Over the past few seasons, you could have described the Syracuse Orange basketball offense in many different ways. However, even the most honest observer struggled to find many positive adjectives to use. Most of the time, words like "one-dimensional," "predictable" and "unimaginative" have come to mind.
Now, not all of that had to do with Jim Boehim's abilities as a coach or the system he was running. Boeheim just didn't have many threats to score in recent years. Generally, the offense boiled down to "clear out for the alpha dog (C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas most recently) and if that isn't open, hope
Tyler Travis Trevor Cooney gets hot from deep.
Sometimes that worked. Christmas and Fair both had moments when they were simply unstoppable and led their teams to victories. And Cooney will always have his three-point bonanza against Notre Dame. But more often than not, it led to many sub-60-point outings and perhaps culminated with last year's unwatchable 46-45 rock fight against Georgia Tech.
And before you take to the comments, yes, I am aware that we have only seen this team play one exhibition game against LeMoyne, a Division II school. But the Orange still did some things that should leave fans hopeful they can be light years more diverse on offense this year than they have in the past.
For starters, as Mike Waters at Syracuse.com pointed out, the Orange just might have more than one capable three-point shooter this year. As a team, the Orange knocked down 12 of their 32(!) long-range attempts against LeMoyne. Those 32 attempts are twice what last year's team attempted per game.
Again, it's a minuscule sample size, but Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson and even Kaleb Joseph knocked down multiple threes in Monday's exhibition. Incidentally, Cooney missed all three of his attempts from distance, but if the other shooters keep making their shots, it should give Cooney more breathing room. Gbinije said as much to Waters:
"Last year and the years before, we only had a few guys taking threes. It was very easy to key in on Trev. With everybody capable of hitting threes this year, Trev's going to get easier looks. They're not going to be able to double or shadow him on the baseline because that'll open up shots for other people and they can knock them down."
Speaking of shadowing Cooney on the baseline, that provides a perfect segue into the next point. With Cooney as the only deep threat in the past, Boeheim ran what I like to call the "Andy Rautins special." That is, run your shooter off a handful of screens along the baseline from one wing to the other and hope he gets an open look.
Now Boeheim can tweak that a little. At times against LeMoyne, Boeheim ran a similar baseline screen play, only it started with two shooters getting screens along the baseline and running to each wing, forcing the defense to choose which player to key on.
With Cooney, Richardson and Gbinije (when he is playing off the ball) all able to run these plays and catch and shoot on the perimeter, it can open up a lot more opportunities in the paint. And with the paint open, that will create more driving lanes for Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson to attack off the dribble, and it will give DaJuan Coleman some one-on-one opportunities down low.
Quick aside: It was great to see Coleman back and looking spry after over a year of rehabilitation. I'll probably still hold my breath every time he attempts a block or runs out at a three-point shooter, but the guy has worked hard and it's good to have him back.
Anyway, Coleman is probably going to need to shake off some rust, but he is nonetheless a big body inside and he can take advantage of smaller defenders. If he can pass effectively out of double-teams and go up strong with the ball instead of catching it and doing a power dribble before his shot, which can lead to him getting stripped from time to time, he can be someone defenses have to pay attention to.
Finally, there is the fact that Syracuse just seems to have more live bodies on the offensive end. In recent years, players such as Joseph, Baye Keita, B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson sometimes Tyler Roberson haven't been threats to do anything once they get the ball.
Now, Boeheim has Coleman, Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Frank Howard, who all looked comfortable with the ball in their hands. If Lydon or Coleman sets a screen, they can step out and catch a pass and continue the offense or roll hard to the rim and look to catch and finish on the run. And with the diversity the Orange has, they can run screen-and-roll sets with different combinations of players depending on the matchups.
But again, these are all observations after one exhibition game against an outmatched opponent. We will see what happens once the Orange starts facing Division I opponents and gets into the ACC gauntlet. But after a handful of seasons spent watching the Orange struggle to find any semblance of an offense, it was refreshing to see multiple players on the floor who can be threats to get buckets.