College Basketball Nation: Mookie Jones

Cuse's poor shooting could become issue

December, 10, 2010
Syracuse thoroughly dominated Michigan State Tuesday night. For those questioning whether the Orangemen's occasionally unimpressive (albeit undefeated start) was worth worrying about, the MSU win should have settled any debate.

It revealed a host of positives: Jim Boeheim's zone is as effective as ever, this Cuse team can get to the rim and score in the post as well as any team in the country, Rick Jackson is a monster, et al. But there was one negative to emerge from Syracuse's performance, one that has bothered the Orange throughout the season, and one that could rear its ugly head in a variety of ways before Syracuse mounts up for the NCAA tournament: outside shooting.

Boeheim's team entered Madison Square Garden having shot the ball poorly from beyond the arc all year, and nothing changed Tuesday night. Syracuse went 2-of-11 from three, good for 18.2 percent. After that performance, Syracuse's 2010 three-point field goal percentage dipped to 29.0. That ranks the Orangemen No. 293 in the nation from 20-feet and out.

But hey, if Syracuse can get to the rim with ease, no big deal, right? History shows otherwise. In his weekly power rankings, Luke Winn dug into the numbers and found something startling: When teams shoot as poorly from three as Syracuse has thus far, they don't win in the NCAA tournament. In fact, they don't even make the NCAA tournament:
Before doing the research, I speculated that while this was a problem, I'd find at least a few teams that overcame a lack of three-point shooting ability to make decent NCAA tournament runs. Turns out ... that's not the case. In the past five years, do you know how many teams even made the NCAA tournament shooting sub-30 on threes?

None. None!

Winn assumed, for the sake of argument, that Syracuse would improve its long-range effort to, say, 31.5 percent. What about now? That's not much better; Winn found 15 teams (including seven from last year's tourney) that have made the NCAA tournament with sub-32 3-point field goal percentage marks since 2006. Only one of those teams, the 2010 Purdue Boilermakers, made it past the first weekend of the tournament.

Before Syracuse fans go into full-on freakout mode, there are reasons to believe Boeheim's team can improve their long-range accuracy going forward. For one, Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine averaged 39.5 percent from three combined last season. So far this year, Triche and Jardine are averaging around 26 percent from beyond the arc. Nine games is a much less meaningful sample size than 35; it's fair to expect a nice fat statistical correction for the guard duo any game now.

Failing that, Syracuse happens to have a very good three-point shooter -- Mookie Jones -- on its bench. Jones has seen his minutes dip this season, and he didn't see the floor once against Michigan State Tuesday night. But Jones shot almost 45 percent from three last season, and his effective field goal percentage (63.2) was higher than either Wes Johnson's (56.4) or Andy Rautins's (60.3). If Boeheim needs shooting, and he does, all he has to do is tell Jones to tear off the warmups and get in the game.

And, hey, you never know. Maybe Syracuse is that rare team that doesn't need to make threes to succeed. It's possible. But unless Syracuse is actively trying to set historical precedent, it would behoove the Orangemen to start making a few outside shots.

UNI to start 2010-11 with a bang

August, 10, 2010
The Northern Iowa Panthers ended their 2009-10 season about as well as they could have hoped. They're about to begin the new season with a similar opportunity.

UNI, which famously downed Kansas in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament before losing to Final Four-bound Michigan State, is beginning the 2010-11 season with a chance for another upset. On Nov. 12, the Panthers will face off against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. It will be the school's first non-conference game -- in other words, their first game, period -- of the season. Intense.

Of course, despite UNI's recent postseason success, a win at the Carrier Dome would indeed qualify as a major upset. The 2010-11 Syracuse Orange lost three leaders in the offseason, but they've reloaded with a star-studded recruiting class and a handful of players (Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, Mookie Jones) set to make major leaps in production in the coming year. UNI, meanwhile, lost five seniors from last year's team, including game-winning star Ali Farokhmanesh and leading scorers Jordan Eglseder and Adam Koch.

The difference between Cinderella and the top mid-majors in college hoops -- Xavier, Butler, Gonzaga, et al. -- is that those three expect to be good every year, regardless of personnel losses. They recruit at a high level. They play deep into the NCAA tournament. And when they lose key players, they have enough to reload almost immediately. UNI's 2010-11 season -- starting with their big matchup at the Carrier Dome -- will be a test to see if they can join that level. Whatever happens, it ought to be interesting.
The departure of Andy Rautins from last year's ruthlessly effective Syracuse backcourt leaves a big hole to fill. Who's going to fill it? The key names are no surprise: There's Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Mookie Jones, as well as 6-foot-4 shooting guard Dion Waiters, the No. 2-ranked off-guard in the incoming class.

It's a bit of a tricky situation: Boeheim will likely want to find minutes for Waiters, but he also has two very capable and experienced guards in Jardine and Triche, both of whom played big minutes last year. Triche started at point guard. Jardine came off the bench. Both contributed in big ways.

What does Jardine think about all this? So glad you asked. Jardine thinks that by the time the season rolls around, Triche will move over to shooting guard, and he (Jardine) will assume point guard responsibilities. From an interview with Yahoo!'s Jason King:
“We were on the court together a lot last year,” Jardine said. “I know how to get him going and he knows how to get me going. It’s going to be a great backcourt."

The move makes sense. Jardine is more of a natural point guard, and it's not hard to picture Triche running off screens and hitting open shots at a high rate. Even if both players were identical, sometimes you have to throw positional rigidity out the window. Sometimes you need to put your best two players in your backcourt, even if some of their skills overlap. There's nothing wrong with a doubling down on combo guards. They're combo guards for a reason.

Anyway, throw in Waiters and Jones, and Scoop is absolutely right: That is going to be an awfully good backcourt.