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Syracuse Basketball: A Cautionary Tale of the Tape

We expect the team to get better as the year goes on, and it's extremely likely the 2014-15 Syracuse Orange will be a completely different team by March 2015. But what if they don't improve as much as we think they will?

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Brent Axe tweeted out a note after the Michigan loss that caught my eye, though it didn't entirely resonate until Saturday's debacle was ending.

Most of us have been pretty rational with this team. We expect ups and downs, especially at the beginning of the season. We expect the team to get better as the year goes on, and it's extremely likely the 2014-15 Syracuse Orange will be a completely different team by March 2015.

But what if they don't improve as much as we think they will?

The 2007-08 team is a good test case for the young team that never quite developed into the "dynasty" it was once projected as. Let's see how they compare to this squad.


First let's start with the differences, because there are many. These are not the same teams. They are built around pretty different philosophies, and they have very different strengths and weaknesses.


The 2007-08 team may not have even played defense. In fact, I'm pretty sure their entire philosophy was to hope the other team missed an open shot. This was a team that gave up 107 points in regulation to UMass in the Carrier Dome. For all their flaws in 2014-15, the current Orange is still giving up just 55.9 points per game. Even in its losses, SU has given up just 70 per game, so it's not like they're getting killed on D.


One of the biggest storylines in 07-08 was the injury bug. Andy Rautins missed the entire season. Eric Devendorf blew out his knee before conference play. A freshman Scoop Jardine had to play most of the season as starting SG and was clearly not ready for that. Even if Ron Patterson had to start every game, that would still likely be better than freshman Jardine.

Rakeem Christmas

There was no one on the 07-08 team that was anywhere near the player Rakeem Christmas is. There were no senior leaders on that team, and no one who could score inside like Rak. Christmas would also score 50 points and get 40 rebounds against that Syracuse team.


Highly touted freshmen playing big roles at PG and PF

Chris McCullough is not Donte' Greene. I'm not saying that at all. But both were highly touted freshmen. Both were counted on to carry a big part of the scoring and rebounding load. Statistically, McCullough probably won't touch Greene's 17.7 points per game and will likely be close to his 7.2 rebounds per game (it's worth noting the lack of defense gave Greene's team far more possessions). Very few freshmen can handle this much pressure and thrive as a go-to option.

Likewise though, Kaleb Joseph is no Jonny Flynn. Flynn stepped in as a clear leader on day one, and carried the team as far as it could go. He scored 15.7 points per game - something Joseph probably won't even sniff this season - and played nearly every minute in conference play. Joseph seems very skilled, but the current team is clearly lacking a leader that can take over the game in crunch time, and he's not that yet.

Strength at one end offset by weakness on the other

As noted above, the 07-08 team was horrific on defense - allowing 74.3 points per game (292nd in the country). It also scored an impressive 79 points per game (24th in the country), so it wasn't like they were always getting blown out. This year, the Orange clock in at 21st in the nation in scoring defense and 186th in scoring offense (67.9 points per game).


The injuries really cut into the 07-08 team's depth, but it wasn't like there was much to begin with. Only seven players logged at least 30 games played, with Scoop, Rick Jackson, and Kristof Ongenaet playing far more prominent roles than they were ready for. This year, seven players have participated in seven of the eight Orange games so far. B.J. Johnson, Tyler Roberson and Ron Patterson seem to be playing the role of Scoop, Rick and Kristof, forced into action but not really ready to produce.


So what does it all mean? Probably nothing, but maybe something.

The 07-08 team did OK for all their deficiencies. They started 5-1 against weaker competition, then dropped non conference games to UMass and Rhode Island, to raise some concerns, but still go into conference play at 12-3.

They lost four out of five games in one stretch and 5 out of 6 in a different stretch in conference play, and looked dead in the water. But then won their last two regular season games and even had a chance at the tournament if they could have beaten Villanova (the teams had practically identical resumes and 'Nova somehow made it into the tournament likely because of their one BET victory over SU).

I still believe the current team is better than the 2007-08 version, primarily because of its defense. But there are enough similarities to cause just a little concern. Developing into a good team doesn't just happen on its own, so we shouldn't look at it as inevitable. This team has a long way to go, and it's not certain they'll get there.