Nowadays in sports a lot has been toned down by commissioners and college athletics as a whole. Players have to tone back their celebrations, and even most coaches show little during the course of a basketball game. One coach who has stayed to his true self his entire career has been Jim Boeheim. At 66 years old he can still be seen flaring his arms in disbelief, his face making unusual expressions, and running up and down the sideline.
Boeheim has been a staple of Syracuse sports for an incredible amount of time. In fact he has made appearances in the Final Four in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s as a coach. To keep that trend going this years team might have the best opportunity in some years.
One thing about Boeheim when retiring is brought up, is that he hasn’t even thought about it. He loves coaching, and stays actively involved even in the off-season. He has been apart of the coaching staff for the USA team, and coordinates many golf charity events as well in the off-season.
Unlike the past few seasons where Syracuse came into the season with little expectations, this years team comes in as a preseason top five contender. Besides losing big man Rick Jackson, this Syracuse team returns everybody. The vaunted Big East still stands in the way, with teams such as Uconn and Louisville right there in terms of talent to Syracuse.
The Big East is always a tough trek, as Syracuse found out last year. After starting 19-0, the Big East wall caught up to Syracuse, and a four game skid in February. Panic nearly set in after a blowout home loss to Seton Hall. Instead Boeheim regrouped the team and made some smart decisions with the lineup to maximize success.
One of the moves was declining the minutes of freshman Dion Waiters and Fab Melo. The funny thing with both players is that they were keys to the Orange late in the season. Fab Melo was relegated to practically two to three quick first half minutes, and then a sit the rest of the game for much of February. A solid game against Cincinnati and Depaul built confidence in Melo, and then a breakout game in the Big East tournament versus St. Johns. A game that Melo picked up the entire team and made some huge key plays down the stretch.
Dion Waiters on the other hand was given the opportunities but like most freshman wasn’t prepared for a full season under Jim Boeheim. When he began to struggle his game became worse on the court. His defense slid even further behind. Not sliding over to close out and leaving shooters wide open on the arc was part of the reason Syracuse was getting torched vs. Villanova and Seton Hall.
Though the story has never fully been told, there have been reports that Boeheim and Waiters have had their issues. To the point that Waiters was on the brink of exiting Syracuse and transferring. In May though, Waiters announced via twitter that he would be back.
In the teams 2nd round loss vs. Marquette, Waiters was virtually the only player that could produce offensively for Syracuse. He scored 18 points, and did most of his damage off the dribble. Penetrating through the Marquette defense with ease and making twisting layups. Carrying that game with solid off-season work ethic should give Syracuse some if not the best guard options in America.
Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche both have slimmed down around fifteen pounds each. Jardine a senior and Triche a junior, they’ve both been through and know what it takes to get this team to where it needs to be. Jardine a true play maker that’s only downfall is inopportune turnovers. It really became an issue towards the latter part of the Big East schedule and NCAA tournament. Maybe he was worn down, but getting in better shape should help Jardine sustain a solid season. One area that Cuse fans were happy about was his shot selection. It was much better last year and he showed a dependability to knock down the three ball.
For Brandon Triche, staying consistent for an entire year has been the main issue. He will have games where he is by far the best Syracuse player, and others that he gets lost and only scores a few buckets. Where he excels is on the defensive end. The training of playing the top of the zone from Andy Rautins in 2009 really transferred over to Triche. He closes out well and has a knack for knowing when to trap and play the passing lanes.
Offensively he drew a lot of charges just like Syracuse forward Kris Joseph. In fact charges from the two would result in countless turnovers that produced stretches of poor offensive sequences. Both need to realize to pull up or pass the ball out to the perimeter. The NCAA isn’t going to implement a painted area rule, and Triche and Joseph need to realize that.
Boeheim is never big on playing freshman extended minutes, and this year should be no different. It’ll be interesting to see who wins out the starting power forward role next to center Fab Melo. Syracuse boasts three other big men in DaShonte Riley, Baye Moussa Keita, and freshman Rakeem Christmas.
The inexperience at the big man position could cause Boeheim to shift Kris Joseph to power forward. Running a zone as the Cuse does could allow this. A starting lineup of Triche, Jardine, CJ Fair, Kris Joseph, and Fab Melo would not be shocking. With Fair getting rotated out frequently for the Cuse to either go smaller with Dion Waiters, or bigger with one of the limited experienced big men.
Come March 2011, this should be a team that has a solid hold on a number one or two seed for the NCAA tournament. If their big man can gain each month, than this team is going to be a legitimate national contender.