College Basketball Nation: Jim Boeheim
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Watching Trevor Cooney, it’s hard not to think of a certain other Irishman in Orange. Elementary schoolers sang odes on Gerry McNamara’s last game at Syracuse while fans openly wept, so Cooney has a few miles to go before he matches his assistant coach in Syracuse lore.
A few more nights like Tuesday, though, and the fans back in his Delaware hometown might want to start reserving the Greyhounds for his last night at the Dome just like the folks in Scranton did for McNamara.
It wasn’t just the five made 3-pointers. They were nice, especially the big one he hit early in the second half to start what would be a methodical march to an easy 69-52 victory against Indiana in the Orange’s first Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
No, like McNamara, what endears Cooney to the crowd is how he plays. He looks more like the kid you’d pick last for dodgeball. Aside from the coaching staff, no one on the Syracuse bench has less hair on their heads than Cooney. He’s sort of pasty and scruffy and, in an interview, is polite and unassuming, with not even a hint of bravado.
Looks, they truly are deceiving, because Cooney flat out can play. He is not some arc-camping diva but rather a gritty baller who swiped four steals to go with his 21 points and wrote the first part of what might be his McNamara-esque epic with 9:19 left in the game.
Syracuse led by a comfortable 17 points when Cooney swiped the ball from Jeremy Hollowell. He barreled toward the basket for a layup but was hit hard from behind by Austin Etherington. Cooney crashed into the stanchion, while the Dome fans went bananas.
While the officials went to review the play -- they’d eventually assess Etherington with a flagrant-2 and eject him -- an initially woozy Cooney huddled up his teammates while the students chanted, "Tre-vor Coo-ney."
The time didn’t come right away for Cooney, as so often is the case here. Immediate gratification is rare at Syracuse, where coach Jim Boeheim still prefers the old-fashioned method of teaching and growing players into their roles.
That was Cooney, who redshirted his freshman season. Instead of looking at it as a year off, though, he made it a year on. Full on. His workouts were “grueling,” McNamara said, complete with before-practice Dome stair runs, endless hours in the weight room and even more in the gym. Cooney said it was easy because he wasn’t playing, but even McNamara, no slacker himself, was awed.
Even after that redshirt season, Cooney waited some more. Last season, Cooney came off the bench behind an all-star roster that included Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche. He averaged just 11.2 minutes a game and when he did get his chance, his shots didn’t always go in. Cooney shot only 26 percent from the arc.
"Coming in here, I knew it would be a process," Cooney said. "I decided to treat it like a journey. I just knew if I kept working, one day it would come."
And now finally, this season, the day has come. He’s shooting 26-of-55 from the arc (47.2 percent), and he and teammate Tyler Ennis are playing as well as any backcourt in the country, making the transition from Carter-Williams and Triche much more seamless than anyone could imagine.
But that’s always the way it is for Boeheim. If there is a better coach at fitting the square pegs into his square holes, I’m not sure who it is. Boeheim doesn’t just find the best players; he finds the best players that fit his needs. His is not so much a system as it is a well-oiled machine.
It’s why year after year, player after player, Syracuse is still good. Look at this team and you can see the parts working together: the shooter (Cooney), the savvy point guard (Tyler Ennis), the scorer (C.J. Fair), the bigs who won’t kill you but will do what they need to do (DaJuan Coleman, Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas). Mix in the confounding zone and it all makes sense.
"We all know this system," McNamara said. "We know how to find the fillers and the guys that we need. We know every play. We know the zone. We know exactly who fits."
It's dangerous, of course, to make any grand presumptions about a team in December. In Indiana’s case, it would be downright unfair. The Hoosiers are incredibly young and it’s an awful lot to ask a team full of freshmen to come into an atmosphere like this one -- 26,414 on a random Tuesday night in December -- against a defense like that one and play well.
Could they have played better? Yes. Syracuse’s zone is now officially Indiana’s kryptonite. The Hoosiers looked as puzzled and confused here as they did nine months ago in the Sweet 16, which is a bit surprising. Theoretically, they’ve watched game tape since.
Still, this by no means sends Indiana into the trash heap.
And bold proclamations about Syracuse are equally dangerous but I’m still willing to make one: The Orange are very good, maybe even best team in the ACC good. At the very least, circle the dates of Feb. 1 (Duke at Syracuse) and Feb. 22 (the Orange in Durham) good.
We've gotten this far and haven't even mentioned Fair much. The leading scorer of a year ago is again at the top of the statistics. He's more than capable of taking over a game, but he doesn't have to. The Orange have four players averaging double figures.
Including the guy sitting right behind Fair in the scoring column: Trevor Cooney, Gerry McNamara in training.
Nine days ago, you were probably reminded that Syracuse was playing a random home game on a Monday night in November well after the game had started and just before it finished -- and in hurried tones to boot.
