Syracuse Basketball: Early Takeaways from Start of Orange's 2013-14 Season
Despite the fact the Syracuse basketball team is only two games deep, there was still plenty to watch for in the early-season contests. Now, we can't make any sweeping generalizations just yet after wins over Cornell and Fordham, but with all the new pieces Jim Boeheim is running out, it is worth taking a look at how they are coming together.
In the past, the Orange would have a whole batch of cupcake teams come to the Carrier Dome to serve as the proverbial punching bags to warm up for the Big East schedule. This season, however, features a trip to Maui and visits from Indiana and Villanova before the inaugural ACC season gets rolling. There won't be as many opportunities to work out the kinks early on.
With that in mind, let's sink our teeth into what stood out most from Syracuse's 2-0 start.
The Fans Are Hyped for This Season
Make no mistake, Syracuse has never had a problem drawing a crowd. The university is consistently in the top two or three in attendance every year. This year, however, things have gone to another level.
According to Syracuse.com, the school has sold close to 21,000 season tickets as of November 6, which is about 10 percent higher than last year. If you had to sneeze when single-game tickets for the Duke showdown went on sale, you missed your opportunity. And just take a look at the attendance numbers for the first two games last year compared to this year.
That's quite the jump. And it's not like Cornell and Fordham were any better as opponents than Wagner or Princeton. The community is just excited for the potential this team has. And so they should be. With fan support like this, every game in the Loud House will be exciting.
Dion Waiters once said the floor shakes when the crowd really starts to get into it. Just imagine what it will be like when Duke and North Carolina come to town.
*Attendance numbers taken from box scores listed with the schedule.
C.J. Fair Is Struggling
Okay, struggling is a relative term. C.J. Fair did pour in 19 and 26 points, respectively, in his first two outings, and he could have gone for 35 if he wanted to against Fordham. But he also had only three assists and 11 turnovers between the two games. It's clear there is a bit of a learning curve for Fair as he adjusts to being the main option for the 'Cuse.
Fair will likely work out the turnover issues. Some of the reckless drives that turned into offensive fouls will disappear as he learns to take what defenses gives him. But with so much attention being paid to him, he has to be able to make defenses pay and find his teammates when they are open.
Yet there is a reason Fair was named the preseason ACC Player of the Year. He is still Syracuse's best player, and everything will go through him on offense. He needs to make a concerted effort to limit his turnovers, though, as better teams will make him pay for his mistakes.
The Backcourt Looks Solid
How Syracuse replaced the production of Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams was one of the main storylines heading into this season. It seems, so far at least, that the team is in capable hands with Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney.
Cooney didn't see the floor much against Fordham due to foul trouble (more on that later), but the duo did play well overall in the first week. Cooney's shooting display was the story of the Cornell game, as he put the team on his back and dug the Orange out of a 14-point first-half deficit. He finished with 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting and made seven of his eight attempts from deep.
There was speculation about whether Cooney could translate his excellent practice shooting to a game situation. Now that he has seen it happen, he should have some confidence going forward.
Ennis seemed comfortable in his role as he dished out 12 assists compared to only two turnovers in the two games. He also netted 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting against Fordham. So far, the game hasn't been too big for him. As long as he keeps facilitating and limiting his turnovers, Ennis will continue to earn big minutes at the 1.
Jerami Grant Is Important
Yes, this might be a bit of a Captain Obvious situation here. But Jerami Grant's importance may have been underestimated a bit.
No one expected the Orange to have any trouble with Cornell. But as Grant watched from the bench in his Friday best, the Big Red jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half. The game ended up not being close, but there had to have been a moment of panic for Orange Nation as Nolan Cressler buried shot after shot.
The Fordham game was a laugher until Syracuse let up a bit in the second half. Grant was in uniform for that game and ended up with 16 points, 10 rebounds, a block and three steals in 27 minutes of work. Grant wasn't the only reason for the blowout. But when he and C.J. Fair share the floor, their combination of skills and athleticism can prove to be a difficult matchup for anyone.
Let 'Em Play, Refs!
That is the image Syracuse fans, and fans across the country, were treated to for large portions of the first week's games. With the NCAA cracking down on hand-checking and changing the block/charge call, numerous games turned into parades to the free-throw line.
In Syracuse's game against Fordham, there were 55 total fouls called, and the two teams combined to shoot 72 free throws. Seventy-two! Three Fordham players fouled out, and three players from Syracuse were whistled four times.
This wasn't just a problem in the Carrier Dome, though. In the much-hyped clash between Kansas and Duke, the teams shot 63 free throws and were pegged with 53 personal fouls. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins each spent time on the pine in the first half due to foul trouble. Parker even ended up fouling out. The nation was tuning in to see those two kids play, not to watch a free-throw shooting contest.
Look, there's nothing wrong with wanting to raise scoring a bit at the college level. At 67.5 points per game, the national scoring average last year was the lowest it has been since 1981-82. The final score of Duke/Kansas was 94-83, but a long stretch of the second half was almost unwatchable due to the fouls on seemingly every possession.
Hopefully the players and coaches will adjust as the season wears on, because no one wants to see meaningful games decided by the zebras.