The Bernie Fine scandal isn't going away anytime soon and while it casts a huge, bleak pall over everything else, the Syracuse basketball season isn't getting cancelled either, so let's talk about hoops for a while. Here are some long overdue thoughts on the Preseason NIT. These will be brief since it feels like the games were played a million years ago already.
Syracuse v. Virginia Tech
Obviously the offensive execution was off for Syracuse in both games and it was pronounced against Va. Tech. However, the real issue for SU was the Hokies style of play. Give Seth Greenberg credit, he knew his team couldn't run with SU so he made a deliberate effort to slow the game down and take the air out of the ball. This is much easier to do against a zone than it is against aggressive man to man. It allowed Tech to play a slow, boring game.
Now we know Syracuse is going to be a zone team, that's just what Jim Boeheim does at this point. That's fine. However, for the first four games of season, he showed a willingness to play some long stretches of man, so it was disappointing to see him revert to 40 minutes of straight 2-3 zone, especially when a couple of different defenses could have changed the tempo of the game. However, the truth of the matter is the zone was very good. Tech made some tough shots in the first half, otherwise they wouldn't have been in the game as long as they were.
Offensively, Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters came up huge in the second half, which very well could be a theme all season long. Joseph looks much more comfortable in his role as SU's go-to guy and Waiters has the most pure talent and athleticism on the team.
We also had Brandon Triche come up with 18 huge points and CJ Fair contribute off the bench. The beauty of the current backcourt situation is that Scoop Jardine, Waiters and Triche are all interchangeable. Each can play either guard spot which will let Boeheim mix and match based on whose hot and whose not. Fair will play starter minutes all season long.
Syracuse v. Stanford
While the offense was sloppy against VT, the entire team was downright flat v. Stanford. It's impossible to attribute how much the current scandal is affecting the team, but you'd have to be crazy to think it isn't playing a factor.
Against the Cardinal we again saw 40 minutes of zone -- but it was buttressed by an extremely effective full-court press that turned the game around. I actually really like the press-zone combo, as it's much easier to find your spot on the floor if your opponent successfully breaks the press than it is to track down your man. Hopefully the successful deployment of the press/zone combo against both Colgate and now Stanford will be enough to convince JB to go it much earlier in the game. The team has enough depth to pull it off.
Fab Melo was real presence on both ends of the floor and tournament MVP Kris Joseph again carried the offense. I killed Joseph on this blog a lot last year for a lack of defensive effort. He'll never be a stopper, but he's working much harder at that end of the floor this year.
This was a game that I don't think SU wins last year - so while it was an ugly win, it was also a good one -- and a good omen for the future. God knows we could all use more of those.
Tournament Quick Hit Observations
- Two tough games and Boeheim plays 80 minutes of zone. It worked, so that's fine, but it's telling.
- Two tough games and the bench got very short. Rakeem Christmas, James Southerland and Michael-Carter Williams are numbers 8, 9, and 10 respectively in the rotation. When the going gets tough JB plays 7 guys and plays zone. It is what it is.
- Dion Waiters play making ability is something he didn't show much of last year. He's been extremely impressive at beating guys off the dribble, getting into the paint and finding teammates.
- Dion and Brandon Triche closed both games.
- There's no player Boeheim trusts more than Brandon Triche. He has a really long leash and if he plays well -- and he's certainly capable of it -- this team will go far. He's certainly one guy that doesn't have to look over his shoulder after an errant pass.
- C.J. Fair doesn't start, but he'll play a ton of minutes and he'll be productive almost all of the time. He's got the consistency of a senior already.
- Would have liked to have seen some more of James "Colt 43" Southerland - but he'll get more minutes over the rest of the pre-conference season.
- I'd much rather worry about defensive rotations, playing time and opponents three point shooting percentages than sexual molestation charges. We all want justice - and we all just want sports to be fun again.