Yes, last Monday night, Syracuse was losing -- not just casually trailing by a few points, but in full-on Defcon 1, might-actually-lose-this-game losing -- to Saint Francis at the Carrier Dome.
The whole thing was just kind of gross. The Orange were out of sorts offensively from their most experienced player (C.J. Fair, who scored seven points on 2-of-13 shooting) to their least (freshman guard Tyler Ennis, who posted a 37.0 offensive rating in a metric for which 100.0 is about average). The saving grace was a couple of late turnovers and transition buckets, but any concern Syracuse fans might have had about their team rebuilding a perimeter without Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland seemed justified. Random off night? Early-season flub? Or a shudder-worthy glimpse at the season to come?
After Wednesday night's commanding Maui win over Baylor, let's go ahead and put the latter option to rest.
The Orange's offense might not always be the prettiest in the world, but it is likely to be effective. The defense might not be as sturdy on the perimeter as last season, but it will still force plenty of bad shots -- and even more turnovers.
Ennis might not rank with the biggest freshmen in the game right now, but he has promise dripping out of his ears and is turning it into effective play more frequently with every game. Fair might not be a shoo-in for All-American, but he is beginning to find his footing -- beginning to play like a star.
Syracuse might not be perfect; it's certainly nowhere near the team that ground opponents into 2-3 zone pulp en route to the Final Four last season. But it is still a very talented team with a whole host of strengths, and one that still looks totally capable of winning the ACC in its very first season in the league.
Plenty of those traits were on display Wednesday night. Individually, Fair scored 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting against a long interior defense that had given opponents fits to date. Ennis didn't shoot it particularly well, but he did finish with 11 points and, more importantly, nine assists. And Jerami Grant, Boeheim's ace in the hole, contributed 19 points on 12 shots in crucial minutes off the bench.
Wednesday night was always going to be an uphill battle for Baylor, for reasons mentioned in "On Holiday" on Wednesday afternoon: The one thing Syracuse has done consistently this season is turn people over, and the biggest weakness for an otherwise good Baylor team is its propensity to cough the ball up. So it's no surprise that Baylor turned it over 20 times; that was the key difference in a game in which they made 26 of 47 from the field and 9 of 19 from 3-point range.
Perhaps most impressive, the Orange never looked like anything but eventual, codified winners Wednesday. They jumped out to a 10-2 run early, and while Baylor made its counters -- it knocked down several batches of 3-pointers, and even closed the lead to 68-62 with a few minutes to play -- Syracuse never panicked. The game never felt or sounded like it was in doubt, even when Baylor started making 3s. That's an impossible thing to quantify; it's an almost imperceptible quality. But it feels applicable here.
There is much to be done for Boeheim, no doubt. The Orange, like everyone else, have their warts. But a year after a Final Four appearance, after as deep a roster hit as Boeheim has felt in his recent run of uninterrupted success, Syracuse still has the look.
The additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame will unequivocally make the league that grew up on basketball the nation’s best. And at least on paper, it’s hard to argue against it.
“For 60 years the ACC has been the best conference in college basketball,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “ There may have been a little lull where the Big East, the [SEC] or Big Ten -- I don’t see anybody being the best –- any better than us now. I don’t care what year it is.”
Duke was the overwhelming choice to win the conference by media attending today’s event. The Blue Devils garnered 50 first-place votes out of 54. Syracuse received three first-place votes and was picked second. North Carolina, which got one first place vote, was picked third.
Since 1997, there have only been three years when the Tar Heels or Blue Devils didn’t have at least a share of the ACC regular-season championship. The newcomers are expected to challenge the stranglehold UNC and Duke have had on the title.
At the very least, the newest league members should add needed depth after the ACC received only four NCAA tournament bids last season.
The league will have three active Hall of Fame coaches in Krzyzewski, Williams and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim -- and add a fourth next season when Rick Pitino and Louisville become a member.
Boeheim once voiced resistance to the move when talk of the Orange joining the ACC remained just talk. Now that Syracuse is in the league, he spoke like a longtime resident of Tobacco Road.
Boeheim said the transition from being a charter member of the Big East to the ACC wasn’t difficult because his former league changed so much. He pointed out the ACC now has more former Big East schools (including Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College) than the current Big East (Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Georgetown.)
“I mean, there’s a certain degree of nostalgia of being in that league because that’s where you worked 34 years,” Boeheim said. “But this is a better league.”
Boeheim pointed out that Syracuse has sold more than 20,000 season tickets, which has already surpassed last season’s total of about 15,000. Duke’s visit to the Carrier Dome on Feb. 1 is already sold out and the North Carolina game on Jan. 11 isn’t far behind.
“The only thing our fans will miss,” Boeheim said, “is the Big East tournament.”
