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 orangehoops.org 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.