Here's how you know Syracuse Orange fans take Boeheim's Army and their quest to win TBT way too seriously. I'm about to write a serious post on what the team full of SU alums needs to do moving forward.
That's what happens when we all get way too excited about the team each summer. We then get disappointed when they don't win the grand prize and wonder aloud what they could have done differently. We feel that familiar pain in our chest and abdomen that comes with watching Syracuse Basketball. We're emotionally invested. And so, here we are.
So yeah, a year after losing in the elite eight of The Basketball Tournament, a retooled Army squad fell short in this year's quarterfinals. They were done in by two of Syracuse Basketball's great nemeses: Pitt and free throws.
On paper, it can feel a little surprising that the Army struggles in the later rounds of TBT. We see our guys, with all their NBA and pro experience, and we think they're obviously going to make it to the finals. I think because we're so close to these guys, it's hard for us to see that many other teams have players just as talented. Clearly.
Alright, so let's get serious about this fun thing for a moment. The hard truth is that if Boeheim's Army wants to move further in next year's TBT, which they plan to be a part of, what tough choices do they have to make in order to get it done?
Too Many Cooks?
We spent all week wondering who The Ringer would be and, though it was a lot of fun, I think it lulled us into a false sense that this person was going to show up and help Boeheim's Army dominate. We found out it was James Southerland and it sounded great cause he filled a hole (three-point shooting). Not only that but then Donte Greene showed up as well and between all of the guys already there and these two newbies, the roster appeared to be absolutely stacked.
Perhaps too stacked?
Ultimately, Southerland's Ringer stint lasted all of twelve minutes. He attempted three field goals and scored two points. Rick Jackson and Baye Moussa Keita also only saw twelve minutes of action while Donte Greene played fifteen. Darryl Watkins, whose presence really made itself known when he was on the court, saw 15 minutes of playing time. Even the guys who made the biggest contributions (Willie Deane, Eric Devendorf, Hakim Warrick) plated in 20-27 minute range.
It all makes you wonder if Boeheim's Army wouldn't benefit from being a little less...loaded. There might be a sense that because each guy on the roster is notable in their own way, they all need to see significant minutes. That can mean players who don't need to be leaned on are being asked to do so. It can also mean players who are making big contributions have to sacrifice minutes for the "greater good."
In Thursday's game, The Army played a very un-Boeheim eleven players. Their opponents, The Untouchables, played eight. Each of the Pitt team's players saw significant action as well, but they didn't quite need to spread time around as much as the SU squad.
Brandon Triche also told Donna Ditota that the need to play everyone conflicted with coach Ryan Blackwell's ability to send out balanced lineups.
"We struggled with our rotations as far as the five we put in," guard Brandon Triche said. "A lot of times it was me and four power forwards. You feel a little on an island out there. And then man-to-man, we have two guards, but C.J. (Fair) or James (Southerland) have to guard a point guard. We struggled to find the best five-guy rotation throughout the game."
It could be a tough ask of Kevin Belbey next time around, basically forcing him to have to tell a few guys "thanks but no thanks" in this quest for $2 million. But perhaps Boeheim's Army would be better off taking a cuse from their namesake and trimming down the roster.
That said, one area where the team was lavishly-loyal to Boeheim was by sticking to the 2-3 zone for the bulk of game-play. Boeheim's zone is so successful because his players are constantly practicing it, fine-tuning it, and perfecting it. It's all they think about for their entire year.
Boeheim's Army asked a bunch of guys who probably don't play a lot of zone anymore to fit back in to it's format. It's not impossible to do, but it means they probably won't be as effective as we'd like to think. That was clear as The Untouchables were able to slice up the zone thanks to their speedy guards and crisp passing. The Army also didn't have the team speed to keep up on their end.
Even though this is a team made up of mostly Syracuse guys and it bears the name of their legendary coach, they need to just worry about playing the best possibly way for themselves. No one is going to hold their feet to the fire if they never zone up during the 2017 TBT. We'll crack jokes but ultimately who cares.
There's other tweaks the team could make to their game play. They include figuring out more a set offense, focusing on shooters over big bodies, hitting their dang free throws, and doing everything they possibly can to avoid a team full of Pitt players. Regardless, it's clear that The Army is on a good path as they keep making it to the second week of The Basketball Tournament. But it's also clear they need to start thinking differently if they want to go any further.