Welcome to the first "Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician" Syracuse basketball roundtable of 2012-13. I posed five questions on the state of the team to our esteemed writing staff, and here's what they had to say.
True or false: SU will win the Big East regular season.
Chris Daughtry: True, until something happens to convince me otherwise. The Orange might have lost a ton off of last year's record-setting squad, but it doesn't look like they've missed a beat. Triche is leading. MCW is shining. J-South is finally coming through. CJ is a stat ninja. Rak is holding down the middle. Call me over confident, but I see no reason at all why the Orange can't or won't win the regular season Big East title.
Dan Lyons: I think it's very early to call, but I don't see a reason why this team couldn't make a run at Syracuse's third Big East regular season title in four years. I think that Louisville will put up a tough fight when fully healthy, and don't disagree with people who think that they're the class of the league, but I don't think that there's a very big gap, if any, between the Cardinals and Orange, and the Orange probably have more upside than anyone else in the conference.
Matt McClusky: False - but only because it's really too early to tell how the season will play out. I think Syracuse is one of the top tier teams in the country, one I could easily see cutting down the nets come April. But until the Orange take a real punch from a good team (San Diego State game aside) I will continue to worry about the rotation and the development of DaJuan Coleman and Rak Christmas. So because it's November still, I'll say Louisville, when healthy, is the best team in the conference. Check back with me in a couple of months, though.
Jeremy Ryan: It all comes down to Louisville. I think the gulf between the top two teams in the league - Syracuse and Louisville - and the rest will be at least a couple of games. So the question becomes, do I think SU will beat the Cardinals? Yes, I do. So, true.
Sean Keeley: True. Why not? I haven't seen anything yet that proves Louisville is the better team and I haven't seen anything yet that tells me Syracuse isn't up for the challenge. I don't think Syracuse needs to win the Big East in order to prove legitimacy but it's certainly do-able.
What's more impressive about Michael Carter-Williams' early stats - leading the nation in assists or second in steals?
CD: I'm going to go with steals simply because it's easier to rack up assists period, much more so against over matched opponents. Steals are tough to come by, so for MCDubz to be among the tops in that category is the more impressive feat.
DL: On an individual level, I'll say assists because he's putting up numbers that you just don't see at the college level very often, and a lot of his passes have truly put his teammates in a perfect position to score. We know that he has the capability to drop points himself, so its refreshing to see that he seems more concerned with getting his teammates involved. The steals are impressive too, especially when you look at how much success the entire team has had. Cooney had six steals one game, Southerland had five in another. The whole team is ballhawking at the top of the zone. It reminds me of Andy Rautins' work in 2010.
MM: I love the assist man. Someone who creates for others has become a rare commodity for a point. And this Orange team, with big men that need the ball and Brandon Triche who tends to shoot, or drive and shoot, first, Michael Carter-Williams' ability to set up others has been a major bright spot so far this early season. Not to say his knack for swiping the ball isn't impressive too but Carter-Williams' play, and James Southerland's shot, may be covering up a real problem for the Orange - lack of consistent scoring.
JR: The steals are tremendous, and are a huge part of SU's ability to get out on the break and score easy points. I don't want to downplay them at all. However, MCW's commitment to finding the open man is exciting. When all is said and done we could be looking at the best pure point guard to don a Syracuse uniform since Sherman Douglas, and the best candidate to notch a triple double in more than a decade.
SK: I'm all for steals, steals and more steals. I feel like, with our offense, we've got so many moving parts and quality players, that it's easier for someone to rack up stats like assists. Not to discredit him because it's awesome and I want him to keep it up, but if we're comparing, I'll always err on the side of defensive stats. Give me someone who is a defensive threat every time and I will follow that person into the dark.
It's early yet, but what's the deal with Trevor Cooney?
CD: He's just not hitting. Simple as that. I think people mistake Cooney for a pure shooter like Andy Rautins or Preston Shumpert or J-South. He's much more of a streak shooter along the lines of G-Mac. Cooney's going to make a ton of threes over the next four years. But he's also going to take a ton too. And that's fine. That's his primary job on offense, to keep the defense honest. This isn't a pickup game where you don't guard a guy until he proves he can hit a couple. Teams will have to keep an eye on him no matter what, and that leaves more room for MCW, CJ and company to operate in the lane. And once Cooney does start to hit, teams are going to be in trouble. Plus, let's not act like Cooney is chopped liver out there. He's been playing some great defense at the top of the zone. He does his part even if the shots aren't going down for him.
DL: I think it's way too early to get concerned. He's in a bit of a slump; we're lucky enough that we've been in a position to get him extend playing time so he can try to shoot through it. I expect him to come out in a game soon and light it up from downtown. He's playing well in other facets of the game, so it seems like he's able to separate his shooting struggles from other aspects of the game, which is a good sign.