- Many players hate that Maryland is playing in its final season before joining the Big Ten, but it has nothing to do with the Terrapins being an ACC charter member or the tradition it’s had in the league. The Maryland/Washington, D.C. area has produced a lot of players who were looking forward to coming home to College Park. “It still feels weird to think about they’re not going to be there,” said Notre Dame guard Eric Atkins, a Columbia, Md., native. “The only thing I think about is beating them, actually. That’s the only thing I can think about. I’m really looking forward to that Jan. 15 game.” Pitt forward Talib Zanna said facing Maryland was what excited him most about joining the league. “I know a lot of people when you don’t say Duke or North Carolina they look at you like you’re crazy,” Zanna said. “Duke and North Carolina have a lot of history, they win a lot of games but I’m looking up to playing Maryland just because that’s where I grew up. I just want to play in the arena.”
- The ACC will have its share of impact transfers this season, including Duke’s Rodney Hood, who came from Mississippi State; Virginia’s Anthony Gill, who came from South Carolina; and Maryland’s Evan Smotrycz, who played at Michigan. Hood thinks it is a trend that will only increase. “Other than the money, it does feel like free agency,” Hood said. “Guys transfer for different reasons. I’m sure mine was different than a lot of other guys. I really like the school I was at and made a basketball decision.”
- Syracuse senior forward C.J. Fair was selected the ACC preseason Player of the Year by the media. Fair was the leading scorer for the Orange last season, but it’s his leadership role that will have to expand this season after the departures of Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche. “It’s something I haven’t experienced since high school,” Fair said. “Not so much to carry the team, but lead the team.”
Then there is the cynical view. The NCAA cynic argues that universities set up the NCAA as a cabal from its earliest days to directly profit without employing, paying or providing health care to its "student-athletes," a term the NCAA devised to make the whole scam sound noble. There are facts to support this view, too, from Taylor Branch in the Atlantic to O'Bannon v. NCAA. Sure, the NCAA might not be evil, the cynic argues, but it is exploitative.
Here's a wild guess: The way you feel about the above paragraphs is going to directly align with how you feel about what Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said at an annual meeting of New York Associated Press newspaper editors Wednesday:
Boeheim took exception with retired NBA star Chris Webber's complaint he received nothing after his team shirt was sold. In a documentary released earlier this year, Webber lamented that while a student-athlete at Michigan, his team jersey sold in a campus store for $75 without any money going to him.
Boeheim noted that Webber received a free education and the exposure that allowed him to go on to a hugely lucrative professional career.
"He didn't get his $30,000 or $40,000," Boeheim said. "But he got his money."
Boeheim called the idea of paying college athletes "the most idiotic suggestion of all time." That is not true. One time my friend suggested that I would probably like mayonnaise if I actually put it on a really good sandwich, so I did, and let me tell you: That was the dumbest suggestion of all time. Mayo is gross.
Hyperbole and lovable Boeheimian grumpiness aside, if you are the kind of person who thinks the NCAA is drastically behind the times but doing its best to make the student-athlete concept work, you are likely to be as equally forgiving of Syracuse's iconic coach. When Boeheim began his coaching career, pay-for-play was unheard of. Players played for their degrees, and to expose themselves to the pro ranks, and hey, what's wrong with that? Now, after 51 years as a Syracuse player and coach, a bunch of outraged people are determined to change the system Boeheim has built his life around. You would probably think that was dumb, too.
The cynical, unforgiving view is that of course Boeheim is totally happy to be among the privileged few participants in collegiate athletics who are allowed to earn what the market says they're worth. Syracuse paid Boeheim $1.8 million in 2012, more than any other university employee. He deserves that money, it is said, because it is proportional to the value he generates for Syracuse. But what about the value generated by players? Why are coaches financially compensated and players aren't? In a world where 14-year-old prospects are obsessively ranked, and far-flung internationals are on NBA radars for years before they're drafted, how much is "exposure" really worth? And what about that degree? In the past 50 years, how many academically unprepared college athletes were admitted to schools simply because they could play basketball? How many were passed through classes because their absence would hurt the team? How many would-be pros have failed to turn "exposure" into an NBA draft pick, and left their schools without receiving a real collegiate education? Chris Webber got his money in the NBA, but so what? He's the exception. Not the rule. What about everyone else?
This is a conversation foisted upon college basketball by the NBA. Prior to 2006, it was safe to assume that talented players who didn't want to be in college didn't have to be. That is in some sense still the case. If a prospect has a dire financial need, he can go to Europe; if he has little use for college, and/or a moral issue with being unpaid, he can sign with an agent and work out with a trainer for a year.
But the bottom line is still this: As long as this much money flows through the system, it is impossible to watch a basketball coach with a six-figure monthly take-home say his players aren't worth a dime more than their classes, books and board. If that's true, then every college coach in the country is due for a steep pay cut. Or a salary based on his players' graduation and professional-placement rates. Or maybe college basketball coaches should just be happy with the exposure! They can make money when they turn pro. Wait.
