Dare I Say It: Is Jim Boeheim Overrated?

Justin FanizziContributor IMarch 24, 2009

NEW YORK - MARCH 12:  Head Coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange reacts on the sideline during the game against the Connecticut Huskies during the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Coming from a lifelong Syracuse Basketball fan, it must surely be some kind of blasphemy. After all, the man only has 799 wins, 31 20-win seasons and 25 tournament appearances in 33 years, three final four appearances, a gold medal and national championship on his resume.

Hell, he is even a member of Basketball Hall of Fame. But with all the awards and accolades, one question still burns in my mind: Is Jim Boeheim overrated?

Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for all of the winning seasons and all of the charismatic, talented players he has brought to the Carrier Dome. However, when you see a team as talented as this particular Syracuse squad embark on a pothole-marked highway of a season and also take into consideration many of Boeheim’s flawed coaching principles, the question does not seem nearly as ridiculous.

First of all, this year’s Syracuse team is easily the most athletic squad Boeheim has had in years, rivaling the storied 2002-2003 squad that boasted Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick, Kueth Duany and Jeremy McNeil, just to name a few of the high-flyers from that year.

Of course athleticism is something every coach desires, with many probably envying the Cuse for having a plethora of it\ with Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris, Eric Devendorf, Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku all on board. But there is just one problem: the team seriously lacks basketball IQ.

On offense, you have Flynn and Devendorf making some of the most ill-advised passes and taking some of the most horrendous shots you will see watching college basketball. Onuaku will commit bone-headed fouls and Paul Harris, well, Paul Harris is in a category all his own.

On defense, the team’s basketball IQ deficiency is greatly magnified. Prior to the last few games of the season, watching this team execute the 2-3 zone was almost unbearable. Late close-outs, failing to close off the baseline and poor shifting were just a few of the atrocities committed while on D.

Now, you may be thinking that these are personnel issues, but doesn’t a good coach make adjustments to make sure that the potential of his personnel is maximized? Yes, the zone has worked for Boeheim for three decades, but when you see a team that lacks any competency in running it yet has a shocking level of athleticism, wouldn’t you switch to man?

With their length, quickness and strength, the players would only have to focus on one man and be more than able to stay on him (except Devendorf, as he doesn’t realize most of the time that he actually has to play defense).

As for the offense, there is none, and there never has been one. Boeheim does not run a set offense, and I’m sure that his run-and-gun, push-it-up-the-floor style is what brings in so many high profile recruit. But when you have a turnover prone team that lacks any resemblance of offensive awareness outside of creating their own shot, it is time to change it up, if only for a year.

After a failure to make crucial adjustments throughout the season and simply allowing glaring weaknesses to fester, it is safe to say that he did not maximize the potential of this supremely talented team.

So I realize that you’re thinking that one poor season of coaching is not reason enough to call him overrated, especially given all that he has accomplished, but several other tactics that have become Boeheim staples have hurt many of his teams throughout the years.

For one, his strategy to spread the floor and slow it down when Cuse is up with six minutes to go, regardless of the size of the lead, has got to go. This asinine strategy has allowed countless teams to get back into the game, as a team slowing it down with no set offense to run simply cannot hold a lead.

Whenever he does this, the team always holds the ball too long, forcing jumpers to beat the shot clock and committing turnovers.

Another wart on Boeheim’s resume is the fact that every year, without fail, his teams are always near the bottom in the Big East, and often times the country, in free throw shooting. I know that this is more on the players than the coaches, but after 33 years, don’t you think Boeheim should have realized that he needs to devote more time to free throw shooting in practice?

Other things that Boeheim does, such as singling one player out from each team, every year, to be his whipping boy (think Paul Harris, Jeremy McNeil, Terrence Roberts and Ronny Seikaly), to his quick trigger finger on substitutions, only lend credence to the notion that he is overrated.

Sure, it will be a sad day when he steps down, but as his successor, Mike Hopkins, assumes control, it will be hard not to wonder what Hopkins could have done  if he was holding the reins all this time. Would he have won more games?

Maybe another championship? Who knows? We will never get that answer; we will just have to be thankful that the funny-looking, temperamental, sarcastic and often times befuddling Lyons, N.Y. native graced our sidelines.