Orange Unimpressive in 92-86 Win

Syracuse's season opening 92-86 win over the Bryant Bulldogs left a lot to be desired. Sophomore Eric Devendorf tallied 30 points in the victory, but the Orange defense often looked confused and unfocused. SU was outrebounded 58 to 53 by the considerably smaller Bulldogs and also committed 24 turnovers, a testament to the horribly sloppy nature of the game.

Despite the close margin of victory, the game was never really in doubt. Syracuse jumped out to an early 18-6 lead and maintained a double-digit margin for most of the rest of the way. They took a 45-34 lead into the break, largely thanks to the play of Devendorf and Roberts, who combined for 30 first half points.

A quick 5-0 run by Syracuse to open the second stanza forced a Bryant timeout, but from then on the Orange seemed to lose focus. They immediately gave up an 8-0 run that forced head coach Jim Boeheim to call a timeout. Boeheim used the opportunity to berate junior PG Josh Wright after he failed to switch on a screen to cover Cecil Gresham, who nailed a long jumper.

Wright's defensive struggles on the evening were highlighted by the play of Bryant PG Chris Burns, who nailed 6 three pointers and finished with 33 points and 6 assists. After Bryant had closed the gap to 8 at 50-42, Syracuse responded with a 12-0 run, punctuated by a smooth Nichols finger-roll on a nice trailing pass from Devendorf.

The resulting twenty point cushion allowed Boeheim to try several different player combinations for the remainder of the game. Bryant chipped away to draw within 6 points, led mostly by Burns's outside shooting, but SU was never seriously threatened. The biggest highlights came late in the game when Mike Jones had a one-hand tomahawk from about 9 feet out, and later Paul Harris followed a Jones miss with a sweet put-back dunk in transition.

Game Analysis Boeheim's charges played almost exclusively man to man defense on the evening. For the most part it was hectic and undisciplined. The best defensive segments came when Paul Harris was picking up the opposing point guard 80 feet from the basket and ballhawking him into poor decisions. The Orange rebounded very poorly, with most players forgetting or half-hearting their way through block-out responsibilities. If this is the brand of defense that the team is going to play this year, they are in big trouble. There is no excuse for getting outrebounded by a less athletic team that was giving up 3 or 4 inches at virtually every spot on the court.

More disturbing than the man to man defense was the fullcourt press, which Boeheim used for extended periods throughout the game. There is very little structure to the press, with 4 players overloaded in the backcourt and one player (tonight it was Matt Gorman) setting up deep. The scheme is outdated and Bryant was able to bypass it with ease on several occasions. Syracuse was fortunate that the Bulldogs were unable to connect on the slew of open midrange shots they got after breaking the press.

It also seemed odd to me that Boeheim would employ so much press without his best shotblocker, Darryl Watkins, in the game. But, considering that Watkins gave up an ole style lay-up the first time the team pressed, I guess this makes sense. In fairness, this kind of game where the center has to chase around 6-6 opponents is not ideally suited for Watkins.

The offensive execution was equally rough. Josh Wright had a tough evening despite recording 8 assists. Most halfcourt sets degenerated into a guard or wing player throwing up a three point shot, and the spacing in transition situations was often poor. This team will have to improve its defense and rebounding if it hopes to run a more effective break.

Developing a post-up threat seems unlikely given the inconsistency that Roberts and Watkins have shown over 3+ years. What the team did do well yesterday is scrap for baskets. Many of their points came on point blank shots after fighting for loose balls. This will have to be a common theme, as it doesn't look like points will come easy if the tempo is slow.

The biggest problem I see at this point is that the team lacks a true "identity". The returning seniors have never been consistent enough to give the team a commanding presence, and Josh Wright struggled to do likewise tonight. In my opinion, Wright did little to cement his role as starting point guard, and indeed Boeheim gave Paul Harris a long look in the second half. The biggest on-court personality that this team has is Harris, but it will be hard for him to transfer that identity to the team if he is coming off the bench. If Wright continues to play the way he did on Wednesday, it is only a matter of time before Harris is starting and the team switches to point guard by committee.

Player Capsules

Josh Wright - Wright's performance in his first career start was not exactly awe inspiring. The junior point guard showed little ability to run a half-court offense, and his shooting from the field was abysmal (0-6 fg). He did manage to record 8 assists, most of which came in transition, the highlight of which was a 30 foot lob to Demetris Nichols in the second half. Josh was somehow credited with only 2 turnovers, which seems impossible considering the number of times he dribbled into traffic and lost control of the ball. Also, it was distressing to see the number of times that he let slower players get by him into the paint.

Eric Devendorf -Syracuse's leading scorer with 30 points, Devendorf took it upon himself to make things happen when the SU half-court offense sputtered. Look for Boeheim to give Devo the green light this year and use him as a devastating creative force. Eric knocked down 6 of 9 three-point attempts and as usual showed a great ability to finish in traffic with the left hand. Despite the high scoring output, he did have several forays into the paint that looked to have little purpose. He needs to develop a bail-out strategy for the times when he gets deep into the defense and gets shut off by bigger players. As of right now, he doesn't seem to have one. On the defensive side, he picked up 5 fouls, the last coming on a foolish reach-in. Devo will need to cut this out of his game, because Boeheim's going to play him 35+ minutes a night this year. If this disqualification had come against a Big East team, SU probably wouldn't have walked away with a victory.

