Canisius game in the books. Almost a carbon-copy of the Northern Iowa game: ugly first half on offense, then the team breaks out to start the 2nd half and methodically pulls away. There would be lots of different things to talk about from this game if it were not for a very early-season hammer dropped by Coach Boeheim that is already dominating the conversation:
“We need to get realistic. Right now, we’re the most overrated team that I’ve ever had. Right now. And I’m a little shocked that everybody’s bought into this whole thing. We’ve got a long ways to go. We are not a good basketball team.’’
Whew. Where to begin?
Right off the bat, let me point out that Jimmy’s word is basketball gospel, and I would be a damn fool to question his judgment of his players. He is correct that a top ten team, a Final-Four-caliber squad, should be smoking the likes of Canisius right out of the gate. You could tell that he was concerned about the outcome of this game as late as the 8-minute mark of the 2nd half, because he still had 4 of 5 starters on the floor (only Melo was sitting, and that because of foul trouble). They’d been out there the entire 2nd half to that point. Gone were the liberal subbing patterns of the UNI game, and the first half of this one. The Department of Domeland Security had raised the threat level, and Jim was going to ride his horses until he felt the lead was safe. (Like he always does.) Clearly he was upset at the team’s second consecutive poor early performance. But does he believe, in his heart, that they are “not a good team”? Or was it just psychology?
I don’t think he was just BSing to motivate the team. It is an honest assessment of how things stand. But that’s the key — it’s how they stand now. He was careful to say the words “Right Now” when making this statement. He said them twice. (Gosh, I sound like a literature major.) And he’s completely on target. Right now, they are not a good team. And they have done nothing to deserve a top ten ranking. But he is saying little against their potential to become a good team. The way I am interpreting this, he knows they have serious talent but are far from maximizing their potential.
And when you read it that way, it’s not such a shocking quote at all. I think everyone following the team would agree that they are still quite raw, a work in progress. And there is really no shame in that. This is a squad with plenty of room to grow. Consider: among all the players on the current roster, only Rick Jackson has been a serious contributor for more than one season. (Scoop played a lot as a freshman but only because Rautins and Devo were both hurt, and he rarely made an impact; Kris Joseph began his freshman year playing well but by the time the heart of Big East play rolled around he was barely getting 5 minutes a game.) Every guy on the bench is either a freshman or a sophomore who hardly played as a freshman. The starting shooting guard was last year’s starting point guard. Hell, our starting center has played less organized basketball than most of the kids on an 8th-grade AAU team. Perhaps most importantly, the guy who is supposed to be the NBA-ready first-rounder superstar didn’t even start last year and has not yet had to play that role. So I’m not surprised that the team is “not good right now”. Almost all of them are still learning their roles on the team, or even just how to play D-I ball period.
So, we should expect stretches where the offense is uncoordinated and sloppy, where the rebounding is flimsy, where the defense is porous. (I want to say the defense has been pretty good so far, but they were matched against two opponents that are both seriously offensively deficient. So it’s hard to tell.) This team probably won’t go 28-3 in the regular season. They have some challenges on the schedule, and could even end up slipping in one of the “gimme” games. (Heck, even Tuesday’s opponent Detroit is no automatic pushover — they’re young but have good size and at least one deadly shooter.) So, sure. They are “not a good basketball team” at the moment.
But they certainly have the potential to become one, and that’s what has everyone in the community so excited.
As for the actual “overrated” part of things, that is the fault of the rankings system. You can say they haven’t done anything to earn their ranking, but of course nobody really has when the season is one weekend old. You might argue “Maybe SU isn’t a powerhouse, but nobody in college basketball really is, and their ranking partly reflects the lack of outstanding teams. They are just as good as anyone in the ‘2nd tier’ of the sport.” But it’s dangerous to go there, because Boeheim knows more about the college basketball landscape than just about anyone, and far, far more than your average TV pundit or AP voter. I’d bet he knows exactly who the ten best teams are at this moment, and SU is not on the list. Fair enough. But Jim knows that rankings don’t mean anything, particularly preseason rankings. So why is the unearned hype getting him all upset?
My hunch is that it’s again due to the youth on the team. Freshmen come in having been The Hot Shit most of their lives, and carrying their high school teams to lofty heights. They are far more likely to believe the hype than a team that’s been through the wars a few times. Last year it wasn’t an issue, Onuaku and Rautins kept everyone amazingly grounded. Maybe Jim got a little spoiled by that, or at least he still gets annoyed when, for instance, he hears Dion Waiters say “I am a driver. Nobody can stay in front of me if I put my mind to it. But I can shoot. That’s one thing I can do well – shoot the ball.” You want your players to be confident but not to the point where they feel their games are already fully developed. They need to be hungry to work on improving themselves, and also ready to play within the team concept. Now, I am not trying to paint Waiters as a giant ego from just one quote. By all accounts he is a very hard worker. I’m just saying that this sort of attitude needs to be managed carefully, and harnessed for good, not evil. And perhaps the “overrating” that the team has received is making that difficult. In any case it looks as if this team could use a visit from Señor Leadership*.
So, grab those headlines Jimbo, do your thing. Knock down those expectations, and when the team loses in an upset, you can be all “I told you so” and maybe get the kids to double down and focus better. Meanwhile, I’m going to hold on to the positive silver lining of what you said, that there is “a long way to go”. That just means there is lots of room for improvement — and if the team does go that long way, if they do improve that amount of room (?), then we’ve got a lot of good times ahead. We’ll worry about the rankings later.
Quick nuggets from the game:
BMK is quickly becoming everyone’s favorite backup center. He’s athletic and active, looks like he could be the next Conrad McRae. Which is a good thing, because he’s going to have to play a lot.
All the “Mookie Jones Transfer Watch” talk is completely premature. He’s enjoying himself, and has a real role right now. He got early minutes when the starters couldn’t hit a shot from beyond 3 feet, and promptly drained a deep one. He’s got the best long-range shot on the roster, and that will make him useful on a regular basis. His defense looks like it’s improving too. He even logged a few minutes at one of the forward positions. His time will fluctuate depending on matchups, but I now doubt he’s going to get buried behind Waiters the way a lot of us thought he might before the year began.
It wasn’t a fluke against UNI when Rick Jackson made a face-up jumper. It looks like he has actually developed a reliable mid-range jump shot from 8-12 feet. He had a few in this game; he even hit one from the foul line elbow. This makes him a whole lot harder to defend and should frighten Big East coaches.
Sure, it would have been nice to run Canisius out of the building in the first ten minutes. But, like UNI, the Griffs are a very experienced team that only lost one starter from last year, and they are loaded with seniors. Sure they weren’t any good last season, but just the fact of being an experienced D-I unit gives them a bit of an advantage in an early-season contest against this SU squad. So I’m not too surprised that they played tough defense and hung around for a while.
* “Señor Leadership” was our nickname for Kueth Duany in 2003, as the lone senior and an underrated component of their success. Of course, we also coined the term “Freshman Leadership” that year, for obvious reasons.