No matter what view of the NCAA you take, pretending there isn't a massive disconnect here is just that -- pretending. One can forgive Boeheim for being on the wrong end of that disconnect. He's been in the game a half-century, man. He deserves some slack. But that doesn't mean pointing the disconnect is idiotic. It's reality.
2. The ageless Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, who turned 65 earlier this month and has looked the same for the past 20 years, got exactly what he wanted in the trip to Greece. He scheduled practices and games against the Greek national team. He didn't want any soft competition. He wanted his players to experience professionals at the highest level overseas. "It was more like midseason practices,'' said Hamilton. "It was very good for our guys. We played at a high level and had to be focused offensively and defensively to compete.'' Hamilton said he never thought his team was in sync last season after finishing 18-16 overall and 9-9 in the ACC, a year after winning the conference tournament title for the first time. "We had seven first-year players and five freshmen and JC kids and international players,'' said Hamilton. "I thought we were always thinking and responding and reacting last season. But I saw a better grasp of execution [on this trip]. We showed signs we can get back to what we did during our four-year run of going to the NCAA tournament and winning the ACC title.'' Hamilton said different players were productive on the trip but the two leaders were as expected Ian Miller and Kiel Turpin. "They played very well together and as a team,'' said Hamilton. "We actually practiced zone defensive possessions. We had game-like practices. We didn't keep score in those or keep track but we had a lot of game-like scrimmages where we were rotating guys in and out. It was really, really good for us to correct our mistakes.'' Hamilton said this was also a positive trip for Michael Ojo, Boris Bojanovsky and Robert Gilchrist, the bigs who will be behind Turpin or at times next to him. Hamilton said he absolutely loves what he's doing, "loves the young people, traveling with them, being with them every day. Each year I have more energy. I'm excited about the new ACC. It gives you another shot of adrenaline. I'm excited to be a part of it and it does motivate you.''
3. Few teams needed something positive more than Auburn basketball on a foreign trip. Auburn coach Tony Barbee was buzzing about the excursion to the Bahamas. "I learned two things: we can really shoot the ball as a group,'' said Barbee. "We made 13 3s in a game from international distance. And juco transfer Chris Griffin made six. We should be able to score the ball better. We could have four or five double-figure scorers. A year ago, we only had one.'' K.T. Harrell will be a reliable scorer but if there are multiple scorers then the Tigers will at least have a chance to move up in a muddled SEC. The Tigers enter the season with six freshmen on the roster.
2. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is the latest college administrator to want to get rid of the one-and-done rule. Well, it's not an NCAA rule. Scott mentioned there's new leadership in the NBA and NBAPA in comments to the Arizona media. True. But there hasn't been a strong movement to go with a two-and-done rule from the NBAPA, and there won't be unless it gets something in return from the owners in the next collective bargaining agreement. If there is a compromise worth attempting it's to go back to high school seniors being eligible for the NBA draft, but if a player enrolls in college he has to stay two years. College basketball would lose some elite players, but also a few who don't want to or shouldn't really be in a college situation if they're not committed for two years. Oh, and every Division I coach would take any player who is a one-and-done lottery-type player, assuming he could hang at the prospective school.
3. USA basketball's pending move from Colorado Springs to Tempe, Ariz., in the fall of 2015 has been met with high praise from within the basketball community. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who chairs the junior national team, said the Tempe location should be "unbelievable,'' and USA basketball got a great deal. He said expect all the junior national teams to train in Tempe. But the national team -- World Cup/Olympic team -- will continue to train in Las Vegas. A USA Basketball spokesperson said the Las Vegas destination for the national team is definitely through the 2016 cycle.
2. Oklahoma State rising sophomore Marcus Smart told Yahoo! Sports that he would leave the Cowboys after the 2013-14 season. This was expected but now it's not hidden. But no one should fault Smart. Smart did stay beyond what was projected. He easily could have challenged for the No. 1 spot in the NBA draft last month. He decided to come back and lead the Cowboys to a possible Big 12 title and run toward the Final Four. But Smart also has hardly shrunk from challenges. He stepped up to sign on for the FIBA U-19 gold medal winning USA team in Prague, a year after leading the U-18 team to a gold medal in Brazil. He played without ego and didn't mind blending, rather than being the go-to guy. He is one of two collegians (Creighton's Doug McDermott is the other) at the USA national team minicamp in Las Vegas. Smart is giving Oklahoma State a bonus year by returning for his sophomore season. He has eliminated the questions of whether he'll return for his junior year. This is it. And based on the way he plays and handles himself, Oklahoma State will get the best of Smart every day, not a player who will be thinking about the draft or the NBA. He'll worry about that when it's applicable.
