of blocks (4), in only 15 minutes. And, he had no turnovers and only one foul.
Rick Jackson’s rebounds
This is not really a big deal, since the team overall had 50 rebounds spread fairly evenly among the frontcourt players, and a 16-board margin over the opponent, but still it bugs me a little. Rick had 4 boards, 3 offensive and 1 defensive. Really. One defensive rebound. Against Kutztown. Oh-kay.
Basically, these two things (outside shooting, inside presence) were two of the three Areas Of Primary Concern for this year’s team going into the season. We all figured they would be, even before last night’s game was played. I was really hoping that the game would give me reasons for optimism on both of these fronts, but it shows instead that there is still a lot of work left to do.
The third Area Of Primary Concern is the depth of the squad. In yesterday’s totally-not-comprehensive season preview post, I said the following regarding Boeheim’s insinuations that his bench might go 9 or 10 deep this year:
Every year we look at the roster, see 9 or 10 somewhat talented guys and say “This will finally be the year that Boeheim plays all his guys.” And it NEVER HAPPENS. Sure, everyone gets to play against Colgate, and maybe even the last 5 minutes against South Florida. But when the games matter, the bench gets shorter. Boeheim’s personnel management strategy, which has been successful year in and year out, is this: “Play the best players as much as possible”. This is why Jonny Flynn averaged 932 minutes a game his freshman year. Jimmy sees little value in giving his lesser talents five minutes every game — those are five minutes that you don’t have one of your better options on the floor.
So now here comes Jimmy, putting his 5 reserves in to start the 2nd half, giving all 10 guys approximately 20 minutes of game time and getting everyone to say “This will finally be the year that Boeheim plays all his guys.” Guess what: IT WON’T HAPPEN. In last year’s exhibition opener vs. the CSULA Stevie Thompsons, all ten players had at least 14 minutes of time. We all know how last year went in terms of the bench. So get it out of your system now.
But the good news about last night is that everyone contributed something positive to the game. The third Area Of Primary Concern is not that they need a deep bench. But they do need a productive bench. We could have ended up in a situation where nobody beyond the four returning ’starters’ was really ready to play at a high level. But after this game, it appears that everyone on the team is at least halfway decent. The chances that one or two of them are able to step into major roles look better now than they did on Monday afternoon. That’s definitely reason for optimism going forward. It could be that the “7.5-man rotation” is still under construction. Boeheim is such a shrewd, stark evaluator of talent that he usually pretty much knows who is going to play and who isn’t after like the first week of preseason practice. But maybe with so few experienced players returning, he has decided he needs to take a longer view. Maybe he legitimately doesn’t know whether it’s C J Fair or James Southerland that is going to be the more productive player 8 weeks from now. In that regard, then, the exhibition last night was a success.
One more thing I noticed from the box score: uniform numbers! Let’s see what we got:
Brandon Triche took #20. That’s The General’s number, son. Your uncle’s teammate, the best point guard in school history. That’s some shoes to fill. I like the attitude. Go for it.
Mookie Jones switched also, to #21. I guess he dropped #3 because doesn’t want to be known solely as a three-point shooter (even though such shots comprise above 70% of his FG attempts over his career). Dion Waiters swooped in and grabbed the abandoned #3, a good choice.
Fab Melo is #51 because 7-footers are required to have numbers in the 50s. (Last worn by Craig Forth, I believe.)
C J Fair is #5. Let’s see, a 6′ 9″ slender freshman forward from Baltimore wearing #5, where have I seen that before?
And Baye Moussa Keita is #12. Which signifies nothing to me. There haven’t been many iconic #12s; in fact it feels like a walk-on’s number. Michael Edwards, I think, was #12 for a while. But I like it, for some reason, anyway.