So we rounded up the TNIAAM staff to discuss all things James Southerland, and did our best to remain cool on the outside while pretty much freaking out in the inside.
What were your first thoughts when you heard the news about Southerland's ineligibility?
Andrew Pregler: My first thoughts were literally: C'mon man, just pass your freaking classes. It was obvious that Southerland failed a class and got his GPA too low.
John Cassillo: "Ugh, not another issue for this athletic program." It's been a parade of bad news lately, and Southerland's ineligibility certainly won't help matters. Especially when this team's been struggling a bit on the offensive end. Regardless of his streakiness, it's tough to see one of our best shooters miss time right now (or ever).
Matt McClusky: I think like just about everyone else my reaction was a sigh followed by me saying out loud to no one in-particular, "Not again." Between Bernie Fine, Fab Melo, Michael Carter-Williams and the football drama, there seems to always be something. Is this all a byproduct of dealing with success or is there something bigger going on with the hoops program? That's a question likely to linger.
Chris Daughtrey: I learned of the news via a text from StrawHatGuy. My first though, like most SU fans', was, "F*******ck." Then I was like, "Really? After seeing what Fab went through last season, a senior can't keep his act together?" Ultimately, I just ended up wondering what the nature of the eligibility issue was. Given the timing, it's likely academic. Probably a situation where Southerland failed a final or something and they need to work out how he's going to make it up. If it's something as stupid as he's just not going to class then, in all honesty, he can just leave as far as I'm concerned. That's just flat out not trying and that's not acceptable. But until more comes out, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Jared Smith: I believe I said to myself: "You got be sh**** me." I mean, seriously, hasn't this fan base that lives and dies with its basketball team had enough crap happen to it the past 18 months? My second thought was: I picked a hell of a week to stop drinking. My wife and I are on a 90-day alcohol-free challenge and it could of come at a worse time.
Sean Keeley: "Not again." Which was followed by, "He'll be cleared in a few days and then he'll be suspended again the day before the NCAA Tournament." Finally followed by, "Why can't these guys just major in basketball?"
Dan Lyons: I think I had just woken up, checked Twitter and saw the news, and just rolled back over in bed. With everything that's happened over the last two weeks, I'm almost unfazed by bad news at this point. This is a big loss for the team though, James is a de facto starter and really one of the only true offensive sparkplugs we have.
Which one player will step up to fill Southerland's void, and how?
AP: I think we saw last game that it won't be just one person. We're looking at CJ and MCW needing to be more consistent, Jerami Grant contributing points and Triche scoring 15 a game. I think that quite honesty Syracuse is fine without Southerland during the regular season but need his spark in the tournament to win big.
JC: Lucky for us, we've seen his replacement in action: Jerami Grant played very well in his first real extended minutes in the lineup. Now, Grant's not the same sort of shooter that Southerland is, so in no way is this an even trade. But knowing that Grant can be effective playing starter's minutes is encouraging in the early going, and I think he actually marks an improvement on the defensive end, too.
MM: Jerami Grant is, judging by the Villanova game, the one player with the most to gain by Southerland's loss. Grant is athletic, provides length, and seems to have something of a decent jump shot. He's only a freshmen, so there will be even more growing pains with more playing time, but Grant could be key to 2013.
CD: I think we've already seen who's going to pick up the slack: CJ Fair. He's averaging 16/8 in Big East play, scored 20+ in two straight games and has been the assertive, efficient player I've been expecting him to be all season. His game is certainly very different than J-South's (segue into question #3), but the end result is the same: enough points and rebounds to help the Orange get W's.
JS: I am sure most are going to pick one of the three freshmen, especially Jerami Grant who will step into that sixth-man role. However, it times like these its veterans that need to step up. I am specifically looking at C.J. Fair, who will need to continue his amazing play if the Orange want to stay competitive with the rest of the top teams in the Big East.
SK: While Jerami Grant will certainly start seeing a lot more playing time than I think anyone expected him to, I feel like it's more a function of C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams picking up the slack. I expect to see their production rise (or attempt to rise) rather than try and rely on Grant to put up anything resembling Southerland's numbers on a routine basis.
DL: I've always said that James has the most unique skillset on the team, so it is going to be impossible to replace him with one guy. I think most of the onus now falls on two of the freshmen - Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant. Cooney is now one of the only pure shooters remaining on the team (even if he hasn't shown it much yet). We need him to act as a threat from deep in order to stretch defenses, otherwise teams are just going to sit in tight zones which will put our half court offense in a bad place. Grant can help bring the length that James provides on defense, which has been among James' more underrated roles this year. He's been very solid on the wing, so Jerami will need to step up on that end.
Which part of Southerland's game will be the toughest to replace?
AP: The instant impact scoring. No one besides MCW has the athleticism to run up and down the court, shoot from the outside and drive to the basket while still playing solid defense. Once Southerland hits the floor, you know he is putting up points and no one is stopping him. Only Triche and MCW have shown the ability to do the same.
JC: As mentioned above, Southerland's shooting will be difficult to replace. Grant won't be tossing up an abundance of jumpers, so the Orange will rely on Trevor Cooney off the bench if they hope to regain that shooting touch. On a positive note, Southerland devolved into a bit of a volume shooter recently (16-of-44 from the floor over the last three games), so some smarter shot selection may actually be a huge boon for the team.
MM: It's easy to say consistent shooting, right? I mean even with Southerland Syracuse's outside game was pathetic, losing him means teams can practically play Syracuse like its five Rajon Rondos on the court. The other part of the equation in losing Southerland means Syracuse losses a big piece of irrational confidence (copyright Bill Simmons). Southerland just acted the part even when he was shooting 0 for 10. Should the Orange be down, on the road, in a tough spot, who will be the one to ignore everything and just keep shooting? That could be Brandon Triche -- who could use this stretch to cement his Orange legacy.
