Lineup-Alooza; Boeheim's Shuffling his Cards

I went to both exhibition games last week, and I've never had so much fun. If you didn't get a chance to go, you missed out. I got to see Coach Boeheim get booted, which by itself made the whole thing worthwhile.

If that wasn't enough, I also got to see the lineup shuffle. I counted, and Jim Boeheim used exactly 35, 316, 412 different combinations of players. But that got a little redundant, so I've narrowed it down for you to five main lineups Syracuse will use this year.


First off, a couple of assumptions I've made about the season need to be put forth:


1)                          I don't think Andy Rautins is going to get any playing time this year. I know Boeheim has said Rautins can help, but he always says that. Last year he said the Wrights would both play, but only Josh got any significant time. And, that was because of the Edelin situation, which I will refer to from now on as Billygate. I would say Boeheim will redshirt Rautins, but I don't think it would help him very much. The next two incoming classes are fantastic. It's a pretty tough situation for hometown Andy, but it doesn't change the fact the team is too talented for him to play as a freshman.


2)                          Devendorf and Onuaku are both ready to play, although somehow I see Devendorf taking too many shots and getting in Boeheim's doghouse at some point in the season. I also see him as a change of pace guy off the bench who can score. That's something Syracuse needs. As for Onuaku, he's huge. The guy is ready defensively, and is functional on offense. The team will need him when Watkins gets in foul trouble.


3)                          In almost every lineup except the ones where they are both on the court, McCroskey and Nichols are going to be interchangeable. This doesn't mean they are going to play equal time. It just means they essentially play the same role on the team when the alternative lineups are on the floor. So whoever is playing well, will play more. The only caveat to this is when foul trouble comes and Nichols has to play for rebounding purposes. So to save confusion, and also because I love nicknames (they're fun), I will refer to the two as NicCroskey when they are interchangeable. 


So if I'm wrong about any of those assumptions, then I could be wrong about the lineups. But what the hell, I'm a columnist. I get paid to be wrong. Anyway, without further ado, the 2005-2006 Syracuse lineups:


The Starting Veteran Lineup: Watkins, Roberts, Nichols, McCroskey, and McNamara


Comments: This is your money lineup for the year. Defensively it's probably the best zone Syracuse has had in a long time. Look at the height in the back. The shortest guy is 6-foot-8. That's ridiculous. Watkins, Nichols, and Roberts are all good defensive players as well. Even in the front of the zone, the defense will be good with this lineup. The Mc' boys are both legit. Now that Josh Pace has graduated, Louie is probably the best one-on-one defensive player on the team. Then there's McNamara whose intensity and knowledge make up for his size. He's been playing the zone for three years, and has understood it ever since he arrived anyway.      


Where Syracuse is going to struggle with this lineup is in the half-court offense. Teams will be keying McNamara, and although I think you'll see all the juniors improve on offense, there are still questions with each one. Can McCroskey stay under control? Can Nichols play in the game the way he does in practice? Does Terrence Roberts know how to make a post-up shot? Will Daryl Watkins new haircut make him more Aerodynamic? All right, I made that last one up, but the point is still there. Early in the season, at least, this lineup will struggle to find offensive rhythm. 


Also, another problem with this unit is going to be foul trouble. There will be four or five games when Terrence Roberts goes on one of his famous tangents where he gets three fouls in 11 seconds. We've all seen it happen. It happened in the exhibition game. It's going to happen again. Watkins can also get in trouble quick too if he's not careful.


The Gerry Can't Play Point Guard Tonight Lineup: Wright, McNamara, NicCroskey, Roberts, and Watkins.


McNamara had to play point the entire season last year because Billygate prevented Wright from developing. So one in every two or three games Gerry wouldn't look like himself. He would force passes. He would take too many shots. A lot of those games were when he had to play Saturday-Monday games with only a day of rest in between. He was tired. This year Gerry doesn't have to do that.


He needs to be on the floor, but he doesn't have to always play point guard because Josh Wright is ready to play. Wright's quick and for the most part makes good decisions, although his bad ones could stop the pacemakers of some of the old guys in the Booster Club. Overall though, he should be able to contribute. Offensively this improves Syracuse because of Wright's ability to create open opportunities for his teammates.


Defensively, it makes Syracuse's zone pretty short in the front, which could be a problem when the Orange plays teams with big physical guards like many of the squads in the Big East have. With Wright on the floor instead of both halves of NicCroskey, rebounding won't be as good either.


The We Need Some Offense Right Away Lineup: Devendorf, McNamara, NicCroskey, Roberts, Watkins


This is what Eric Devendorf does. He brings a change of pace off the bench. The kid can score on the move or drop an open shot. Most importantly he creates. It's something the team will need when it plays teams with a solid guard to shutdown McNamara. Don't get me wrong, Gerry is awesome. I like him as much as any Syracuse player I've seen, but he can be shutdown by a good defender. Former Connecticut player Ben Gordon is the perfect example. He shut Gerry down both years they played against each other. Syracuse struggles when Gerry gets shut down.


Now that Hakim Warrick has graduated, you can count on virtually every team Syracuse plays either doubling Gerry or putting a shutdown guard on him. This is where this lineup can help Syracuse. If Devendorf can come in and force opposing teams to shift some of the guards' defensive focus on him, the Orange will be tough to beat. This lineup is vital to Syracuse's success this year. The Orange needs some more scoring threats from the other guard position or McNamara and Syracuse will struggle.


The Gorma-Riffic Soon To Be Nichols Playing Power Forward Lineup: Gorman to start the season then Nichols, McNamara, McCroskey, Devendorf or Wright, and Watkins.


Here's the thing about Matt Gorman. I like the kid. I really do, and I feel bad for him. He just doesn't have the athleticism or the game to get significant time at a place like Syracuse. He may have worked hard last year during the redshirt, but he's not a player. Just isn't. It's my He's Still Matt Gorman Theory. I'll probably mention it again.


Anyway, I figure he will start the year off as the guy Boeheim puts in when Roberts gets in foul trouble. I'm not sure, but I get the feeling Boeheim thinks he owes Gorman at least a chance for all the work he put in over his year off. Slowly, however, Boeheim will weed him out of the lineup because he is ineffective. This is the guy who scored no points against St. Rose in an exhibition. Do you really think he can do anything against a team like Connecticut? 


Instead, Boeheim will go with a smaller lineup featuring Nichols at power forward, McCroskey at the three, and one of the younger guys in the backcourt with Gerry. It could hurt him as he gets into the Big East to have to rely on a lineup this small. Knowing Roberts tendency to get into foul trouble, this is a scary thought during the Big East schedule.


            The Arinze I Can't Say Your Last Name Correctly lineup: Onuaku, Roberts, Nichols, McCroskey, and McNamara.


When you see Watkins get in foul trouble, or even playing poorly, Onuaku will come in. He is a good defensive presence, and can finish an open dunk. You don't need much more from your center in Syracuse's system.


Onuaku also bears a striking resemblance to Otis Hill. He's not the tallest guy on the court, but he is thick. The guy is just a huge human being. Look for him to have a similar career to Hill. By the way, I may start calling him Baby Otis just for fun.


Each of these lineups has some weak and strong points, but fortunately Syracuse is deep enough to have a lineup to address each one of its needs. This is something the Orange did not have last year. It was Gerry and Hakim to the death. Although the Orange will miss Warrick's scoring, this year there are several places to turn if Syracuse's main guys are having an off game, and that's always a good thing. Or as Jim Boeheim would say, "It's tremendous."

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