It's the dawn of a new season, and with expectations as high as the 2002 Portland Trailblazers, I wanted to set aside all the polls, publicity, and hype, and write a frank and honest preview of the upcoming season.
This season should be considered a failure if...
We don't finish in the top 4 of the Big East and fail to reach the Sweet 16. While the Big East may cease to exist in any sort of recognizable and/or attractive form after this season, it will once again be the best basketball conference in the country this year and people assuming that we'll definitely finish in the top 2 (next to UCONN) need to look long and hard at Louisville and Pittsburgh (and probably some other surprise team that exceeds expectations). And while I'll be the first to tell you that we have "Final Four potential," there are enough lingering questions about this team that I feel it's imperative we all temper our expectations a little bit. Can we win a National Championship? Sure. Should we expect to be dominant all year and in the Big Dance? Probably not. UNC and Ohio State might be able to make that argument - they both seem like complete teams to me. And Kentucky has all the talent that Coach Cal can buy and might very well be in their class (although I'm always wary of his talent-heavy, experience-light teams). Syracuse? We're deep and talented, but there's a lot we don't know.
My major questions about our team...
- "At the end of a close game, who will be the guy with the ball in his hands?" Guess what, the answer is Scoop Jardine. And enough has been written (or screamed) about Scoop that I won't go in too much depth here, but how you can possibly expect a team that must live by the Scoop and die by the Scoop to make a Final Four run? You're shaking your head, saying, "D.I.A.P. - if that even is your real name - no way Scoop has the ball in his hands at the end of the game, NO WAY!" But nothing I've seen or read has suggested that it would be anyone else. Look, I would personally love for Joseph and Triche to realize their potential, for either one of those guys to become the absolutely dominant scorer they have the potential to be, but basketball isn't solely about talent; it's a mental game. And as much as I think Triche and Joseph want to want to be the guy who takes the shot at the end of the game, only Scoop seems like the guy who actually wants to take that shot. If you could perform some sort of Inception type surgery and give either Joseph or Triche Scoop's (or Mookie's) self-confidence, we'd have our dominant crunch-time scorer and I'd feel much better about this team. And maybe one of those guys (or someone else - Waiters maybe?) makes that leap, but right now, I don't see that happening.
- "How will the loss of Rick Jackson impact this team?" Not nearly enough has been made about the loss of the most under-appreciated player in college basketball last season. Yes, it has been pointed out that Rick was a beast on the boards, a terror on defense, and the emotional leader of our team, but no one is talking about how much his absence is going to hurt us on offense. You're saying, "He scored 13 points a game and most of that was on cleaning up our misses, so what?!" So Rick commanded double-teams nearly every time he touched the ball in the low post and if they didn't double, he scored at an amazingly high efficiency. When they did double, Rick a very underrated passer, was excellent at kicking the ball out to the open shooter. So do we have a low post player who opposing teams have to game plan around? The short answer is maybe, but probably not. Fab (30 pounds lighter and a year of experience under his belt) sounds much improved, but I think we all know he's going to be inconsistent. Keita is a hustle machine, but healthy hand or not, he's not much of a threat to score. Christmas sounds like he'll help fill some the rebounding and defensive void that Rick's graduation created, but from all accounts, he's totally raw on offense. So basically (besides the occasional alley-oop) we can't really run offensive sets around and plays for our big 3. That's trouble.
- "But what about CJ Fair?!" You're reading that last paragraph, grinding your teeth and thinking "D.I.A.P. we've got CJ Fair - the kid is going to make the leap this year, he'll be our PF - it's all good, bra!" Look, I love CJ Fair like I love the Tres Hombres plate at the Dinosaur BBQ (about as much as you can love something in a completely non-sexual way) and I think even if he doesn't start, he's going to get starter's minutes and contribute a whole lot to this team, but he can't fill Rick's void - either with his defense, his rebounding, or his low post presence. Can he rebound and score and defend? Of course! But asking him to grind out upwards of 30 minutes at the 4 in the BIG East is asking a bit too much of an undersized sophomore. So maybe Melo makes the leap or maybe Christmas gives us 20+ quality minutes every game or CJ Fair is able to hold down the 4 for long stretches of time, but if you expect any of those things to happen, you're probably one of those people who believes that Newhouse is tougher to get into than Harvard. 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 blocks would be realistic and wonderful production from our big 3. And if Fair can play 20-25 minutes, score 8 points and grab 6 boards, I'll be thrilled.
- "Who make The Leap?" I think as many as 5 guys on this team could realistically make "the leap" this season. And that's both a strength and weakness of this team. We just don't know who or when or if. I think Scoop is what he is at this point, but if Joseph or Triche make the leap, Scoop will seem like a significantly better PG and decision-maker because he won't be tasked with being our crunch-time guy. Fab could make the leap. Waiters could make the leap. Fair could make the leap. Hell, you could probably even argue that Christmas or Keita or Southerland or Michael Carter Williams (given an opportunity) makes the leap during the season - I would not bet on any of those things happening though. This team is so full of buzz words (talent, upside, potential, etc.) - but potential unrealized is just that, potential. If one or more of the aforementioned guys make the leap and I really really hope it's Triche or Joseph, this team could go a long ways, but if it's a role player, whose role becomes elevated (see: Fair, CJ), that doesn't seem like quite enough to make this team an elite one.
- "How do we handle our rotation?" Much has been made about this team being 12 guys deep, but let's be honest, the only place Mookie is likely to see action is in his own head. And my guess is after playing some in the non-conference schedule, Cooney redshirts this season. So we're at 10 guys and Boeheim being Boeheim, he's going to play 8. From everything, everyone says who watches this team in practice, Southerland has incredible talent, but unless he has magically learned how to play defense and rebound (and maybe he has?), he doesn't see much action unless we're facing a zone. So that leaves 9. And I've already discussed how our front court rotation may work (Fab and Keita trading time at center, Christmas starting, but Fair probably playing more minutes), so that leaves a very crowded back court. I just can't imagine Boeheim not starting and playing Scoop a whole lot. For all his "scoopid" plays, Scoop was a GREAT player last season (sans the last 2 minutes of nearly every half). Triche will start again as well. And Waiters, who lost a ton of weight, worked on his game, and is saying all the right things, is going to get minutes too. So unfortunately, I just don't see MCW getting too much burn. I think maybe he'll average around 5 minutes a game, a little experience for our future starting PG, but until he puts on some muscle, he's going to have a tough time in the BIG East.
Didn't you read this post - I HAVE NO IDEA!!! So many questions and we'll start to get our answers tonight, but if you held a gun to my head and/or told me I had to wear a Georgetown sweatshirt, I'd probably tell you I think this team finishes top 3 in the Big East and makes it to the Sweet 16. If the match-ups are favorable (ie: not having to play a Big East team that knows the zone in the second round), I think we'll make the Elite 8. And while we'll be in the top 10 or 15 for most of the season, I just don't see us making another Final Four. But hey, nothing would make me happier than for our boys to prove me wrong!
Season starts tonight. If you're not excited, you damn well should be.