Syracuse Basketball Roundtable: Is it Too Early to Start Praising This Team?

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

TNIAAM's esteemed basketball panel heaps praise on this team... though is it too early for that?

Welcome back to the Syracuse basketball roundtable! A lot of good things have happened so far this year, and as a result, we're all pretty happy about the state of this squad. Yes, we've been here before and it never lasts forever. But for now, let's enjoy yet another strong start by the Orange basketball team.

As is and will be the norm all season, we're chatting about Syracuse basketball, the ACC and anything else that might come up in the never-ending soap opera that is Jim Boeheim's Orange team. Join us below...

Which win was more impressive: Baylor or Indiana?

Chris Daughtrey: Neither? Both? I've long been in a place as a fan where I expect the Orange to win every game, even the ones we know going in will be tough. So I won't say that I leaped for joy at either win (aside from the normal gratitude for every W). But, if I have to pick one, I'll go with IU. Baylor might be better overall than Indiana, but the whole front line was hampered with foul trouble against the Hoosiers, CJ sat the bench more than he has in every game up to this point combined, Grant was a virtual no-show...yet they were able to ride the back court to a double digit win.

Lisa Nelson: Indiana. Not that Baylor isn't a great win, but it was the 17-point margin over Indiana that put me over the edge. It actually surprised me, as did the ridiculous stats put up by, well, everyone. They made it look easy. They made it look good. They made the pundits take real notice. Can you hear me now?

Aaron Goldfarb: Baylor. We already knew we could make Indiana look like a junior high squad (and not, like, one of those good junior high squad full of kids with mustaches). We didn't realize we could, eventually, do likewise to Baylor.

Matt McClusky: I'll go Baylor just because of the variables to the win. Syracuse beat the Bears on the third night of back-to-back-to-backs, plus it was a victory on a neutral court. A much different atmosphere than having the 26,000 or so Orange fans packed into the Dome (along with a few clothed and unclothed Hoosiers fans) cheering on Syracuse. Indiana will eventually be pretty good; Baylor is pretty good right now and Syracuse beat the Bears fairly soundly on short rest far from home.

Jeremy Ryan: I'd say Indiana. Baylor has a good, athletic team, but they have been hot and cold for the last couple of years. Indiana seems to have their house back in order after the Kelvin Sampson debacle, and look to be a Big Ten power as long as Tom Crean is their coach. But SU handled fairly easily them for most of Tuesday's game, and if they can play that way against ACC competition they should win the league outright.

Sean Keeley: Actually gonna say Indiana. I feel like the team really got in a zone (no pun intended) in Maui. The Indiana game required the team to regroup afterward and prove they're not just a bunch of Hawaii warriors (again…). It was also pretty friggin' sweet to see Syracuse obliterate Crean and the Hoosiers once again.

John Cassillo: I didn't buy into Baylor to begin with, and was openly rooting for them to beat Dayton so we'd get the easier opponent (though not by ranking) to beat in the Maui final. So, I guess It's Indiana. It was a huge showcase game in primetime and in the big scheme of things, that's probably what matters most to everyone in terms of perception. Both wins were notable. We'll see later on this year which was more so.

What's been the biggest key to Syracuse's success thus far?

CD: Despite what Jim Boeheim might say, I think it's been defense. This SU team hasn't been running opponents out of the gym or setting the nets on fire. They've won through excellent guard play and by playing stingy defense without fouling, despite the new rules. If/when the Orange find a consistent bench scorer, they'll be nigh unbeatable.

LN: Time. We all know the narrative, right? Syracuse lost a lot and replaced it with on-paper talent that hasn't played together -- or played at all, in some cases. All they needed was time to gel. Yea, there's a lot of skill on this team, but everyone will have an off-night. Skill isn't enough. Time allowed the chemistry to develop, and that's what has allowed the Orange to roll.

AG: Cooney shooting the ball like a non-tattooed white person is supposed to shoot the ball from long range. And, Tyler Ennis's sultry smooth stylings running the show. Also he never turns the ball over.