CD: Clearly it's the three point shooting. CJ might be able to match or exceed Southie's raw numbers, but has nowhere near Dirty's ability to stretch an opposing defense. Triche is a passable 3pt shooter, but not outstanding. We know about MCW's struggles from deep. Grant had better not go Donte Greene on us and start chucking. That leaves Cooney, who came in expected to be the three point specialist. I've spend a lot of time defending Cooney of late. He's not a terrible player or even a terrible shooter. Right now, though, he's one-dimensional. Opponents know he's only a real threat to catch and shoot, so they give him the long, chest-to-chest close out, which makes him uncomfortable. I give him credit for still letting them fly, but it's clearly affecting his efficiency. That, and Southie was a match up nightmare in that he could play from deep and at the rim. Sure, you have Cooney to stretch the D and CJ to put in work in the lane, but having one guy to do both is a huge advantage.
JS: For a team that seemingly has trouble with shooting the 3-pointer that is the most obvious aspect SU will miss. But as I pointed out Monday (shameless plug), I think its the senior leadership. Southerland was ready to make his mark on his and Brandon Triche's team, and it seemed everyone was looking at those two to lead. Now, he will not be able to.
SK: When Southerland gets hot, he's basically unstoppable. And I don't think there's anyone else on the bench who can go into "F U Mode" the way he can. We'd like to think Cooney has the ability but obviously he's going to need more time stewing. It's that uber-spark off the bench that he provides and Waiters provided last year that makes him so valuable. He comes in and there is no drop-off in quality. No one else can do that.
DL: I touched on it above, but he is really our only guy who can put up major points in a hurry, aside from Triche when he has one of those nights where he's really hot. Southerland has been a better all around player this season, and doesn't rely on going 6-for-6 from three to be productive any more, but he can still go crazy like he did against Arkansas, and we'll probably see a lot of teams pack it in against us without the threat of James going scorched earth from beyond the arc.
Can SU beat #1 Louisville this weekend without him?
AP: Yes, but MCW, CJ and Triche will all need at least 15 apice. CJ will need a double double effort, Triche will have to make smart shot choices and play most of the game but MCW will be key. MCW needs to hit at least 50% of his shots and PASS FIRST FOR CHRIST'S SAKE. Don't think all of this will happen, but it's possible.
JC: I'd love to sit here and say with confidence that Syracuse stands a chance against Louisville (with or without Southerland). But given our recent offensive issues (inconsistency, rather than a scoring problem), it'll be tough to match the Cardinals' firepower. Now, if MCW would step up to his pre-Lord &Taylor-gate self, maybe we'd be in business. However, expecting Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair to carry the scoring load on their own seems like too much.
MM: Honestly, even with Southerland I didn't think Syracuse could win at Louisville. The Cards seem to be getting healthier and its a team already loaded with talent playing in front of a ruckus KFC Yum(!) Center crowd. With the way SU has looked over the last month, which correlates directly with the schedule getting tougher, by the way, this game almost seem destined to be a rude wake up call. However, with CJ Fair flying all over the place and Triche stepping up as leader, and the frosh just gutting it out, maybe SU pulls out the classic ugly, 56 - 54 win?
CD: Of course they can beat Louisville without Southerland. Look, I'm not knocking the Cardinals at all, but I'm still not buying the hype either. They're very good, but not so good that a presumably top 5 ranked Syracuse can't beat them even without the best 6th man in the country. I think we all know that playing Louisville is a lot like playing Syracuse. Yeah, a guy that's going to knock in 6 threes is great, but if you fall in love with the long jumper, chances are you're going to lose. So, to me, the key player to a Syracuse victory is will still be on the floor, which is CJ Fair. He showed his ability to be a zone-killer against Providence, with his size to play inside without being intimidated and the touch to make those 8-10 foot jump shots. Every color guy who's ever called a Syracuse game has said that, to best beat the zone, you need a big guy who can make plays from the foul line. CJ Fair is the epitome of that guy. Now, granted, the Louisville zone will be much better than Providence's but the play of CJ Fair would be the key to the game with or without Southerland. Another thing to consider. The game isn't until the 19th. If this situation is academic, there's a good amount of time for South to fix whatever happened and regain his eligibility. So, there's an outside chance that he won't even miss the game.
JS: Yes, but only because I think Southerland's presence in this game - against a team that presses and guard play will be the bigger key - will not have as much of an effect. But, overall, he's length on defense, 3-point shooting, rebounding and all-around tools will really be missed in a NCAA Tournament game; if he's gone that long.
SK: Sure? We do weird things like win without a key player in critical situations. Like Andrew said on the site Monday, losing Southerland this year isn't like losing Fab Melo last year. We have guys who can transition in to that space and fill up the stat sheet. There was no one to do that in lieu of Fab last year. That said, it's a tall task to beat Louisville and I'd feel a lot better knowing we had all our guys on hand. You know how we are...one guy has a terrible game, one guy has an amazing game and everyone else has to put it together in between. We just lost the guy who potentially could have been our amazing game performer.
DL: They can, Louisville isn't unbeatable by any stretch, but it doesn't make things easier. I think having a focused Michael Carter-Williams is by far the most important thing for SU this weekend. I'm afraid of Louisville's press doing major damage against our backcourt, especially when we only have three guards out there, so MCW is going to need to protect the ball and play a really great game for the Orange to take this game.