Welcome back to the Syracuse basketball roundtable... Oh man, things feel different this week, don't they? Two losses and a nail-biting win later, there's a whole lot of doubt hanging over this fan base. I'm not guaranteeing this article fixes that, but at least know others are in the exact same boat as you.
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...
How's your health, given the last two weeks of Syracuse basketball?
Chris Daughtrey: It's fine. If the Orange had lost all of those close ones, my liver might be in revolt, but that's about it. I think you like close games, as a basketball fans.
Matt McClusky: Let's just say I suffered a fairly significant burn on Saturday night, to my leg and ankle actually -- to explain it would be far too embarrassing.
Jeremy Ryan: Let's put it this way - I don't think it's a coincidence that Jim Boeheim is a spokesman for SUNY Upstate in Syracuse. Maybe these close games are all a scam to drum up more business for the hospital...?
Jared Smith: Sorry for the language, but it is fucking awful. I have gotten to the point in this relationship where I am an emotional roller coaster, which ends and I end up saying to myself, "self why the hell do I do this?" Yes, SU is winning and I am very grateful (because my other sports teams suck), but STOP IT. STOP. JUST STOP! I can't take it anymore. I am not in the mood for this tight-game bullshit. Either win by double digits or lose by double digits (that has a last gasp run that is meaningless but seems like it means something). All I am is pissed win or lose, and this should never happen.
Dan Lyons: Eh...the BC game was way worse for my mental state than the Duke game. I can mentally comprehend losing to Duke at Cameron, as well as getting jobbed by a bad call. I can't really deal with losing to a team that was six and 123 before we played them. Overall though, I'm good. We're 26-2, gotta keep perspective with these things.
Sean Keeley: Syracuse basketball is a bit like a virus that you're constantly being exposed to. The first time you deal with its horrors, you barely survive. But you start to build up antibodies. The next time it still hurts but it's not quite as terrifying. You keep building up antibodies but the virus keeps evolving and changing. So in a way you get used to it but you never quite become immune.
John Cassillo: I ranted after the game in the comments and on Twitter. And while I may walk some of those impassioned exclamations back, I don't take back the main premise: I hate this. I don't like it when wins feel like losses, and I can't stand it when we play ourselves into situations where we could conceivably lose in the closing seconds of every single game. So, my health? Been better.
Should the Orange (and Jim Boeheim) just embrace their new role as the ACC's villain?
CD: Absolutely. Wilbon made the point on PTI that Syracuse is taking Maryland's place as the "northern" school and, as such, will receive whatever ire is directed at those "damn yankees". Use it. Show them that, hate as they might, Syracuse is going to come into your gym and kick your ass more often than not.
MM: I think Boeheim embraced his role as "Old Guy Who Has Seen It All" role years ago. He's been there and done that and everybody else is the new guy trying to change things. Even though it's the ACC, this is still Boeheim's league because basketball is Boeheim's league and you're not going to tell him how things are done. He's the employee who's been there forever and everyone else is the newbie training.
JR: I don't think anyone will ever truly hate SU more than Duke, but it's sure is fun trying!
JS: Hell yeah. Why not? I mean, for the final few years in the Big East everyone hated us for leaving. Might as well stir the pot in the new league and make everyone hate us. I especially love it when they hate us because we are winning and Jim Boeheim is just saying whatever the hell is on his mind. That is how you're suppose to make people hate you.
DL: Sure. I'd rather that than Jim Boeheim try to change what he's all about. I want Boeheim to be as ornery and salty as he's always been, it works for him. If that means the old school teams in the conference don't like us, so be it.
SK: YES! I love being the villain. Being hated means you're really, really good. And I want Syracuse to be at the level that demands hatred from our rivals. I do think we're a little bit of a new toy and have a lot of focus right now, which will probably fade over time as people remember how much they hate Duke and UNC, but I'd like to keep up the disdain.
JC: Own it. Fan bases hate us for various reasons (long-standing success, a sense of superiority, disdain for Southern traditions, etc.) and I doubt this program's sustained winning does anything to curtail those feelings. If we're going to take control of this league on the court, might as well go all in and be hated for it from the start.
What's your biggest concern among the many issues this squad's dealing with right now?
CD: It has to be the lack of offense. The defense is still rock solid. CJ, for the most part, has been his same reliable self. Grant has been in beast mode for the greater part of the ACC schedule. Syracuse needs that reliable third scorer. Cooney has been slumping. Christmas has been better, but still in consistent. Same with Gbinije. And, Ennis, for as good as he's been, hasn't quite yet learned how to read the overall game to see when he's going to need to score and when he can hang back and distribute.
MM: Wheeww, that's a good question with a lot of correct answers. Fatigue is a major concern, the lack of consistency is a major flaw, but I'll go with injuries as the biggest worry for Syracuse. The national media never considered Dajuan Coleman a true starter and Baye Keita was evidently disposable, but the truth is, Coleman's being out and Keita's missing time has been a major factor for Syracuse. Throw Jerami Grant's back into the equation and SU is the definition of limping to the finish line, which probably explains the fatigue and the inconsistencies.
JR: Even considering the recent health woes, I have to go with scoring. SU's offense has simply been brutal lately. Shooting has gone in the tank ever since the Duke win. I just don't think they push the pace enough and get enough easy opportunities. That's what Michael Carter-Williams excelled at - pushing the ball in the open floor. Tyler Ennis is more conservative, and while that leads to far fewer turnovers it also affords fewer chances.
JS: Scoring. For this team to be a Final Four contender it needs to score more. Initially, I thought the Orange were victims of teams playing at a slow pace—can't score a ton when other teams hold you to 41 or so shots per game.
