"Good, not great."
When asked what he thought of Syracuse’s 2010-’11 season, that was Jim Boeheim’s response. At first, it might seem like he’s selling short a team that didn’t lose until mid-January, won 27 games and entered the NCAA Tournament as a 3-seed.
However, college basketball teams are almost-always remembered only for how they finish. Just ask the 1990-’91 Syracuse Orange, who went 26-6 and spent most of the season in the top ten but will forever be remembered for their first-round loss to Richmond in the NCAA Tournament.
Oddly enough, if you’d have told many Syracuse fans at the beginning of the season that their beloved Orange would make it to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament, they probably would have taken that and ran with it. That’s the funny thing about expectations. The Orange had none when the season began.
Expectations, though, are fluid.
The Orange enter the 2011-’12 season with massive expectations. The general consensus among basketball pundits and experts is that SU is a top ten team. Some are even thinking top five.
It’s a double-edged sword for Syracuse fans. On one hand, it’s validation that everyone else sees the same potential we see. On the other hand, the Orange don’t traditionally do well when faced with expectations. In some of their best seasons (‘96, ‘03, ‘10), SU wasn’t expected to do much of anything. When the pressure is off, Syracuse basketball shines brightest.
Of course, every season is its own animal and to assume the worst this year just because of previous incarnations is simplistic. Instead, let’s look specifically at the 2011-12 version of the Syracuse Orange basketball team, find out what questions need to be asked and see if we like the sound of their answers.
Will Scoop Jardine Be The Leader We Want Him To Be?
Live by the Scoop, die by the Scoop. It’s a phrase I said often last season and, unfortunately, the latter would prove to be true more often than one would hope of our floor leader.
One of the best personalities and characters that Syracuse basketball has had in years, Scoop Jardine’s smile, demeanor and play can be infectious. He’s a great story, having overcome early career troubles and turned himself into a team leader.
However, he also spent much of last season saddled with a reputation for forgoing logic for a shot at personal glory when the game was on the line. More often than not, Scoop ended up taking the final shot. And more often than not, that shot didn’t fall.
Here’s what I said following Syracuse’s upset loss to Marquette in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, which featured many a Scoop turnover and a poorly-executed final shot by Jardine.
"As for Scoop, I mean, what can I say that you don't already know. If Vegas allowed us to put down $100 to things like, "If Syracuse is losing a close game with seconds to go, Scoop Jardine will take the ball up-court, rush the play, refuse to settle down and launch an off-balance three-pointer with multiple players in his face regardless of where his teammates are," we'd all be thousandaires right now.
Scoop Jardine is what he is, you know this, I know this, I've written it a hundred times, you've read it a hundred times and here we are. Scoop is supposed to be the leader of this team on the floor. He's supposed to be the guy with the ball in his hand when we need a big play. And that means when the game and the season are on the line, we all know that Scoop is going to make a selfish, unwise play. He's improved his stamina, his work ethic, his physique and his shot, but he has not improved the mental game when it matters most. What do we make of this knowing he's coming back for another season? Where do we go from here? I'm afraid to know."
I’ve stepped back from the ledge in terms of Scoop’s ability, mostly because Scoop has spent the entire season talking about how focused he is on being a better, more patient leader. He’s also spent the summer playing alongside some of the most talented guards in the world, including Chris Paul and Deron Williams. You have to hope a lot of good rubbed off on him.
Of course, we’ll believe it when we see it. The first time a Syracuse game comes down to a final play and the Orange need to score in order to win, the play will begin with the ball in Scoop Jardine’s hands. What he does with it will prove to us if he’s the same old Scoop or if he’s truly matured into the leader we all want him to be.
Will Kris Joseph Fulfill His Destiny?
I used that same exact sub-header in last year’s version of Orange Tip-Off in regards to Kris Joseph. That should tell you a little something about how KJ’s season went last year.
Kris Joseph isn’t supposed to be here right now. Before last season, the smart money was on Kris having such a good year for the Orange that he’s forgo his senior season and be the latest SU player drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft.
While he didn’t have a terrible season by any stretch, Joseph’s season was a disappointment. That’s a strong statement for a guy who led the team in scoring with 14.3 PPG.
However Kris’ season wasn’t about stats. It was about being "the guy". Or in this case, not being "the guy".
Joseph often disappeared in crunch time and for long stretches of time during critical games. He rarely ended up with the ball in his hand when the team needed a score to take the game. And you’d be hard-pressed to think of too many amazing Kris Joseph moments from last season.
Now...none of this is to say that Joseph can’t be "the guy" this season. Maybe he needed to go through last year in order to excel in this one. He needed to know that his athletic ability alone wasn’t going to carry him or the Orange. He needed to know that more is needed from him than just scoring.
And the question becomes...can he take what he learned last season and apply it to this one? Once again, Joseph will be expected to lead the team in scoring and eventually get drafted into the NBA (if it ever returns).
The expectations won’t change, but Kris Joseph will have to.
Will The Real Brandon Triche Please Stand Up?
If there’s a wild card in the SU deck, it’s Brandon Triche.
Shifting to shooting guard in his sophomore season, Triche struggled at some points and shined at others. Fighting for on-court time with Scoop and Dion Waiters, Triche was asked to shoot the ball more than he might have been used to.
He ended up becoming Syracuse’s main three-point shooter, which, might have been too much to ask. He ended up shooting 33% (50-of-150). He also became Syracuse’s best free throw shooter, breaking Mike Lee’s team record for consecutive free throws (37). He also did his fair share of ball-handling, where he had middling results.
Triche seemed to be a different player game-to-game. Confident in one contest, he’d look timid in the next. A fantastic shooting night was often followed by a terrible one. It got to the point where you stopped assuming what Brandon would do, you just hoped this was one of his "good" games.
If Triche can sort himself out, he can end up being a surprising star for the Orange this season. Next year he’ll be our senior leader and likely starting point guard, but for now he’s going to continue shuffling between the 1 and the 2 spots. How he handles that transition could be a difference-maker.
The question is, which Brandon Triche will show up for the Orange this year?
Stay tuned for Part II of the Season Preview tomorrow...