3. Louisville coach Rick Pitino had this to say on Brad Stevens' departure from Butler to the NBA to coach the Boston Celtics and what he'll need to accept when I caught up with him at the White House on Tuesday: "I won 52 games and lost 30 with the Knicks, and losing 30 games was painful in one season. But I was an assistant first with the Knicks. The difference for college guys who weren't assistant coaches is you're going to lose a lot of games. You're going to win a lot of games, too, but you're going to lose more [in one year] than you've lost in five years of college. You have to accept losing and that's the most difficult thing."
Tournament bracket for the EA Sports Maui Invitational
When and where: Nov. 25-27 at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii
Initial thoughts: The 2012 EA Sports Maui Invitational will be tough to top.
Chaminade’s stunning annihilation of Texas ... Rotnei Clarke’s buzzer-beater to lift Butler past Marquette ... North Carolina’s uncharacteristic display of mediocrity ... Illinois players hoisting the championship trophy after winning three games by an average of 23.3 points. Each game brought a new storyline.
This year’s event could provide similar drama. Although there is only one preseason top-10 team (Syracuse) in the bracket, the 2013 field is far from weak. Gonzaga spent time as the nation’s No. 1 team last season, Cal and Minnesota made the NCAA tournament, and Baylor won the NIT championship.
Each of those teams (with Baylor being the possible exception) should take a small step back this season, but all of them will still be solid and contend for NCAA tournament berths. In other words, there’s not a dud in this bunch, which leads me to believe that almost every game in this year’s event will be entertaining and competitive.
Potential matchup I’d like to see: Baylor vs. Gonzaga. Baylor shouldn’t have any problems beating Chaminade in the opening round and advancing to the semifinals against either Gonzaga or Dayton. The Flyers are always pesky, but I still think Gonzaga wins that game. Baylor and Gonzaga have faced off in two of the past three seasons, with Gonzaga winning both times by single digits. But I’d pick the Bears in this one. The Zags lost their top two post players (Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris), and Baylor’s strength is in the paint with Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale. Gonzaga boasts one of the country’s top point guards in Kevin Pangos while Baylor is searching for a replacement at that position following the graduation of Big 12 scoring leader Pierre Jackson. Still, Baylor’s overall depth in the backcourt is strong with experienced players such as Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin there to guide newcomers like Ishmail Wainright, Kenny Chery and Allerik Freeman.
Five players to watch
Justin Cobbs, Cal: Transfers are hit and miss, but things couldn’t have worked out any better when Cobbs left Minnesota for Cal a few years ago. The athletic guard averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 assists a game as a junior last season. He’ll be asked to do even more following the departure of leading scorer Allen Crabbe to the NBA.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Returning standouts C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are more recognizable names, but no player in the Maui Invitational will be under as much scrutiny as Ennis, the freshman point guard who has been tabbed to replace NBA lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams. How Syracuse fares in the ACC and, ultimately, the postseason will depend heavily on how Ennis performs in his first season of college basketball.
Andre Hollins, Minnesota: Hollins led the Gophers in scoring last season with 14.6 points per game. His 41-point effort in a victory over Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis was one of the top performances in college basketball all season. He should combine with Austin Hollins (no relation) to give Minnesota one of the more formidable backcourts in the Maui field. The biggest issue for the Gophers will be finding scoring down low.
Cory Jefferson, Baylor: The Bears power forward is fresh off a breakthrough season in which he averaged 13.3 points and eight rebounds a game. Jefferson was particularly effective in the postseason, when he averaged 21.2 points over a five-game stretch to lead Baylor to the NIT championship. The freakishly athletic Jefferson will combine with the 7-foot Austin and a bruiser in Gathers to give Baylor one of the nation’s top frontcourts.
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: A point guard, Pangos ranked third on the Zags in scoring last season with 11.9 points per game and averaged a team-high 3.3 assists. He shot just 42 percent from the field, a number that will need to increase this season. The loss of leading scorers Olynyk and Harris (who combined to average 32.4 PPG) means that Pangos will likely be asked to score at a higher rate.
Title game prediction: Syracuse over Baylor
Baylor has the size, depth, talent and experience to hang with Syracuse, and winning the championship of such an elite tournament would be a huge momentum boost for a squad loaded with potential. Syracuse, though, is an incredibly difficult team to prepare for on short notice because of its unorthodox style. Even though they lost Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche, the Orange aren’t short on experience, depth or talent either. Fair averaged a team-high 14.5 points and seven rebounds a game for a team that reached the Final Four last spring. Grant showed flashes of brilliance when his minutes increased during Southerland’s suspension, and DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita are poised for breakthrough seasons. They’ve proved they can excel at the highest level. Look for Syracuse to win an entertaining championship game.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Baylor over Syracuse
Jeff Goodman: Gonzaga over Syracuse
Andy Katz: Syracuse over Gonzaga
Myron Medcalf: Syracuse over Baylor
Dana O'Neil: Syracuse over Baylor
2. Duke associate coach Steve Wojciechowski said Sunday Mississippi State transfer guard Rodney Hood's Achilles injury wasn't severe (i.e. no rupture) but he will need to rest for several weeks. That's great news for Duke and for college basketball, as Hood should be one of the top scoring wings next season. The World University Games USA edition will miss him, but Duke would have taken a step off the title contending perch if Hood were out for the season.
3. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said he's convinced the Terps will land another quality big because of the success of Turgeon's two bigs from Texas A&M and Maryland. DeAndre Jordan was a coveted asset that the L.A. Clippers didn't want to move or at least couldn't in any dealings with the Celtics. Alex Len of Maryland was discussed as a potential No. 1 pick, but ended up going No. 5 to Phoenix. Neither Jordan nor Len were around Turgeon long, but clearly their talent was enhanced under his mentoring enough to warrant the high selection. If I'm Maryland, I would use this leverage as much as possible, too.
2. The cuts for the World University Games team playing in Russia could be some of the hardest for USA basketball. Junior national director Jim Boeheim of Syracuse will have a hard time whittling down this list. The team, which will train the last week of June in Colorado Springs, should be the overwhelming favorite in the event. But getting down to the cut list of 24 will be quite a chore for Boeheim and WUG coaches Bob McKillop (Davidson), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and John Beilein (Michigan). Here is the list: Eric Atkins (Notre Dame), Markel Brown (Oklahoma State), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Quinn Cook (Duke), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Davante Gardner (Marquette), Treveon Graham (VCU), Jerian Grant (Notre Dame), P.J. Hairston (North Carolina), A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Luke Hancock (Louisville), Joe Harris (UVA), Tyler Haws (BYU), Andre Hollins (Minnesota), Rodney Hood (Duke), Josh Huestis (Stanford), Cory Jefferson (Baylor), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Alex Kirk (New Mexico), Devyn Marble (Iowa), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Chasson Randle (Stanford), Will Sheehey (Indiana), Aaron White (Iowa), Kendall Williams (New Mexico).
3. The list will be cut down to 12. Everyone could use making the team to better themselves. But Hood could use it more than anyone else after sitting out last season as a transfer from Mississippi State. Hood needs game action before he starts to star for Duke. Fair, Grant, Hairston, Jefferson, McDermott and Payne all are trying out for the team after making the decision to return to school. The fact that two players from Indiana, Duke, Notre Dame, New Mexico and Iowa are on the first list is a sign about these three teams' future next season. Kirk and Grant have a chance to be headline players next season. So too, does White. The one player who could benefit as much as anyone is Ferrell, who will have to be even more of a playmaker next season without Victor Oladipo on his wing.
Sure, fans are always happy when good players decide to defer the NBA and stay in school. Syracuse forward C.J. Fair is a very good player. But when Fair decided to return to the Orange for his senior season, the unbridled joy in upstate New York seemed disproportionate to the Orange's situation. Having Fair back was great, but Jim Boeheim always has plenty of talented forwards to plug into his lineup, and this roster is no different. Why were 'Cuse fans so worried he might leave? Good as he is, the Orange would have been fine without him, right? What was the big deal?
It is not that Fair was underestimated or overlooked. It is that the Orange desperately need him, particularly on offense, and without him there's little telling just what this team would be. There is talent, yes, and new faces in key positions, but only Fair can be counted as a reliable and efficient point producer … even without seeing Boeheim's eventual starting lineup. The question now is whether, with one year left, Fair can take another step.
He may well have to. Syracuse's backcourt turnover has essentially robbed the Orange of three of their four best, and only, scorers from last season. Michael Carter-Williams is off to the NBA draft. James Southerland and Brandon Triche are graduating. Carter-Williams notched an assist on 40.2 percent of his possessions; Triche did so on 21.8. The pair the team leaders (among regulars, anyway) in usage rate (24.6 and 24.0 percent, respectively). Southerland, meanwhile, led the team with 211 3-point attempts despite missing almost a month due to academic suspension. He shot 39.8 percent from 3.
Asking Fair to replicate all of those abilities would be, um, inequitable. He is not a point guard like Carter-Williams, or a combo guard like Triche. He is not a 3-point specialist like Southerland. Fair reliably hits mid-range jumpers and happily leaps into contact. He is more forward than guard.
But there is nothing to say he cannot expand his game and that he cannot become an all-court scorer who does not necessarily need a nice setup on the baseline to be effective. After all, Fair shot 47 percent from 3 last season (he went 30-of-64), which was the exact percentage he shot on his 398 2-point attempts. He also takes care of the ball. His 13.5 percent turnover rate was lower than all of his teammates' rate save Southerland. While that has a lot to do with a high rate of catch-and-shoots, it also suggests Fair might be able to expand his ballhandling role without giving Boeheim too much heartburn. And if 64 shots becomes 164, can Fair shoot 40 percent?