MM: Guard play, period. Trevor Cooney has been unconscious from deep, hitting at a clip NO ONE thought he could. And Tyler Ennis is as smooth under pressure and as pure a point guard as advertised. There's no question Syracuse's defense has been a major factor through this early season success, but a team is only as good as its guards in college basketball. And so far Syracuse looks guards look championship worthy -- although the backups to Cooney and Ennis look the exact opposite of championship worthy.

JR: Guard play. Much like last year, the guards make the team go. You know what you're getting from C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant. They're the two most consistent players on the team. But when Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney play well, so does the squad as a whole. The forwards and centers get better looks, the defense creates more turnovers, and the offense gets out in transition. When Ennis and Cooney aren't playing to their level they're capable of, the rest of the team can suffer - not unlike how Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche drove the engine for the Orange last season.

SK: Gotta be the strong play of the backcourt, which was exceeded expectations big-time. Ennis is not playing like a guy who is eight games into his college career. As for Cooney, he's officially the guy we hoped he would be. Pretty impressive to watch it happen and now they just gotta keep it up.

JC: Defense, mostly driven by guard play. We're forcing over 17 turnovers per game right now, which is 11th in the country. This zone isn't as suffocating as last season's, but I'd argue they're more opportunistic and almost lull the opposition into mistakes. And this squad's actually faced a few good teams so far, which means this could (potentially) be sustainable.

Has Tyler Ennis lived up to your expectations through eight games?

CD: Surpassed, easily. I was impressed with his poise when I watched his high school highlight mix tapes. I was impressed still during the exhibitions. He's only gotten better since the regular season started. Maybe you can harp on his poor shooting at the start but, to me, that only accentuated his maturity. He wasn't shooting well, but he didn't start gunning to break out of his slump or shy away from shots because he wasn't hitting. He made the plays that were available, trusting that things would even out eventually.

LN: Yes! Who would say no to this? If you say no to this, I veto you. I mean, the kid's assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 4-to-1! Holy cow!

AG: Exceeded. It's almost startling how he never does a single thing wrong. We've had a decade of risk-reward point guards -- ranging from solid to incredible -- but Ennis is our first reward-reward-reward-\infty point guard. Having said that, it still feels like he's just scratched the surface.

MM: Yes and then some. For the most part Ennis is shooting better than I expected, and his knack for getting to the rim is key to getting Cooney plenty of open looks. The frosh from Canada never looks rattled and always seems to do the right thing -- if he isn't hitting shots he's finding the open teammate; if he's feeling it he's getting to the rim. Ennis is playing like a player far beyond his experience.

JR: I would say so. He's had his ups and downs - he's a freshman, after all. But the last couple of weeks have been a revelation, as if the light bulb finally came on and he realized how good he can be. He won't be as flashy as MCW - not on a regular basis, anyway - but his ability to remain consistent and contribute even without scoring a lot may prove to be his best assets.

SK: What did I just say? I figured it might take a few weeks for him to get his legs under him but he's exceeded expectations. Let's see how those legs hold up in ACC play (why so focused on the dude's legs?).

JC: Oh, absolutely (yes, I know I asked the question). Ennis and Cooney need each other to remain as efficient as they've been thus far, and a lot of that is due to how active Ennis is on both ends. I want him to keep playing at such a high level, though at the same time, I fear he could be attracting too much attention from NBA scouts to stick around for more than this year. If it delivers a title, oh well...

Was the team's excellent free-throw shooting just a fluke in Maui? Seems like it after the Indiana game.

CD: Fluke in that guys like Rak and Grant shot lights out. And, unfortunately, those are the guys that are getting the lion's share of the FTAs. But Ennis, Cooney and CJ are money from the stripe. If those guys can put themselves in position to shoot more free throws, Syracuse's percentage will go up.

LN: Sort of. The soft rims were the ultimate cause. But really, I almost wish they hadn't shot so well from the line because now we know they can do it. From now on, the horrid free-throw shooting will be that much more aggravating.

