Sunday, November 7, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Syracuse Orange

Too Busy for the Details?
The returning numbers look better than they did going intothe 2010 season...the Orange finished #1 in the conference (regular season) and pulled down a #1 seed in the NCAAs. How can they do better than that? They can't. A solid nucleus is back (but not the senior leadership from last season) and the Orange have the preseason conference ROY, but they will not equal the conference win total nor the finish of 2010. But they can come close.  Prognosis -- A 2nd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
Funny how things work out. A far more talented team returned in 2009, but could not do what the Orange of 2010 achieved. Having Wes Johnson practice with the team for an entire year (NCAA transfer rule) certainly made his transition into Coach Boeheim's system a good deal smoother than a (however talented...) freshman or a JUCO. One of those facets I think is overlooked when considering the impact of a newcomer.


Returning a higher percentage of the minutes, field goals made and rebounds (both ends of the court) than last season, but still comparatively low versus other Big East teams. Can the Orange replace scoring and perimeter shot making for the second season running? The 14% difference between returning minutes and returning points scored is a point of concern. Given the role of Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins in the offense, it is more likely that a committee (rather than 1-2 players) will have to step into that role in the offense. Returning players accounted for some very efficient scoring last season, the potential for a larger role in the offense is high, but newcomers will have to step into several critical areas of the offense and defense.

According to Pomeroy...
Off Eff Conf110.94109.94103.79
Def Eff Conf99.21101.76102.06
Eff Diff Conf11.728.271.78
Off eFG Conf53.7254.5250.47
Off TOv Conf20.61420.21321.213
Off OReb Conf38.3335.6536.73
Off FTA/FGA Conf41.2734.9644.82

John Gasaway over at the Basketball Prospectus did a great job of using the stats to show why Syracuse had a great season and I would strongly recommend the reader spend the $10 (more or less) to download the 2010-11 (digital) edition and read the excellent analysis provided for all of the 345 Division I teams. The dramatic improvement of the defense (largely Coach Boeheim's trademark 2-3 zone) is clearly the driver that brought the Orange (back) into the conference elite. The guru formerly known as the Big Ten Wonk did a tremendous job breaking down the defensive numbers (Dean Oliver's four factors played a large role...), but he did leave a crumb or two for me to chew on offensively, and share with the reader. While not "the explanation" for why the Orange did so well, something to consider when Syracuse is working the other side of the ball. Shot efficiency improved from 2008 to 2009, the crucial element for the Orange's two rank jump. While Syracuse maintained their #4 rank from 2009 to 2010, the methods employed to maintain that rank varied. Note shot efficiency (eFG) rank stayed constant even though the actual number declined very slightly. The Orange saw an increase (also modest) in their turnover rate (TOv) and a rather dramatic rise in their ability to get to the free throw line (even though they dropped one rank there as well). The improvement in offensive rebounding (credit to Onuaku and Jackson here) offset the declines elsewhere, suggesting that for the Cuse, offensive rebounding was relatively important. Getting to the line to finish a possession, and nabbing the offensive miss to keep the possession alive more than offset the decline in shot conversion and the modes rise in turnovers. Maintaining a dominant defense will be critical to success in 2011. Offensively, can the Orange improve on their turnovers and shoot better than they did in 2010? A backslide in either will have to be offset by an improvement in offensive rebounding (or getting to the line even more...). Both of those stats however, may be, given the players, pretty close to their "ceiling" already.

For the Record...
Big East1530.8331170.611990.500
Post Season?NCAA Rnd #3NCAA Rnd #3NIT Rnd #3

The Orange Nucleus
Coach Jim Boeheim had a tremendous squad to coach last season, one he obviously enjoyed working with. Syracuse will return starters and contributors in both the front and back courts; the question is whether a combination of the returnees and newcomers can duplicate the chemistry and replace the scoring (and rebounds) from last season.