Which is not to say Fair is going to suddenly morph into Trey Burke. He is not a point guard, he is not going to be a point guard and, most importantly, he should not need to be a point guard. Syracuse has five-star point Tyler Ennis reporting for duty this summer, and by all accounts he'll be ready to go. Ennis is a smart, rim-attacking penetrator and passer with a 3-point shot that keeps defenses honest. Sophomore shooting guard Trevor Cooney should absorb plenty of minutes, and probably even receive a starting nod, at the two.
Even so, that makes Fair a small forward -- and that is probably the best thing for Syracuse, anyway. The strength of the Orange lies in its frontcourt, where Rakeem Christmas remains a strong player, Baye Keita is underrated and arguably underutilized. Jerami Grant stepped up when he got his chance during Southerland's absence and highly touted 2012 recruit DaJuan Coleman is totally ready for his close-up. How will Boeheim balance those minutes? For all of the talk about the 2-3 zone -- and Fair and the rest of these forwards will be important there, too - Boeheim isn't a coach with a die-hard offensive system that must be adhered to at all times. He isn't a positional dogmatist. He plays to his players' strengths, and he finds ways to get guys in his lineup that might not make sense in any traditional 1-through-5 breakdown of the game.
What if he decides to put Fair at "shooting guard?" What if he plays four forwards?
I realize this may be a terrible idea, but that is not really the point. The point is that it's at least conceivable, and the reason it is conceivable is Fair could very well have that kind of talent in him. He may have the ability to take his already-efficient perimeter shooting and turn it into an all-around offensive attack. At the very least, he is the closest thing to a rock in what will be a brand new backcourt this season, whoever ends up getting the minutes.
So, yeah, the euphoric Syracuse fans were right. Fair is not just another forward to plug in with the rest. He is something different -- and that difference could be the key to the 2013-14 Orange season.
Now that the smoke has cleared, it appears that the four teams that competed for the national title in Atlanta last month possess the potential to reach Arlington, Texas, for next season’s Final Four. What are the chances that Syracuse, Louisville, Michigan and Wichita State will get back there?
(In order of probability on a scale of 1-10)
- Louisville (Chances: 9) -- For a few weeks, Louisville’s future was an uncertain one. First, Russ Smith had decided to leave, according to his father. Then he admitted he wasn’t exactly sure what he would do. But he ultimately chose another year at Louisville. The guard struggled in the national title game, but he was a force throughout the NCAA tournament. With Smith in charge, there’s no reason to doubt that Louisville will compete in Cowboys Stadium next season in its third consecutive Final Four run. Yes, the Cardinals have lost two critical players in Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. But five-star recruit Terry Rozier and Chris Jones, who was recently named NABC junior college player of the year, will be ready to log major minutes for Rick Pitino’s program in 2013-14. And Chane Behanan should be on a lot of preseason All-American charts. Montrezl Harrell did things in the Big Dance that showcased a glimpse of his ability. Plus, Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock, the Final Four’s most outstanding player, will be back, too. There’s a lot of Kentucky buzz right now. But the Cardinals should be able to compete against any team in America next season.
- Michigan (Chances: 8 ) -- They should be celebrating in Ann Arbor right now. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III could have been first-round picks in this summer’s NBA draft. Their decision to come back for their sophomore seasons will help the Wolverines maintain their status as Big Ten contenders. Robinson will be a more prominent factor in John Beilein’s offense next year. And McGary will be one of the best big men in America. Now, let’s discuss the question. How do you replace Trey Burke? I’m not dismissing Tim Hardaway Jr.’s contributions to the program. But it’s much easier to find scorers than leaders. The Wolverines have enough talent returning (Spike Albrecht, Nik Stauskas and Jon Horford) and coming (Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Mark Donnal are all top-100 kids per RecruitingNation) to support the notion that they could make another Final Four appearance in 2013-14. But how will Beilein replace Burke and his intangibles? I had the same question about Kansas last season. When the Jayhawks lost Thomas Robinson, they lost more than a player. He was the soul of the program. They were missing his leadership more than anything last season. Michigan could find itself in the same position next year. I’ve heard great things about Walton. But Burke was special. Without him, the Wolverines still have Final Four talent. But it will be difficult to rally in the postseason if they don’t identify a player(s) to take on Burke’s leadership role as the season approaches.