AG: Maui's rims were softer than the one nailed above my neighbor's garage. Having said that, three of our top four players ARE great foul-shooters (Ennis, Cooney, and Fair). It all comes down to Grant. If he shoots FTs well, then we are a great foul-shooting team. And, I think when he actually focuses, he will prove he can hit them at a solid rate.

MM: During the California game it was mentioned that the Syracuse players felt more comfortable in a smaller gym without all the open spaces that surround the court at the Dome. I'm not sure I totally believe that, but given those three nights in Hawaii, there may be some validity to it. Whatever the answer actually is, after watching for as long as we all have, I can confidently say Syracuse will not shoot 80 to 90 percent from the free throw line this season.

JR: Teams can get hot from the free throw line just like everywhere else, and in a small gym like the Lahaina Civic Center you get better sightlines and shooting backgrounds than most major college arenas. Plus, I heard from a couple of the players that the Maui rimes were really 'soft' and gave them a lot of shooters' rolls. A couple of free throws rolling in instead of out each game can easily change your opinion of a team's shooting prowess.

SK: We're just going to have to trust Jerami Grant and his "we'll make them when it matters" mentality. I can put a lot of holes in that line of thinking, but, I suppose, it's better than nothing.

JC: Not necessarily a fluke, but a case of everything going right at the same time. Obviously, the inverse will happen at some point this year, resulting in an inexplicable loss. These things happen. We're probably hanging around 67 percent for the rest of the year, because this is Syracuse basketball, and some things never change.

Any nerves at all regarding Mike Hopkins signing with an agent?

CD: None. To me, the talk about his next contact being as a head coach is just posturing for the next round of negotiations. Driving up the price in the (likely) event that Jim B is still around when Hop's current contract is up. Hell, I'd be surprised if it even went that far. Hop will likely have an extension in the works after this season. I don't think Hop has any intention of leaving SU. I know that he kind of got screwed out of a fair shake at the USC job but, at the same time, if he wanted it that bad he would have taken it right away and not been been that position. Hop is a Salt City lifer.

LN: I was indifferent at first, but then Sean was all, "...waiting around for Boeheim to retire just isn't gonna cut it anymore." It made me think about it differently, and in a way that freaked me out. Way to stir the pot, Keeley!

AG: This will make me sound like the world's biggest douche, but where I live, everyone I know has an agent or manager. So...uh, no.

MM: None. Actually, what's lower than zero? Can I have negative concerns about Hopkins signing with an agency? Mike Hopkins loves him some Syracuse University. If he was really that unhappy and really wanted to leave, A) He would have left long ago, and B) He wouldn't sign on with an agent during or right before the season. That's a bad distraction that Hopkins wouldn't cause. My guess is he is just getting his ducks in a row for whatever reason -- maybe to do more promotional things or maybe to help negotiate his next deal with Syracuse. Whatever the answer, I doubt he thinks signing with an agent is the key to actually getting a job somewhere else.

JR: Not really. I was a little surprised that he didn't have one already, to be honest. The SU head job is his when Jim Boeheim finally hangs up the whistle, but perhaps Hopkins is starting to get a little bored and wants to do something else until that day comes. Or maybe he wants to stick around, but negotiate a nice little raise while he waits. Even if Hopkins was to leave, I think he'd come back for the SU gig in a heartbeat. And that's all we really care about, isn't it?

SK: Originally I was bummed knowing it means he is almost certainly gone after this season. However, maybe it's great news in the long-term for us. He goes somewhere else, gets a couple years of HC experience under his belt and when Boeheim finally retires, we hire Hopkins back. Of course, you put back-up plans in effect but there's really no reason (short of Hopkins going somewhere and bombing) of changing his status as coach-in-waiting.

JC: Which jobs are open next year? While I sort of buy into Hop wanting a head coaching job, I doubt he just leaves for Central Connecticut State or UMKC. He'd need a desirable job to bounce from Syracuse, where he's already assured the top job. I'm terrified for what happens to this program if he leaves -- both due to his coach-in-waiting status and his role in recruiting. Please don't leave, Mike. I'll set up a Kickstarter to increase your salary. Really.

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