Holding the opponent under 30% shooting? Check.
Forcing 25 turnovers? Check.
Allowing five points over the final 15 minutes of the first half? Check.
Sing it with Coach Murphy now:
From the first few games, it looks like Syracuse will win this season through defense first. They do have a number of guys who are capable of a scoring explosion, but so far nobody has emerged as the guy who is going to get 20 points every night. But the defense… oh, the defense. This collection of guys is going to just be in lock down mode routinely. The collective wingspan of this group is mind-boggling. It’ll be hard for any team to get good shots against the Orange in the half-court. In this way, this team kind of resembles the 2009-10 team (Wes Johnson, #1 seed, etc.). Everyone could score, but nobody was “the man”. They won more games due to their suffocating defense than any particular offensive firepower. Scored a lot on fast breaks off turnovers. Of course, that team had two guys with stunningly efficient post-up games, and this team is still looking for one reliable guy on the blocks and for its half-court offensive identity. But the D appears to be there. The press was otherworldly tonight. You can’t expect, say, Louisville to be as flustered by pressure, but when Southerland and MCW surround a guy near the sideline with their 7-foot-long arms, you’re going to get your share of turnovers.
While tonight’s game wasn’t the prettiest or most thrilling of affairs, it certainly was a thorough job of totally dismantling a lesser opponent. And to top it all off, there’s another game in just a couple of days! Four games in nine days in the nonconference? Sign me up.
A few storylines from this win:
Jerami spoke in the Dome today
Welcome to the big time, Jerami Grant. After barely getting a chance to put his shorts on against Arkansas, the lanky freshman got some extended time from Coach and he responded with his first real contributions of the season. He brought great energy to a plodding first half, getting active and taking the game right at EMU’s big men. He blocked a couple of shots (one particularly athletically after EMU broke the press) and had one pretty interior pass to DaJuan Coleman for an easy assist. He certainly earned himself some more meaningful minutes down the line, and if he can be a solid role player off the bench it will greatly enhance the team’s lineup flexibility. He is really the only other true forward besides Fair and Southerland; all the other bigs are best suited as centers. Nobody was expecting all that much from him this season, raw as he still is and playing behind two upperclassmen, and if he has a couple bad outings he may very well see his minutes shrink back down. But you have to be encouraged by what you saw tonight.
More freshness from the freshmen
Nice game from DaJuan Coleman against Eastern Michigan’s comparable frontcourt size. He surrendered to the game flow much more, seemed a lot more comfortable. He wasn’t forcing his way around the post, but instead scored in rhythm on a couple nice passes from teammates and on a couple of offensive rebound chances. Maybe having big opponents around helped. Against (say) Princeton, he probably felt like he should dominate through sheer force, which he has to learn is not an option at this level (at this stage of his development anyway). But in this game, matched up against bigger guys, he had to use some of his skill, rather than just his size and bulk, to create opportunities.
Meanwhile, hopefully we saw tonight the end of the mysterious Trevor Cooney shooting debacle. The first three-pointer he (finally) hit, he was visibly relieved that it went down. And the next one barely moved the net on its way through the hoop. Maybe he’d been burdening himself with increasing pressure, which was finally relieved somewhat by that first make. The dunk-and-foul towards the end certainly put a nice cap on his night. The big question is what happens when he comes out firing on Thursday. If he misses a couple, does he go back in the tank for a while? Or is this enough to convince him that he’ll be fine, and just needs to relax and keep doing his thing?
Michael Carter-Williams is a taller Scoop Jardine
Scoop in his sophomore season was the third guard “behind” Triche and Rautins — not a starter but just as much of a contributor and already showing some of the leadership traits that would blossom over the next two seasons. MCW is already more of a floor leader than Scoop was at that stage. (True, he kind of has to be, the team really has little choice. But he’s doing it nonetheless.)
The 11 assists were lovely. This guy is piling up dimes like the owner of an old-time arcade. He’s currently averaging 9.5 assists per game. (FYI, I know it’s way early to make this kind of comparison, but Sherman Douglas’ school sophomore record is 7.6 per game, and his overall school record for any season is 8.6 per game his senior year.) The 7 rebounds were also a great sign. Watching the game, many of these seemed to come on missed jumpers by EMU. Since MCW is going to be bringing the ball up the court anyway, he doesn’t take off for the other end when a shot goes up — he heads towards the basket to either grab the board himself or take the outlet pass from whoever does grab it. Shit, he is the team’s leading rebounder right now, which is well beyond what Scoop ever did.
But he’s also got a serious streak of “Bad Scoop” in him, at the moment. 6 turnovers in this game, after 6 in the last game, and most of them are plain old bad decisions. He is still at the stage where he thinks he can complete any pass he wants. He regularly tries to whip laser-beam passes through defenders and into the post, but it rarely works. The 6 turnovers only count the ones he actually lost, but there were probably 6 other times at least that he threw a bad pass that was tipped or batted away, but on which SU ended up retaining possession. These weren’t turnovers, but they are potential turnovers that will become actual turnovers against more experienced and more skilled opponents. He’s also got to learn to take fewer long jump shots. He can make a three but he’s far from automatic. I would much rather see him shot-fake and drive the lane, where he can use his freak athletic talents to get around and over guys. Similarly, instead of trying to thread perfect passes to a big man through traffic, he should focus more on drawing the defense and making the simple dump-off.
DaShonte Riley, we hardly knew ye
When Riley transferred after the 2010 season, I was actually disappointed. I thought he showed potential. Even though he was woefully inadequate to the task of backing up Rick Jackson after Arinze got injured in March that year, I figured that after putting on some bulk and working on his post game he’d be at least a serviceable backup. He always had the shot-blocking instincts. I was pegging him as a Jeremy McNeil type, with better hands. But what I saw tonight makes me thankful that he moved on. His defense was quite good but his offense has not progressed one bit from what we saw while he wore Orange. He hasn’t developed any sort of touch around the basket, nor has he learned how to use his length to his offensive advantage. (He did attempt one hook shot, for which I will give him credit. He also missed a wide-open alleyoop dunk.) And Riley’s departure meant a lot of time for Baye Keita two years ago, when Fab Melo couldn’t stay on the floor, which really helped Baye become the reliable contributor we see today. I’m not sure Keita is better than Riley right now, but if DaShonte had stayed at SU, he’d have graduated after last season and Keita would likely be an inexperienced redshirt sophomore rather than the defensive anchor he is now.