DL: I think we're tired and beat up. Dead legs are really the only explanation for those wide open shots we saw Cooney miss the other night. This stretch of all road games is brutal. While we have to travel to Virginia next, I'm just glad the team got a few days off, feels like we've almost played too much basketball recently.
SK: Injuries, I think. We're one catastrophic injury away from some serious trouble. If we lose one player for the season, or even indefinitely, I just don't know if this six-man rotation can get it done in the long haul. The season is already wearing on these guys, could they deal if Jerami Grant or even Baye Keita were lost for the year?
JC: I've been tossing around either "injuries" or "offense," and at this point, I think it has to be "offense." Whether we've had a fully healthy lineup or not, this team just cannot seem to put the ball in the basket with consistency any more. We're not hitting (or attempting) threes, which should mean higher percentage shots. Instead, we're looking at field goal percentages hanging around 40 percent, missed five-footers, a lack of aggression and no transition game (the last one's been the case all season). If we're going to progress in the postseason, SU has to score more than 55-60 points per game.
Should Michael Gbinije start over Trevor Cooney?
CD: No. We saw last year with Trevor how much confidence affects his performance. He needs that security blanket of knowing he's going to get his minutes. And, it's not like he's playing poorly. He's still playing good D. He's still a reliable ball handler. He's still working hard off the ball. He's just not hitting. The best way for him to break out of his slump is to keep playing and keep shooting.
MM: No, I think Trevor Cooney has earned his starting role, and, just the same, Michael Gbinije has absolutely earned being the first-man-up and is even earning the all important Starters Minutes. For too long, Gbinije looked overwhelmed, he now looks very comfortable, let's not mess with that rhythm.
JR: No. Cooney has said on more than one occasion that confidence plays a big role in his shooting. You want to make that worse by benching him? Besides, he still plays good defense and provides an adequate secondary ballhandler against opposing pressure. I don't think he gets enough credit for that.
JS: Um, no. Defensively, it is nice to see Gbinije's length and athleticism. Offensively and overall, Cooney is a better player. It is nice that we're having this conversation though because that means Gbinije is doing good things off the bench.
DL: Nope. Cooney is slumping, but he still spreads the floor more effectively than Gbinije. Teams don't know what he's going to do, and if they let him be, he'll drop 30 on them, so he is still incredibly valuable as a threat, even if he's not hitting. G's been great the last few games, but I think we also need him on the bench because he's our only guard and forward sub at this point. He gives us more versatility coming into the game later.
SK: I don't think it matters. Boeheim's model of playing time basically dictates that the starting lineup is irrelevant. And if you really think Gbinije is is the hot hand, let him take on the Dion Waiters role and come off the bench as a spark plug.
JC: I think Gbinije's a better defender in the zone and a better shooter of late (other than the Notre Dame game, Cooney's been ice cold). Take a look at those wide-open threes, and it's regularly Cooney's man hitting them. I guess it doesn't matter if Gbinije starts if he ends up playing 25 minutes off the bench. Just seems like he might do well starting fast and early in the game.
Time to vent (or not): The perils of playing stall-ball, as we have for nearly 40 years...
CD: It's been one of my pet peeves for years. But this year, like everything else, it's a double edged sword. On the one hand, they don't score easily, so eating clock while they're ahead is a good thing. The sooner the final buzzer sounds, the better. But, at the same time, if they can't get a good shot and/or miss, then they've given them that much less time to get a bucket should they need it on the next possession. But, overall, I think that, for this team, it's the best strategy.
MM: I'll forever be okay with it. I mean, prior to Jim Boeheim showing up Syracuse had 949 wins as a program. Since Boeheim came along? You can add 946 more victories. So, in other words, Jim Boeheim knows what it takes to win. Anyone who has watched "Boeheim on Basketball" knows that under five minutes in a game is "winning time" to the old coach and generally when the air comes out of the ball. Personally, I would like to see the air come out with two or three minutes to play, but, again, Boeheim knows basketball and I'll cede control on this to the guy in the Hall of Fame.
JR: I think changing a team's offensive philosophy in the last few minutes of a game is bad mojo. I feel like it's the basketball equivalent of the prevent defense - and we know how well that usually works. You have to dance with who (or what) brought ya, right?
JS: When I was younger I didn't like it. Now that I am older and wiser, I completely understand it, especially when you're up 6-8 points with 2 minutes remaining or so. At that point in the game, the only way a team should beat you is A) you stop making shots and stop playing defense; B) you give them more time. If you milk the clock then the other team runs out of team (aka: opportunities to pull-off a comeback). I don't like it, however, when Syracuse decides to stall up 4 with two or so minutes left. At that point, the opposing team is still in the game and just needs one stop to make it a one-possession game. Time is still your friend, but the only way you're going to put the nail in the coffin is to run a good play and push the lead back up to 6 or 7. To recap, no problem playing stall ball when you're up by 3 to 5 possessions in the final minutes. Not a big fan, if you're lead is only 2 possessions (like Monday night) and you're just stalling because your team can't score either.
DL: It can be frustrating, and I don't like doing it with seven minutes left, but frankly Boeheim's been doing it forever, and it leads to wins like 95% of the time. The reason Maryland was a near-disaster is because they got hot and we couldn't hit a field goal down the stretch. If we continued to shoot poorly at a faster pace, Maryland might have gotten more possessions and taken the lead. It's not the prettiest basketball in the world, but it almost always works, and that's what matters.
SK: …is that all it takes it one hot shooter to stall you directly into an L. But you know what, if Boeheim hasn't changed by now, he ain't never gonna...
JC: I hate stall-ball, win or lose, but especially when hitting the breaks (as we did on Monday) leads to nearly tossing away a sure victory. Totally get that Boeheim's always done it and always will. And as much as I support Coach's decisions for the most part, I'll just never be able to get behind this one -- especially when I can only recall the times it has backfired.
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