Generally speaking, it's difficult to judge the performance of coaches, something that's especially true when the sample size to judge is small. Unlike with players, there aren't an abundance of statistics that can be consulted to measure coaches.
So the mere fact that Mike Hopkins is 1-2 through three games as Syracuse's temporary head coach doesn't tell us much. The outcomes of individual games are often random and determined by a number of factors, not just a coach's decisions.
But with that disclaimer out of the way, it should be pointed out that Hopkins might be hurting the Orange with his lineup management, which has differentiated from how Jim Boeheim managed lineups prior to the start of his nine-game suspension. Specifically, Hopkins has been giving fewer minutes, especially in crucial situations, to Syracuse's most effective lineup.
That lineup consists of Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, Malachi Richardson, Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon. On the season, the lineup is plus-52 and it's outscoring opponents, 76.2-63.0, per 40 minutes. For context, 76.2 points per game would rank 128th among all Division I teams, while 63.0 points allowed per game would rank 33rd nationally.
The lineup is potent offensively because it pits four 3-point threats — each of those players except Roberson — on the court at once, which has been tremendous for SU's spacing. The Orange have had little trouble making the most of that space, thanks to Roberson being such an effective screener and the driving abilities of Gbinije, Cooney and Richardson.
Syracuse has also been able to flourish defensively with that lineup, despite concerns that Lydon wouldn't be able to survive in the middle of the 2-3 zone. (Lydon has done more than survive, as he leads the Orange in block percentage and leads the team's big men in defensive rebound percentage.)
|Opponent||Time Played||Time Played in Second Half||Plus/Minus|
In the five "close" games Syracuse played in this season while Boeheim was coaching — against St. Bonaventure, Elon, Connecticut, Texas A&M and Wisconsin — that lineup played an average of 20 minutes and 34 seconds per game, including an average of 13 minutes and 54 seconds per second half.
But in losses to Georgetown and St. John's under Hopkins' guidance, the lineup played only 14 minutes and 47 seconds per game, including just six minutes and 35 seconds per second half — less than half as frequently as it played in second halves under Boeheim. And it wasn't as if the lineup wasn't effective when it did play in those games; it finished plus-4 against Georgetown and plus-11 against St. John's.
When Boeheim was coaching, he used the lineup to recover from deficits and pull away late in games. During Syracuse's 79-66 win over St. Bonaventure on Nov. 17, the Orange trailed 43-35 with 15:59 to play when Boeheim subbed in Lydon for Dajuan Coleman to get the lineup on the floor. In an 11-minute span, SU then outscored the Bonnies, 29-16, before Roberson came out of the game for Coleman.
Against Connecticut in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals, Syracuse trailed 42-39 with 15:51 to play when Boeheim got the entire lineup on the court. The lineup played the rest of the game, and SU won, 79-76.
The next night against Texas A&M, the Orange led 57-56 with 7:24 to play when Boeheim replaced Coleman with Roberson to again get the lineup on the court. This time, Syracuse outscored the Aggies, 17-11, over the final seven-plus minutes en route to a 74-67 win.
As each of those games passed, it became more and more obvious that the lineup was Syracuse's most effective one, and thus the one SU should seemingly want on the court in the most pivotal situations. Despite that, Hopkins has been reluctant to turn to it in crunch time since taking over for Boeheim.
Against Georgetown, the lineup played just 12 minutes and 57 seconds, including only five minutes and 48 seconds in the second half. With Syracuse trailing by 12 to start the second half, Hopkins still trotted out SU's traditional starting lineup — consisting of Gbinije, Cooney, Richardson, Roberson and Coleman. He didn't sub out Coleman for Lydon until the Orange faced a 17-point deficit, and he removed Richardson and Roberson just three minutes later. Down the stretch, Hopkins only used the go-to lineup in short spurts, never giving it adequate time to mount a comeback.
It should be noted that foul trouble plagued Roberson against Georgetown, with the forward picking up three fouls in the first half. But it wasn't until 3:28 remained in regulation that Roberson picked up his fourth foul, and I'd argue he could've and should've been used more in the second half.
Eight days after the loss to Georgetown, Syracuse traveled to Madison Square Garden to take on St. John's. The go-to lineup saw the court for just 16 minutes and 36 seconds, including only seven minutes and 22 seconds in the second half, despite it outscoring the Red Storm by 11 points on the day. In the second half, Hopkins again only used it in short spurts — three spurts lasting an average of two minutes and 27 seconds. Like against the Hoyas, that wasn't enough time to make things interesting.
Of course, the argument against using the lineup in the St. John's game would be that Richardson, who shot 0-of-11 from beyond the arc, forced Hopkins to remove him from the game at times.
But the secret to the lineup is that it's still effective even when some of its parts aren't playing well. When Richardson's shots aren't falling, he's still able to space the floor better than Franklin Howard, who replaced Richardson for a four-minute, 14-second stretch in the second half.
Howard is pretty adept at attacking the basket, but as previously noted, so are Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson, all of whom are more threatening from the perimeter than Howard, making it difficult to justify having him break up the lineup. Perhaps not surprisingly, St. John's outscored Syracuse by three points during that stretch en route to an 84-72 win.
The loss was a third in four games for the Orange, and a second in three games for Hopkins. After starting the season 6-0, SU is now 7-3, with its season possibly beginning to spiral out of control.
If nothing else, this seems to be evidence that Boeheim's absence isn't something that should simply be dismissed as insignificant. He clearly knows his team, and being without him for six more games isn't something that will be easy for Syracuse to survive.