- Syracuse (Chances: 7) -- Here’s what we learned about Jim Boeheim in 2012-13 … again. He always finds another player to step in and contribute when necessary. Yes, the losses of a dynamic starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams, guard Brandon Triche and forward James Southerland would be devastating for most programs. But I doubt Boeheim is concerned. He has C.J. Fair, who was potent for the Orange in the tourney. And when given the chance to play a bigger role after Southerland was suspended for academic issues, Jerami Grant looked like a young star. Baye Keita, Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman give Syracuse the length and athleticism that will boost the 2-3 zone that opponents hate. Plus, Tyler Ennis anchors a recruiting class that’s ranked sixth overall by RecruitingNation. But there’s a lot of pressure on Ennis. Carter-Williams will be a lottery pick. He was a confident and versatile threat for Syracuse. Ennis probably will fill the void Syracuse now has at point guard. Can he do it? Well, that’s the story of this team. Boeheim will be forced to rely on players who weren’t major factors last season. The good news? That’s the story of Syracuse every season. Carter-Williams averaged 2.7 PPG in 2011-12. He’ll make millions in a few months. Again, Boeheim just turns to the next person in line and says, “You’re up.” And his guys respond to that challenge. So when weighing Syracuse’s chances of reaching the Final Four next season, it’s important to consider that pattern. This team has lost a lot. But it will still be a national contender in 2013-14.
- Wichita State (Chances: 6) -- Gregg Marshall piloted the most exciting postseason story in the country in March/April. Wichita State had failed to win the Missouri Valley Conference regular season or tournament titles. Yet, they thrived on their experience and underrated talent as they rallied to the Final Four. The Shockers' success seemed to materialize from nothing. But it was actually more logical than that. Marshall wrestled with multiple injuries throughout the season. And in the weeks leading up to the NCAA tournament, Wichita State finally had a (somewhat) healthy roster. With NCAA tourney star Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet returning, the Shockers will be the favorites to win the MVC. Could they pull off a Butler and make back-to-back Final Four appearances? Yep. But it seems tough to project that level of success for a squad that has major holes to fill with the loss of veterans Carl Hall, Malcolm Armstead and Ehimen Orukpe. But Marshall brings back the other key pieces that fueled that rally to Atlanta. And Evan Wessel was a starter before he broke his hand and eventually redshirted. Tekele Cotton was solid throughout the postseason, too. Incoming players Kadeem Coleby (Louisiana-Lafayette transfer), Shaquille Morris (three-star recruit) and Earl Watson will give Marshall the size he’ll need in the post. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Shockers play their way to Arlington next season. But they have more questions to answer than any other squad on this list.
Only to be called for an offensive foul.
"That’s a moment you dream about -- those final seconds, the ball in your hands, trying to make the best play for your team," he said after Syracuse lost to Michigan 61-56 on Saturday. " ... We just needed another bucket."
That pretty much summed up Syracuse’s night.
Although forward C.J. Fair scored a game-high 22 points on 9-for-20 shooting, teammates Southerland (2-for-9) and Michael Carter-Williams (1-for-6), usually double-digit scorers, combined for seven points and made only 3 of their 15 shots.
"They started out strong, and we never really got anything going," Southerland said.
Syracuse shot 41.8 percent for the game -- including 3-for-14 on 3-pointers.
"I think they’re a good defensive team," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of the Wolverines. "We have shot the ball well from 3 this year. We’re shooting about 20 percent from 3, in our nine losses. It hasn’t been something that we’ve been really good on. We try not to take a lot of 3s. But we had good looks. I mean, they were all good looks."
Southerland, who didn’t score his first field goal until the final two minutes of the game (on a dunk that cut Michigan’s lead to four), had a very good look with 41 seconds left, when he buried a 3 to cut a once-11-point deficit to 57-56.
But after Michigan’s Trey Burke made only one of two free throws, Jordan Morgan stepped in front of Triche to draw the charge, which Triche said "could have gone either way."
"I probably should have made a better decision," he said. "Probably should have pulled up ... for a jump shot instead of actually taking it all the way down there, because I did see him."
Although who’s to say, in this game, that a jumper would have gone in for Syracuse, either?
"It was tough because offensively, we never could get anything going," Triche said. "We couldn’t get multiple made shots in a row. We’d make one, and we probably didn’t make another shot for two minutes or something.
"We didn’t have much momentum offensively. Defensively, we started to pick it up, chip away, and that’s what we did -- we chipped away all the way to the last second of the game."
After the charge call, Jon Horford hit one of two free throws to push the Wolverines up by three. But with nine seconds left -- and with a chance to tie it -- Syracuse reserve Trevor Cooney took and missed a bad 2-point shot that ultimately resulted in a dunk for Morgan and Michigan on the other end.
In a game that saw Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone hold the Wolverines to 33.3 percent shooting in the second half, it was a frustrating way to finish the game. And the season.
And the dream of winning a national title.
"Final Four, down two points, the opportunity to tie the game or take the lead -- but get a charge," said Triche, a senior. "That’s what I’ll probably remember the most."