On Offense
Kris Joseph69.6111.119.618.450.87.71.1459.8
Rick Jackson65.7108.619.619.
Scoop Jardine55.6113.622.620.753.41.91.1539.5
Brandon Triche53.4106.520.818.558.03.81.1941.0
Mookie Jones12.8118.222.427.963.26.31.2619.4
DaShonte Riley11.

Note the Poss% above -- having five efficient players (ORtgs >105) with Poss% in the range of (high-end) Role Player and (low-end) Significant Contributor (Ken Pomeroy's ratings) is a bit unusual. There is "growth" for all, though looking at Possession rates for Johnson (21.4), Rautins (19.0) and Onuaku (19.2), as Gasaway points out in his preview/analysis is a bit deceptive given that Johnson and Rautins saw far more court time than anyone else on the squad. That difference leaves a modest possessions vacuum that a committee (most likely) will have to cover. Many previewers tab forward Kris Joseph as the strongest breakout candidate, but note that junior guard Scoop Jardine and junior bfc Rick Jackson will most likely be called on early (given their seniority) to step up. Sophomore point guard Brandon Triche will most likely earn more time if he can cut down on his turnover rate, high enough to negate his good assist rate. Sophomore Mookie Jones showed (in albeit very limited minutes) the highest efficiency/usage numbers on the squad, but, like the possession-based stats of Rautins and Johnson, probably distorted by (in Jones' case) the comparatively small amount of playing time. He should see more minutes in 2011, but will face stiff competition from the other returning front court players (and the freshmen). Among the post Midnight Madness casualties, DaShonte Riley may red shirt this season, pending the results of foot surgery announced at Syracuse Media Day. The injury is not tracable to a specific incident, may go back to last season. Riley could expect to see his minutes expand with the departure of Arinze Onuaku, but should he decide to sit and rehabilitate this season, Jackson and two freshmen (see below) can expect to fill the gap.

On Defense
Kris Joseph69.613.710.
Rick Jackson65.716.511.
Scoop Jardine55.67.232.521.40.33.0
Brandon Triche53.45.321.725.70.32.3
Mookie Jones12.810.
DaShonte Riley11.211.410.236.911.10.7

Everyone of the returning players listed has a double digit assist rate, unusual and a strong sign of the "share and share alike" philosophy in 2010. While the turnover rates were also a bit high (especially freshman point guard Brandon Triche and low post reliever DaShonta Riley), but given the strong efficiency ratings, those turnovers were not a significant drag on Syracuse's overall offensive efficiency (best in conference). Among the other rotation/bench players returning, sophomore front court player James Southerland, Nick Resavy (a Junior), Griffin Hoffmann a sophomore guard, Matt Lyde-Cajust -- a sophomore forward and junior guard Brandon Reese.

Significant Additions
The Orange faithful will see seven new faces at various times this season, six of which belong to freshmen and one to a Division II transfer. Both Fab Melo, a 7-0, 240 pound center "imported" from Brazil and 6-4, 215 pound Dion Waiters figure to make the earliest and most favorable impressions. Expect Melo to start alongside Rick Jackson, giving the Orange one of the tallest (and more block-forward) front courts in the conference. When Waiters is in the back court with either Triche or Jardine, expect him to take the off guard role in the offense. Noted as a scorer, Waiters will have to supply some of the three point firepower provided for (four of the past five years) by Rautins. The wing will see CJ Fair compete with Jones, and Joseph for minutes on the wing. The 6-7, 195 #3 tore an ACL in the summer of his (HS) junior year, and is still developing as a player. More an athlete and transition scorer than a set shooter or low post player, he will be valued for his ability to crash the glass and put back. Well regarded but nevertheless a work in progress, 6-11 210 pound Senegal native Baye Moussa Keita will most likely follow Arinze Onuaku's development path and show shot blocking and rebounding skills before he assumes a more assertive role in the offense. 5-10 point guard Nolan Hart out of Albany, NY and 6-4 back court player Russ DeRemer, son of a Syracuse rower, round out the true freshmen. Junior transfer Matt Tomaszewski, a 6-8 215 pound #3/#4 who logged two seasons at the University of Tampa before coming in and sitting for hte 2009-10 season. He will have two years of eligibility beginning this season and should provide even more front court depth.

