With Syracuse's embarrassing exit from the NIT Tuesday, I thought I would take a look back at the season to see just what went wrong.
Jim Boeheim's starting lineup for the majority of the season consisted of two freshmen, one sophomore, and two juniors. Of those five players, only one—sophomore Paul Harris—actually played for the Orange last year. Junior Kristof Ongenaet transferred from junior college and Arinze Onuaku sat out last year after having surgery on his knee.
The two final pieces of Syracuse's lineup, Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene, were highly touted recruits with the potential to have a huge impact on the team. And they did. Flynn, who won co-Rookie of the Year honors in the Big East, averaged 15.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game, while teammate Greene averaged 17.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.0 assists.
Despite these numbers, Flynn and Greene are only freshmen, and freshmen mistakes were inevitable.
2. Lack of a Bench
With Andy Rautins already out at the beginning of the season, it was up to Eric Devendorf to lead the rest of his young team to success. But when Devendorf tore his ACL after playing in only 10 games, the Orange knew they were in trouble.
Unexpected players, such as Ongenaet, filled the starting roles, leaving just two men on the bench for rotation: freshmen Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson. Boeheim used the two sparingly for most of the season, forcing players like Flynn to receive only minutes rest over several weeks of play.
This led to exhaustion and an overall collapse during second-half play. The Orange found it difficult to keep up with strong second-half teams like Villanova, who rallied back to beat Syracuse on more than one occasion.
Although the young Syracuse players lacked experience, they seemed to have a pretty high opinion of themselves during certain games. The casual one-handed passes thrown to an empty spot on the court or missed totally by the recipient are just one example.
Have you ever seen the movie Love & Basketball? You know the part where Monica makes a basket at practice and then stands there with her arms up staring at the basket, allowing the other team to quickly run back and score on the other side, prompting her coach to make her stand that way for the rest of the day?
I felt like I was watching that scene over and over Tuesday during the Orange's loss to UMass. After a breakaway dunk, players would stand under the basket basking in their glory. Meanwhile, a UMass player had already taken the ball to the other end to sink a three.
While dunks and alley-oops are certainly entertaining to watch and pump up the crowd, defense needs to be a number one priority.
University of Massachusetts 107-100, Nov. 28, 2007
What should have been an easy win turned into a record-breaking night for the Orange…just not in a good way. Syracuse gave up 107 points to the Minutemen, the most points ever scored by an opponent at the Carrier Dome since it’s opening in 1980. Although Syracuse led for the majority of the second half, the team just couldn’t hold on in the end.
University of South Florida 89-78, Feb. 13, 2008
Despite USF’s poor play and losing record, the Orange just couldn’t manage to beat them on their home court. Two of South Florida’s players, Dominique Jones and Kentrell Gransberry, scored more than 20 points each, leading their team to victory. Syracuse actually went almost 10 minutes without scoring a field goal.
Villanova 82-63, March 12, 2008
Syracuse desperately needed to win in the first round of the Big East Tournament to have a chance at making it to the Big Dance. But, to little surprise, the Orange fell apart after halftime, demolishing any hope. Villanova’s on-target 3-point shooting, combined with Syracuse’s inability to score sealed their fate in the NIT.
University of Massachusetts 81-77, March 25, 2008
As if losing to UMass at home once this season wasn’t enough, the Orange decided to do it again, this time during the third round of the NIT. Blowing a 22-point lead might seem impossible to some, but not this Syracuse team. Sloppy second-half play and a nonexistent defense contributed to one of the Orange’s worst losses of the season.
Although the Orange’s season was disappointing, the future looks bright. With Devendorf and Rautins scheduled to return from injury, and a whole year of experience out of the way for Flynn and Greene, Big East teams should look to Syracuse as a real threat next season.
Unless of course something else goes wrong…