Before we get into it, let’s take a second to appreciate the fact that we finally have college basketball again. In the midst of this unwelcome arctic blast, doesn’t it feel good to have it back in our lives? It certainly does for me.
Especially with craziness like Kentucky losing to Evansville. Yeah that happened. I’m a little giddy from it.
I think that game is somewhat symbolic of this year throughout the sport. This is a year of parity. Of turmoil. In the top 10, is there a single team that truly blows you away? I’ve watched a bunch of games already (bless you, HuluTV!) and I haven’t seen one.
I guess my point in this rambling intro is that anything is possible this year. The college basketball field feels wide open. Opportunity is there. Let’s not let one (admittedly) bad loss to the defending national champions sour our outlook on this year’s team before we’ve given them a fair chance.
1: Guard play
Let’s face it, no one looked good against Virginia, but our guards looked especially “green”. Jalen Carey, Brycen Goodine, Joe Girard III, Buddy Boeheim... it didn’t matter which combination Jim Boeheim put out there, they just couldn’t get it done offensively.
Those four combined to go 5-of-27 from the field and 2-of-14 from 3-point range. The only one of them that ever beat their defender off the dribble was the one you’d least expect: Buddy Boeheim. His dribble drive game actually looks light years better than last year. Sadly, he coupled it with a 1-8 performance from outside, including a number of contested, ugly looking shots.
How the guards respond will say a lot about how this season goes for the Orange. Will Carey actually get time to show his game (he played just 18 minutes against Virginia)? Will our shooters start hitting outside shots? Will they get out and run?
While tonight certainly won’t give definitive answers to any of these questions, it will hopefully serve as a building block for these young guards as they continue to create an identity on the basketball court.
2: Center play
It seems like an eternity since we had a center who could consistently catch the ball, make a basketball move, and score. Without even the threat of a low post presence, Syracuse basketball becomes far too one-dimensional. We need to have a center with at least some offensive presence that can suck in a defense and allow other players to get open.
Bourama Sidibe can be that guy. The question is, will he ever reach his potential, or have years of knee problems and missed playing time permanently altered his trajectory and potential?
If you look back at his high school highlights, he has all the intangibles you want in a big man. Back-to-the-basket moves. Mid-range game. Solid dribbling and quickness. Tremendous defender.
Where is that guy? We need that guy.
And if not him, then we need Jesse Edwards to progress way ahead of schedule. It appears right now that Jon Bol Ajak is on the outside looking in at center, so Edwards is the plan B.
I know we’ve seen Marek at center, and that it can work, but it’s not ideal. Just give us a real, true center for once. Please Bourama, step up and be the man.
It shouldn’t take a Christmas miracle to get that...
3: Can we contain Colgate’s “big three”?
Rapolas Ivanauskas, Will Rayman, and Jordan Burns are a potent trifecta. In their first two games this year, they’re averaging 48 points and 19 rebounds per game. That’s more than 60% of the Raiders total scoring and rebounding.
And these two games aren’t an anomaly. They are consistent with last year, where the three combined to lead Colgate to their best season ever and a Patriot League title.
Burns is a shifty guard who can get into the paint at will. I watched him play against Clemson last week, and he never hesitated and made some pretty impressive drives to the hoop and finished through traffic. He’s also a terrific 3-point shooter, hitting them at over 39% last year.
Rayman and Ivanauskas are a pair of big men with polished skill sets. Both are good finishers around the rim and very crafty with the ball. Don’t be surprised if they get a couple easy baskets early in the game before Syracuse has time to adjust to their mastery of the fundamentals and positioning.
Both are also tremendous outside shooters. Ivanauskas had 12 games last year where he made at least two 3-pointers. Rayman had 20 such games, including a 6-for-6 performance against Loyola. Both shot better than 42% from deep.
Colgate will be a handful on the perimeter.
4: Syracuse bench
How deep does the rotation go this game? Will we see Robert Braswell or Jon Bol Ajak?
I hope so for Braswell. Though a small sample size, he’s been very productive in his time on the court. Braswell has looked quite competent on both offense and defense, can jump out of the gym, and has a sweet stroke from the outside.
It’s entirely possible that with stiffer competition his luster fades and he comes back to earth, but shouldn’t he at least get the opportunity? It’s not like any of our other forwards outside of Elijah Hughes have given us much offensively in the exhibition games or against Virginia.
Aside from Braswell, the other major question is what the guard rotation will look like. Is Joe Girard III first off the bench again? How short is Carey’s leash? How much run will Goodine see?
There are so many question marks with this team.
5: The dog house
It feels like a rite of passage, doesn’t it?
Someone makes a mistake on the court, most likely a defensive lapse, and in the blink of an eye they are riding the pine and receiving the full ire of Boeheim.
Nobody wants Boeheim ire, trust me. But it inevitably surfaces.
So who will wind up in the dog house this year? So far it’s looked like Carey is a prime candidate, getting the hook early in both halves against Virginia. Same with Bourama Sidibe, who has been seen getting an earful on multiple occasions.
Hopefully both players at least get a chance to prove themselves. I’ve never been a big fan of the quick hook. I feel like it can really knock a player out of their game. It always had a negative impact on my overall performance when I was playing.
Then again, my last experience on a basketball court was in a Mormon church ball league, so perhaps take my opinion with the appropriate dose of reality. Either way, the quick hook and short leash are not something I like.