Explode If...
1. Find a replacement for Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku. Though unacknowledged, the Cuse that played through the first three rounds of the NCAAs was not the team that swept through the Big East (and their out of conference schedule). The two senior leaders anchored the squad, set the tone and provided a lot of confidence to the other five players who made up the "regular" rotation. Onuaku's absence was obvious from the first round on. Both seniors took (at different times) red shirt seasons for injuries, and so were associated with the program for five, rahter than four seasons. They saw good and bad times and set, along with Johnson, an example for unselfish play. Statistically replacing Rautins' threes, Johnson's driving scores and Onuaku's rebounds will not be as difficult as replacing their leadership.
2. Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson have great seasons. Both have shown the abilty to score efficiently in (relatively) smaller offensive roles. They will have to "grow" those roles from (about) a 19% possession rate to about 24% while still able to score efficiently. Jackson, outstanding on the offensive glass is merely very good for defensive boards. He will have to, despite Fab Melo's presence contribute more on toward defensive rebounds as well.
3. Fab Melo and Dion Waiters (and CJ Fair) live up to preseason expectations.

Implode If...
1. Chemistry issues within the squad and individual agendas have historically given the Orange faithful squads whose whole was less than the sum of the individual parts. Last season was the diametric opposite and frankly a pleasure to watch (except when they were pansing the Wildcats in front of a national audience...). Hopefully the returning players learned the lesson and will continue the example this season.
2. Injuries. Though this is a deeper squad (and should run a deeper rotation than 2010), losing key players or a combination of several players from among Joseph, Jardine (who was lost for a season already), Jackson and Triche could spell big problems. Riley is already sidelined for at least some part of (if not the whole) season.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
Syracuse's first road trip will be a run down to Atlantic City, NJ for Thanksgiving Weekend at the Legends Classic. The three other teams in the field, Michigan (Syracuse's first opponent), and UTEP or Georgia Tech in the second game, will provide national exposure and experience on a neutral court, but not much by way of competition. The challenge of the out of conference (OOC) will come December 7 in Madison Square (the Jimmy V Classic) against Michigan State. This should be a great game as the Sparten back court should match up well against the Cuse rotation. Something of a baptism of fire for Dion Waiters and Triche/Jardine. 13-0 (hardly pie-in-the-sky) would put the Orange squarely on the national radar going into Big East play. Anything short of 11-2 would suggest a tougher go through the conference than many previews foresee.

Mirrors dealt to the Cuse this time around include traditional rival Georgetown, Villanova (third time in four seasons) and traditional whipping boy, Seton Hall. Play with the Hoyas and Pirates should be very interesting, because preseason projections have clustered those three, and for those who put the Orange in the first quartile, Villanova (and Georgetown?) would be head-to-head quartile rivals. Against Seton Hall, Syracuse will have to continue to dominate to maintain the upper hand in any head-to-head comparisons. Ditto for Georgetown and Villanova. Going 6-0 would be quite a season, but a very remote possibility. 4-2 would be a positive result, though 3-3 might be more realistic. Opening the Big East regular season with a two game homestand (hosting Providence and Notre Dame) should put the Orange up 2-0. The last seven games in January should be telling for Syracuse's prospects. The Orange take to the road for two games, Seton Hall and St. John' Queens (Coach Lavin's no fool), return home to host Cincinnati, run down to Pittsburgh for a date with the Panthers (very important, their only meeting with Pitt), back to the Carrier Dome for another two game homestand (Villanova and closeout with mirror Seton Hall) and finally back on the road for three games, the first with Marquette. Going 4-3 or better is mandatory if the Orange harbor visions of finishing in the first quartile (five or fewer losses are typical for double bye teams), because the backend of their schedule will have them play the Hoyas twice, host West Virginia and face Louisville and Villanova on the road. That run in Frebruary will most likely yield a minimum of two losses, and quite possibly one or two additional.

No comments: