Welcome to another Tuesday edition of this column. As a general rule of thumb going forward, I will continue to post these stories on Mondays, except for when Syracuse plays on Sunday. During those weeks, the column will run on Tuesday, since a couple of the sites I consult typically don't update until the day after games.
The case for more of Franklin Howard
Franklin Howard has seen his playing time increase considerably since Mike Hopkins took over as SU's interim coach in place of the suspended Jim Boeheim. After never playing more than nine minutes in a game under Boeheim, Howard has done so three times in six games with Hopkins at the helm.
In the Orange's two most recent games — against Montana State and Texas Southern — Howard saw his two highest minutes totals of the season. He tallied three points, three rebounds and five assists in 18 minutes against Montana State before scoring six points and registering three steals in 19 minutes against Texas Southern.
In those two games, Syracuse was plus-20 with Howard on the court. In each game, Howard played substantial minutes in place of Malachi Richardson in Syracuse's most effective lineup — that is, Howard frequently played alongside Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon.
In 12 minutes and 12 seconds of action, that lineup outscored Syracuse's opponents, 39-22, in those two games. Comparatively, that same lineup with Richardson in place of Howard outscored SU's opponents, 31-17, in 17 minutes and 43 seconds.
Clearly, both lineups were effective, but, while it's a small sample size, the lineup with Howard was more effective. And it's at least worth posing the question: Going forward, should the Orange use Howard more and Richardson less?
The main benefit of using Richardson is that he provides Syracuse with another threat from beyond the arc. However, that's becoming less of a legitimate point, as Richardson is now shooting just 26.2% from 3.
Howard isn't at all a threat from 3 — he's 0-of-7 on the season — but he can distribute, something Syracuse needs more of. According to kenpom.com, he has an assist rate of 32.3%, the best mark on the team, albeit in limited minutes.
So far this season, Gbinije, playing the majority of his minutes at point guard, has been forced into becoming SU's primary distributor. He's done a fine job, but if Howard can step into that role more often, it would allow Gbinije to shift to the small forward position and play off the ball, where he's traditionally been more effective.
Howard has also proven capable of helping to minimize the Orange's most glaring weakness: defensive rebounding. He has grabbed 15.5% of possible defensive rebounds — the third-best mark on Syracuse, behind Lydon and Dajuan Coleman.
Ultimately, though, Howard's playing time could be in the hands of Richardson. Syracuse lives by the 3-pointer, and if Richardson makes his 3s, he'll play. If he doesn't, though, it would probably be smart to continue giving minutes to Howard.
Trevor Cooney is improving
In recent games, Trevor Cooney's touch from beyond the arc has looked much improved. In the three games since the loss to St. John's, Cooney is 10-of-21 from 3 — good for 47.6%. On the season, he's now up to a respectable 35.1% clip from long range.
Of course, Cooney has been known in the past to go through hot stretches like this one, only to cool off again for a much longer period. But he's been taking smarter shots — mostly in open catch-and-shoot scenarios — and it's paid off. If he can continue letting the shots come to him, rather than forcing poorly-selected ones, he'll have a good chance at keeping his percentage hovering around a decent mark.
Syracuse's defense was pretty damn good in non-conference play
In non-conference play, Syracuse's defense was pretty stout. The Orange allowed opponents to effectively shoot just 45.7%, and there wasn't an area on the court where teams were better than average against SU. Take a look:
Added to that, the Orange's defense ranked 49th nationally in turnover percentage, 18th in block percentage and third in steals percentage, according to kenpom.com. Those statistics measure the percentage of possession that end in a turnover, block and steal, respectively.
But one thing continually plagued Syracuse: rebounding. Out of the 2-3 zone, the Orange failed time and again to rebound, as they currently rank 325th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. This is largely just a symptom of playing zone, but it's nonetheless prevented SU's very good defense from being great, with opponents often getting second and third chances to score. If the Orange can somehow defy the odds and figure out a way to clean things up on the defensive glass, they'll be extremely difficult to score against.