After six-and-a-half months of wondering what could have been, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is back again with some unfinished business.
Back in March, Syracuse, sans Fab Melo, took a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Ohio State in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, ending the dream of a second championship for Jim Boeheim after one of the most successful, albeit tumultuous, years the stalwart coach has enjoyed.
Sunday, November 11, the Orange (No. 8 AP/ No. 8 USA Today) climbed aboard the retired USS Midway to take on the San Diego State Aztecs (25/23) in a game aptly titled, "The Battle on the Midway."
Midway, however, is not exactly how far the Orange traveled as they made their way to San Diego Harbor for a game scheduled for Friday, but the threat of rain pushed the game to Sunday, just in time for Veterans Day.
Syracuse (1-0) easily dispatched of the Aztecs (0-1) in a 62-49 drubbing spurred by terrible outside shooting on the part of San Diego State.
The wind didn't help much either.
Jim Boeheim's squad gets to rest until Sunday when the Orange face the Wagner Seahawks.
With a week to prep, now is a good time to reflect on what we learned from the game against San Diego State and what this season could look like for the Orange.
Here are 10 observations.
C.J. Fair drives to the hoop.
Junior forward C.J. Fair made his presence felt immediately.
At the 18-minute mark, Fair took a pass at the left foul line extended and immediately exploded to the basket. The shot didn’t go, but it sent a message that the Aztecs would have their hands full with the 6’8” Baltimore product.
Fair was not the go-to guy for the Orange last year, but he played the second-highest amount of minutes on a team crowded with talent. His athleticism and shiftiness around the basket demand the minutes.
Think a less polished, but more athletic, Hakim Warrick.
Fair’s 17 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes under adverse conditions can be considered his coming out party in the long line of Syracuse slashing forwards.
Sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams had a very nice game.
He filled the gap of a departed Dion Waiters with five steals. He dished out four assists and grabbed four rebounds. He also tied C.J. Fair with a game-high 17 points.
So what’s the problem?
Carter-Williams will take the helm as the team’s point guard, and if he is going to keep that position, he has got to clean his game up.
Statistically, his four turnovers weren’t too bad, but a deeper look at plays he was directly involved with paints a different picture.
Carter-Williams dished the ball with ease, but too often, he would drive the lane and give a haphazard pass to a teammate who was either out of position to do anything with the ball or was crowded under the basket and then had to give the ball up.
He also seems to have developed a habit of leaving his feet with no plan on what he’s going to do with the ball. Against the Aztecs, he was bailed out by sloppy play or his own teammates tracking down the ball.
...and he continuously kept the ball on the fast break, taking bad shots when simple passes would have created easy baskets.
But, as I alluded, he still had a pretty good game.
This could just be opening game jitters, but I would assume that Carter-Williams’ handling of the ball will be addressed in practice this week.
Syracuse was only out-rebounded by San Diego State, 41-40, but many of the Orange rebounds came from long rebounds off of the Aztecs’ abysmal 1-of-18 three-point shooting.
Underneath the boards, the Aztecs were undersized, but managed to outwork Syracuse for an impressive 18 offensive rebounds.
A team can have all the height it wants. Rebounding is a mindset. A team has to be aggressive and not rely on length for pulling down balls. This could be one area where Syracuse misses the ousted Bernie Fine, as he was the developer of Syracuse big men for decades.
There’s no shame in getting out-rebounded, but there is shame in getting outworked.
Maybe they just didn’t have their sea legs, but the lack of aggression on the boards was noticeable.
Outdoor, windy games aren’t ideal for senior sharp-shooter James Southerland, but he made the most of his 25 minutes with six rebounds, six points and two blocks.
Knowing he wasn’t going to get his looks, Southerland could have mailed it in, but he got involved in plays when he could.
Last season, Southerland’s performances ranged from deadly behind the arc to missing in action. Orange fans should be happy that Southerland can get involved even when the ball isn’t coming his way.
Senior guard Brandon Triche assumed the role of team leader with ease.
Last season, Triche showed flashes of brilliance, but he would seemingly disappear for large blocks of time and let the game play around him.
There was no mistaking that this was Triche’s team from the onset. He took good shots, passed the ball well and took control of the game whenever he felt the team needed a little push.
Syracuse has a mix of extremely talented men who haven’t realized their potential yet. Triche can be the glue-guy to make it happen and guide the Orange to what has the makings of a very good season.
I’m no Jim Boeheim, but there were a few fundamental issues that were noticeable that, again, should be addressed in practice.
- You can’t box a man out if your hips aren’t lower than his.
- When you leave your feet on a shot in the lane, your options become limited.
- When the opposing team is shooting free throws and you have the inside position, you are not supposed to let anyone get in front of you.
Oh, by the way, at the 14:50 mark, when an errant shot is floating in the air, it is best to position yourself for the rebound, like San Diego State did, rather than stare at the sky and allow the Aztecs to get position.
I’m looking at you, C.J. Fair.
Syracuse is still very talented, but the cream is definitely at the top this year.
Last year’s Orange featured an astonishing 10 players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game.
Sunday’s game saw only six players get into double-digits in minutes and only nine players getting in the game. This is more along the lines of what Jim Boeheim is used to, but it marks a difference from last year.
Granted, there’s no Dion Waiters or C.J. Fair coming off the bench, but there will be a James Southerland. Weather didn’t allow for Southerland to get in the mix, but something happened that Orange fans haven’t seen for quite a while. The Syracuse bench got outscored by the opposing bench, 13-8.
Not a pummeling, but the luxury of having an NBA lottery pick coming off the bench was exactly that—a luxury. The Orange bench is decent, but the starters will have to be the gravy on this team.
Last year, the Orange were second in the nation with 7.09 blocks per game.
Syracuse picked up right where it left off by turning back 10 Aztec shots.
Defense fueling the fast break was key for Syracuse’s success last year. The Orange will have height and length over almost every team on their schedule. There’s no reason to think this can’t continue.
It’s always good to get a win on the road against a ranked, nonconference opponent, but this game was played much differently than it would have been played indoors.
Only Heaven knows what coach Steve Fisher was thinking having his guys shoot so many threes.
On a good day, shooting threes over the 2-3 zone, and making them, can be effective at stopping the zone. On a bad day (read Sunday), there’s just no point. It made no sense to keep shooting threes.
San Diego State will be a good indoor team this year, but with the exception of a few rebounding lapses, the Aztecs were outclassed in a game that looked like men playing against boys.
Even Michael Carter-Williams looked menacing with that facial hair.
Under adverse, if not interesting conditions, Syracuse showed adaptability and came away with a good win.
The next few weeks will provide games in which the Orange can clean up fundamentals, toughen up on the boards and get the Orange train back on the tracks it was derailed from so unsatisfactorily last season.
After that, the farewell tour of the Big East begins and the real fun starts.