MM: He's essentially a freshman - someone who didn't play a second last year and someone who just had his tonsils ripped from his body! So far he's looked good, bad, and somewhat indifferent on the court -- all while still searching for his shot. I could see Cooney being the odd man out this year, but that doesn't mean he and his jumper won't become very important soon.
JR: I think he's still trying to find his role on the team. Cooney has one elite skill - shooting - that no one on the team outside of Southerland can match. Unfortunately he isn't excelling at that one skill right now, so his minutes are suffering. I think he's due to catch fire and have a big shooting night. I just hope it happens before he is buried on the bench and forgotten.
SK: Dude's a redshirt freshman still trying to find his college game. Anyone already giving up on him five games into his career is a short-sighted moron. You could have done the same thing to Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine or any number of SU stars. People are putting too much pressure on him to be "the third guard" but you know what, we've got Southerland and Fair to adjust up and step in. We don't need Cooney as much as some people think. Let him use this season to find his game. He'll be fine.
Ten seconds left in a game. SU is down by two. Who do you want to take the last shot? How do you draw up the play?
CD: MCW/Triche drive and kick to J-South. At least while J-South has the hot hand. The Orange run a simple play where one of the guards drives the lane and the wing player (usually Southie) slides from the corner up toward the top of the key. Once the D collapses on the drive, the guard passes back to the wing player who is wide open for three most of the time. Once the teams start getting better and they start keeping a player in Southie's hip pocket at all times, that option will likely disappear. But, for now, that's how I'd draw it up. MCW and Triche are great at finishing in the lane and J-South has been great to far finishing from deep. Can't go wrong with that.
DL: This is tough. If he's feeling it, I say draw up a screen to get Southerland a shot in rhythm. When he's hot, he just doesn't miss. Otherwise, despite his recent struggles, I have a ton of trust in CJ Fair. I would have no issue with putting the game on his shoulders if we need a quick two.
MM: It's hard not to see anyone else but Carter-Williams having the ball. I would love to see a high pick-and-roll with Coleman, one that either sets Carter-Williams free to the tin or gives him the space to hit a driving Triche -- or a driving freight train that is DaJuan Coleman. Either way, so far, I think it should be the super sophomore with the ball -- but something tells me Triche will be the man in late game scenarios. Not exactly a bad thing, either.
JR: I want the ball in Triche's hands to go one-on-one. I know he has struggled lately, but no one has the combination of size, quickness, ballhandling, and scoring ability necessary to create his own shot under pressure. I want Southerland and Cooney (yes, until proven otherwise) on the floor to provide spacing and an outlet if Triche is doubled. I want Coleman underneath for an offensive rebound. And I want Carter-Williams on the floor to provide another ballhandler and someone who can get into the lane in case Triche is bottled up.
SK: Put the ball in Michael Carter-Williams' hands and his first look is to James Southerland. Second look is to Triche or to take it himself. End of story.
Other than Louisville, which opponent concerns you the most this season?
CD: Um, Alcorn State? I kid. I'm going to say Georgetown. For one, Otto Porter is a beast. As much as it kills me to give credit to a Hoya, he's my early pick for Big East POY. He's a guy who can beat a team by himself. Probably not a team as good as the Orange, but he's really, really good. That and you know Georgetown is just as hungry as Syracuse is to end the conference rivalry on top. Regardless of the series records, number of Big East titles or Big John Thomson "closing" Manley Field House, what people are going to remember most is who won the final Big East games between the Hoyas and the Orange(men). So, add all that to the normal rivalry buzz and you get a team that it particularly dangerous to the Orange, if not so much to anyone else.
DL: The last game against Georgetown is going to be incredibly emotional for both sides, and they're playing some very solid basketball right now. I think that we're the better team top to bottom, and they may have some issues with depth if anyone gets banged up, but they look dangerous. If we can sweep the Hoyas this year, that would be a tremendous accomplishment, and I fully expect some wonderful celebratory videos by HoyaSuxa. I hope it includes fire. I don't doubt that it will.
MM: Georgetown and Otto Porter strike me as a team that will only get better and stronger as the season goes on. The other team to keep an eye on is Pittsburgh. Jamie Dixon has proven to be a good coach and after watching the pre-season NIT, I think he's got himself a team that will make up for last year's aberration (5-13 in the Big East). Pitt hung with a very good Michigan team and, if it didn't run out of gas, probably could have beaten the Wolverines. The Hoyas and the Panthers are lurking.
JR: It has to be Georgetown, right? Blood rival, end of the Big East (as we know it), last game of the regular season, on the road… it all has the makings of a hyper-emotional game where the underdog rides the wave of fan support to victory. Luckily we know that Georgetown still sucks and SU will win anyway.
SK: Probably Georgetown but I'm a little concerned about UConn, actually. I think the emotion-meter is going to be off the chart for them given their weird season, the end of our rivalry and the recent news that we basically screwed them over in the ACC move. It could be one of those instances where the karma-meter is so pinned against us that we don't have a chance.
Jeremy Ryan is a writer/editor for CNYcentral.com in Syracuse. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyRyan44.