It’s been a whirlwind of a week, hasn’t it? With a global pandemic and a country on lockdown, let’s instead shift our focus back to sports for a bit and bask in the completion of another Syracuse Orange basketball season.
Did I say bask? Perhaps that’s not the right word...
After a premature end to the season, let’s review some insights into how the team performed as a whole. In the first of this four-part series the guards are the topic of discussion, including an evaluation of their performance at both ends of the court. There will be grades for each player, and the team as a whole.
So without further ado, let’s get right into the analysis.
Offense was definitely not the problem for Boeheim this year. After being considered a very one-dimensional three-point shooter as a freshman, Buddy expanded his game with the addition of the dribble drive and the pull-up. By season’s end, Boeheim was absolutely deadly in the mid-range. From 12-18 feet, Boeheim was practically automatic all year.
And even with a slow finish from the perimeter, Boeheim put up a 37 percent from three for the year. That’s while usually seeing the team’s top defender. Teams realized early that Elijah was going to get his, but that if you shut down Buddy, you can keep our offense in check. And yet, he still hit 97 threes for the season including two or more in each of his final four games of the season.
Is that a harsh grade? I don’t really think so. As good as Boeheim was on offense, he was equally poor on defense. And if he wasn’t shooting well on offense, he was an absolute liability on the court. The problem for Buddy is three-fold: quickness, aggressiveness, and awareness. Boeheim isn’t particularly strong in any of them.
Quickness- Unfortunately, Buddy doesn’t have the foot-speed or agility to keep up with faster guards. He was consistently beat off the dribble time and time again.
Aggressiveness- Being aggressive is a mindset, and Buddy doesn’t have it. He didn’t fight for rebounds. He almost never went after 50-50 balls, and I think I can count the number of times he hit the deck on one hand with fingers to spare. Someone needs to light a fire under Smiley Boeheim next year.
Awareness- At least five times a game, Boeheim cheats out of his side of the zone and ends up giving up an open three. He either drifts to Girard’s side, or else into the paint. He is caught ball watching far too much. Thankfully, this is something he can work on this off-season. He’s a very cerebral player, so there’s no reason to think this can’t improve his awareness.
If Buddy can improve his defense and focus on the fundamentals, he has a chance to be really special his last two years. But he has to get better on defense.
What more can you really ask of a freshman guard who was thrust into the starter role in just his third game? Let me throw two sets of numbers at you:
Player 1: 13.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 35.7 percent from three, 90.9 percent from the line, 1.83 assist:turnover ratio.
Player 2: 12.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 32.4 percent from three, 89.7 percent from the line, 1.89 assist:turnover ratio.
Player 1 is Gerry McNamara as a freshman. Player 2 is Joe Girard. Player 1 had a supporting cast that won a National Championship. Player 2 had a supporting cast that was close to the NIT bubble. I think that says it all right there.
Now if Joe can ever get that outside shot to be more consistent, things could get very interesting next year.
I’m giving him a bit more leeway here because he was a freshman, but also because he was an active defender at all times, and his lapses were often due to his size and athleticism. Don’t get me wrong, he still showed poor situational awareness at times and his repeated lunges at balls he had absolutely zero chance at getting were infuriating. His transition defense was equally bad.
The reason Joe Girard has a considerably higher score than Buddy Boeheim comes down to effort. On every play, Joe was active. He was jumping in passing lanes. He was aggressively trying to get in people’s faces and make their lives difficult. He always hustled out there.
Joe Girard exceeded my expectations in almost every facet. The question is, have we seen all there is from Joe, or does he have more to show us?
I sure wish we had more chances to see Brycen on offense. Unfortunately, in the limited minutes he was on the court, he just couldn’t get the job done consistently on the offensive end. He showed some sparks down the stretch, including five points at BC and five points at Pitt, but it just wasn’t enough. There was certainly a lot of potential however
Again, small sample size. But when Brycen was on the court, it was abundantly clear that he was our best guard defender. He was aggressive, disruptive, and constantly moving. He showed tremendous footwork and quickness, and also had solid anticipation, getting his hands on several passes in minimal opportunities. He had the chance to be an elite defensive guard if he had stayed here all four years. Ugh.
Overall: C... with potential
I’m not sure it’s fair to even give an overall grade here. There just wasn’t enough to go by. All I’ll say is, I wish Goodine was staying and I think we’ll regret losing him.
Much like Brycen Goodine, Howard Washington wasn’t afforded a ton of opportunities, and didn’t do much scoring in the limited time he was on the court. While not a threat to score, he was a solid floor general and also showed excellent ball and body control. He was a good passer as well, and turned the ball over just 11 times versus 24 assists.
Washington did a solid job on defense. He did give up his fair share of three-pointers, but he also made some great plays and showed good anticipation. He was much faster than Boeheim, allowing him to stick with guards better. He wasn’t quite as good as Goodine, but I’ll bet he ended up with a much better plus minus. For whatever reason, the game flipped on its head when he came in several different times throughout the season.
I liked Washington. I liked him a lot. But he was always going to be the fourth or fifth guard in the rotation. Even with Jalen Carey and Brycen Goodine out of the way, this is the right decision for him if he’s looking for more playing time.
This year’s guards did a very solid job on the offensive end overall. There were still those hair-pulling sequences (or entire games, hi2u Louisville), but for the most part there was better ball movement, more off-the-ball movement, and less standing and dribbling than a year ago. The fast break offense was also a revelation this year, and it makes me very excited to see how much better we can get next year.
Guard play was flat out bad on the defensive end for the year. The top of the zone was a sieve, giving up wide open threes and dribble penetration at will. The defense was considerably better with the backups in, which is definitely not a good sign considering those backups are gone. Additionally, both players just flat out played too much. Buddy Boeheim was 62nd in the country (3rd in the ACC) in minutes per game. Girard was 251st nationally (19th in the ACC, 2nd among freshmen). Keep in mind, there are over 2,500 NCAA college basketball players. Both Joe and Buddy were in the top 10 percent for minutes played.
To put that in perspective, Buddy Boeheim averaged more minutes per game than any single season from Derrick Coleman, Earl “The Pearl” Washington, Sherman Douglas, Lawrence Moten, and just a hair less than Carmelo Anthony. Girard averaged nearly as many minutes as freshmen Gerry McNamara, Jonny Flynn, and Tyler Ennis.
I wish I could give a higher grade here, because I really do like what Girard and Boeheim bring on the offensive end, but the defense pulls this score way down. Thankfully, there is only room for improvement on that end for next year.
Speaking of next year, with just three scholarship guards currently on the team (including incoming freshman Kadary Richmond), things could get interesting. Without a transfer or last minute add, we’re an injury away from 40 minutes per game from Girard and Boeheim. No offense to them, I don’t think anyone wants to see that.