Demetris Nichols - And now, we're on to the seniors... Rehashing this group's inconsistency seems like a waste of space, but it is really one of the top stories in this game. Nichols is a perfect example in that he pulled a sleepwalking act through the first half, only to emerge with a strong second half. His entire first half offense was predicated on the three point shot, all of which rolled around and out. Then, in the second half something clicked and he looked like a different player. He got a breakaway dunk, then followed that up with a series of midrange jumpers that were money in the bank. 17 of his 21 points came after the break. He shot only 1-8 from outside the arc, but hit 7 of 8 shots inside the paint. He showed a much improved handle with the ability to create spacing with an up-fake and one or two dribbles to set up his midrange J. Still, his inconsistency from half to half is a major concern for this team, and he has also not shown the ability to attack the basket off the dribble. There is a certain amount of rigidity to his game that seems to limit his ability to break into the upper echelon of the league.

Terrance Roberts - Roberts pulled a Nichols in reverse. The Tornado had a monster first half with 15 points and 9 rebounds, only to disappear in the second half. He was a whirlwind of activity for the game's first 20 minutes, but it looked like he was spent late in the game. He finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, but on the downside he shot only 4 of 10 from the line, and turned the ball over 7 times (in fairness, that number is a little harsh since at least three times Josh Wright threw him passes aimed directly at his ankles). Unlike Watkins and Gorman, Terrence seemed to correctly identify that he had a distinct height advantage, and he tried to use it to the best of his ability. He did have a few attempts at post-up moves, and showed a nice pull-up 8 footer in the first half. It looks like he'll be slightly improved this year, but he really needs to improve on his free throw shooting. He is throwing away 2 to 4 points a game at the line right now.

Mookie Watkins - No show, no call.

Matt Gorman - Gorman and Harris were the first two players off the bench. Although Matt didn't provide much in the way of scoring, he did chip in 6 boards and 9 blocked shots. You have to love the kid's effort and the fact that he plays hard all the time. It looks like he's ready to play major minutes this year with Onuaku out, and while he'll never be an all-league player, he can be a quality reserve.

Paul Harris - The much-hyped newcomer turned in a performance that was equal parts "nice moments" and "freshman moments". He wasted little time in trying to make a mark on the game, firing up a fadeaway jumper on an inbounds play the first time he touched the ball. It was hard to tell whether the shot was partially blocked; in any event it didn't draw iron. Harris was at his best when he was picking up the opposing point guard full court and harassing him into bad decisions. He pulled off a man-sized steal early in the game and turned it into an impressive fastbreak layup and three-point play. Harris showed that he is not a natural bigtime scorer out of the gate (his outside shot is completely inaccurate), but his contributions to the team's intensity are much needed. He finished the game with 8 pts, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals, but there were a few troubling moments when he got his shot blocked in traffic, and also was stuffed by the rim on a dunk attempt. Expect him to get better as he grows into a defined role.

Mike Jones - Who? I saw Jones earlier this year at the Jordan Classic and liked him a lot. He has a patience to his game that few other freshman have. He nailed his first three pointer with ease and seemed to have a very good nose for the ball. He looks a little taller than when I saw him at Jordan, and more importantly he looks more athletic. He had a few plays where he put on an impressive burst of speed, and his soaring one-handed tomahawk jam in the second half conjured images of The Condor. Despite some of the highlights, he did have his own set of "freshman moments" where he took an ill-advised three pointer that was blocked, and also had a few plays where he was unable to get control of the ball. There is no doubt that he has the talent to contribute right away, but with Nichols ahead of him it will be interesting to see how his playing time is distributed.

Andy Rautins - Leo's son wasted no time, making an early mark on the game with a three pointer just second after stepping foot on the court. His release is very quick – if only Demetris Nichols had his confidence and quick trigger. Rautins seems to be a very heady player with a good passing touch, but he's not big and strong enough to see major minutes. My hope for him is that Boeheim uses him in same way that he used Shumpert in 99-00, namely get him in the game to see if he's hot, and adjust his playing time accordingly. There will be more than a few games when he comes in and hits a couple threes this year.

Devin Brennan-McBride - This Canadian import was more productive in his six minutes on the court than Watkins was in double that time. Brennan-McBride is clearly the least heralded of the incoming class, but he looked mobile and was in the middle of several plays on the evening. He hit two free throws with a smooth and fluid release, then nailed a 7 foot jumper in the paint. His physique is not Big East ready at this point (as Syracusefan poster JOC44 pointed out, he looks a bit "doughy") and it is doubtful that he will see meaningful minutes this year, but he showed enough in his six minutes to suggest that he may be a player down the line.

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