The Syracuse Orange need to score efficiently enough in the half court to win their most difficult games. It’s easy to remember (and forget) last year’s 51-49 loss to Notre Dame. Jim Boeheim’s proclamation that the press and 10 ensuing steals were the difference in SU’s 66-34 opening win over an underwhelming Eastern Washington team presents both positive and negative indications into a new season.
The Orange can and will induce their press upon opponents with newfound depth in order to spark the offense. Yet, their infusion of talent should elevate the team’s offensive fortune sans relying on said press. Syracuse shot 38.7 percent against EWU in an offensive performance reminiscent of last year, but motored to their potential — 84 points — in the following win over Morehead State.
Oshae Brissett thrived in the opener, previewing the potential gains his offseason could propel him toward in 2018-19. He then ripped off 14 points in the first half against Morehead, bodying defenders inside and dishing passes from multiple positions. He’s doubled his assists per game from 0.9 in 2017-18 to 2.0.
Brissett isolated himself with trainers and his girlfriend in Las Vegas over the summer, reuniting with Younis Hussein of Ontario. He also worked with Findlay coach Rodney Haddix and Impact’s Drew Moore, and later on campus with assistant coach Adrian Autry on his shot.
That practice translated into 20 points, eight rebounds, two assists and three steals over 29 minutes playing EWU. His statistical output in fewer minutes (anything’s less than his average of entire games of 2017-18), combined with an efficient shooting line — 8-for-15 — provided needed production through an inconsistent team performance.
“He’s very aggressive,” Boeheim said. “He’s got to do what he did. He got on the boards. He was physical. Got to the basket. He’s been shooting the ball as well.”
The eldest Boeheim on the Orange initially said he hadn’t seen Brissett at practice before the season began, possibly due to his work out West. Brissett attended Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada for his junior year of high school.
Three years later, he appears capable of building on his stat sheet-pounding freshman campaign with the dose of efficiency needed to both elevate Syracuse’s offense and draw NBA attention. His first move against EWU featured a left-handed dribble drive.
By the time EWU’s Jesse Hunt regained his position inside, Brissett thrashed through him and Jack Perry for his first points on a two-handed slam, plus the foul. Brissett’s first three makes against Morehead were all and-ones. He’s shooting 14-for-33, 42.4 percent, up nearly seven points from 17-18.
Brissett favored the high post territory as a passing outlet and for driving lanes. He effectively froze his dribble and extended to the rim off his pivot foot from the block for his second pair of points.
Both buckets came from his own creation on the ball, important in the absence of healthy point guard play. He also continues to follow his shots all the way to the rim, something that’s put him in prime position to grab his own misses. While that doesn’t do his shooting percentage any favors, it generates needed points. Brissett is averaging 10.5 rebounds per game since moving to the power forward position in Frank Howard’s absence.
He used the press to grab his first steal in a double team with Elijiah Hughes that he essentially took and strolled to Eastern Washington’s rim for another aggressive dunk to push SU ahead 20-8. He scored seven points in 14 minutes through that stretch, but watched his first two attempts from three miss.
Brissett hit his first and only from outside — 1-of-4 in both games — after the timeout, with a high release point reminiscent of Andre Iguodala. Iguodala is a career 33 percent three-point shooter in the NBA, exactly Brissett’s freshman year mark. He’s even working toward the same high arc on his shots, but much like last year — when Brissett shot 28 percent from three in non-conference — he’s started 25 percent.
The high release point is part of Adrian Autry’s effort to create a window to the basket for Brissett. Autry occasionally saw Brissett deviate from it last year when he struggled. The form and balance is fine, he said, but the consistency is crucial.
Autry praised his footwork, an important part of shooting but also to driving and distributing, which Brissett flashed too. He penetrated the paint and in motion dropped a dump off to Bourama Sidibe for one of his two assists.
Battle and Brissett will both factor greatly in minutes and scoring, but Brissett’s ability to play four and his 63.2 defensive rating could render him Boeheim’s most important two-way piece if his progression continues. It’ll probably be tough to keep up the +46.8 net rating, but a few extra assists per game will do.
In the Morehead game, Battle played point guard but got to receive the ball off the catch on plenty of opportunities thanks to Brissett averting double teams and finding the open man.
He’s even utilizing the gravity on the three-point line to draw in defenders with ball fakes and then make the extra pass. Nothing Brissett does in the passing game is exhilarating, but it keeps the ball moving, and with the addition of Hughes the extra opportunity to get him a good look will drive up the assist totals of Brissett and others.
Tyus Battle struggled from the field against EWU — shooting 3-for-10 with eight points — marking only the 11th time Brissett outscored Battle. This isn’t a scoring contest though, as Syracuse will need multiple layers of points, playmaking and shooting to escape the pits of offensive strife that largely reappeared in the opener.
As Boeheim said at halftime:
Boeheim half: “This is worse offense than we played last year. We can’t make shots, we’re not getting good movement, we’re not rebounding. At all. I don’t even think our defense is that good. It’s just that they’re missing shots because they flew 3,000 miles. Awful offense tho.”— Matt Park (@MattPark1) November 7, 2018
As Boeheim stated, the defense can be tough to gauge when lower-level teams travel to the Carrier Dome but the Morehead game did reveal a few cracks as Jordan Walker poured the complimentary rain down from outside (6-for-10 from three) over the zone. While Brissett transitioned to defending the power forward position, he did get beat on a few back door rotations.
The back door pass to the baseline is a popular way to break the 2-3 zone, especially in attempting to clear Paschal Chukwu from the paint. Brissett will likely shift back to small forward, and more perimeter defense, when Howard returns. In his stints defending the paint, the help rotations do need to be quicker.
Brissett’s multidimensional skills on offense and defense will feature him most prominently across nearly all the lineups. On a team with far more expectations than his freshman counterpart, it’ll be his opportunity to gain national recognition — and as he hopes — a title.