Going into this year’s edition of The Basketball Tournament, it appeared Boeheim’s Army had the recipe to win it all.
The Syracuse Orange alums were long — as would be expected for a squad of recent SU players. But the biggest perceived advantage was center Arinze Onuaku, one of the biggest players participating in the event and a clear step above what other teams could use to attack the paint. Size, it seemed, was how Boeheim’s Army was going to win TBT.
And yet, it all came crashing down in a 90-86 loss to a hot shooting Golden Eagles (Marquette alums) team on Sunday.
In that game, the opponent hit 20 threes on 37 attempts. Though that’s certainly an anomaly against this zone and BA was very close to a win nonetheless, it did expose the fact that this was not a tournament for traditional bigs.
Onuaku, the apparent trump card, played just 16 minutes in the Elite Eight game. DaShonte Riley played only four. Guard Brandon Triche had eight rebounds, while Onuaku had three with six points. So tells the story of how TBT was turned into a wing-heavy affair on the back of the Elam Ending and the college three-point line.
Because size obviously had some sort of advantage for Boeheim’s Army at times — just not from the center position. Hakim Warrick and Demetris Nichols showed ability on both ends. Warrick, in particular, took over Sunday’s game in the third quarter and ended up with 24 points; all of which was racked up either in the paint or at the free throw line.
But all of Warrick’s scoring was based on his own superior athleticism and length, plus an ability to score from various places on the floor. It didn’t have to do with him playing a center-type role at all.
In general, Boeheim’s Army certainly had more length than most of the rest of the TBT field, and there was a solid collection of shooters on this year’s roster. However, it just didn’t necessarily match the catch-and-shoot pros on teams like Golden Eagles, Armored Athlete or others. James Southerland and Kris Joseph, scorers in their own respective rights, never got rolling. Eric Devendorf shot well versus Armored Athlete, but he’s more of an isolation player.
Nichols was really the only option you could say “fit” this tournament... and still, you can’t necessarily bank on his production alone to keep you in games based on pace and space. Boeheim’s Army played a style that was the antithesis of that, however. It’s why the earlier games were so close. It’s also why Boeheim’s Army was able to stick around in a game where a hot-shooting team like Golden Eagles simply couldn’t miss.
I’m aware we wouldn’t necessarily be talking about this if BA had won on Sunday (though “we” and “I” are two different things). Still, it’s worth mentioning now that they’re out. This may be the most talented team in the field, but there’s an obvious flaw to its construction. The problem is we don’t necessarily have the catch-and-shoot expert available to plug in for next year (or the immediate future).
So what’s the solution? For now, perhaps trot out a similar team. Paul Harris wouldn’t necessarily have been an upgrade on Onuaku from a free throw or shooting perspective, so let’s not play revisionist history there.
No, perhaps it’s more about just hitting shots at a higher clip. Or playing in the paint more (something Boeheim’s Army only stuck to for about a quarter versus Golden Eagles). In any case, this year’s TBT has shown a light on a potential shortcoming for this team. It’s far from the end of the world. Just something to consider as we look ahead to next year’s competition.