Orange Sloppy in 80-71 Victory

The Syracuse Hoops team opened the exhibition portion of the '07-08 schedule with a 80-71 victory over the College of Saint Rose Golden Knights on Sunday afternoon in the Carrier Dome. The Knights proved to be a worthy opponent for the young Orange, forcing 21 turnovers while actually taking the lead with just under 5 minutes remaining. The Orange closed with an 18-8 run to win the game.

Rather than the usual play-by-play type of game story, I'm going to do things a bit different today and focus on some of the positives and negatives in Sunday's game. Positives

Johnny Flynn I didn't track +/- for this game, but I would be willing to bet that the Orange were about +20 when Flynn was on the floor. His game is so fluid and poised that at times you don't think he's doing anything spectacular, but then you look up and he's got about 6 assists and only one turnover and SU's up by 10 points. Then JB takes him out the and team starts throwing the ball away like Brett Favre circa 2005… and you come to appreciate the steadying influence he has on the team.

Flynn just seems to have a knack to put the ball in the right spot at the right time. I'd like to see him be more effective with the jumpshot, but his distribution and decision-making is such a welcome change compared to last year's point guard by committee rotation. Oh, and how ‘bout them hops on the receiving end of a Paul Harris alley-oop?

Donte Greene While it wasn't all positive for Donte (see below), there were moments in the first half that had you thinking back to 2002-03. There is no question that this kid is an incredibly talented offensive player. He looked unstoppable in the first half, draining shots from all over the court, scoring in transition, and even muscling in the paint for a putback.

You also have to like his 7 rebounds. It remains to be seen if he can be effective banging against Big East opponents, but his shear height and athleticism should allow him to get his share of boards. He is also a very talented passer. One play that really impressed me was his laser pass to a streaking Devendorf under the basket.

I want to see him keep that intensity and effort up for an entire game, and I worry that sometimes he falls in love with his jumper, but overall yesterday was just a glimpse of the talent he will put on display in the Dome this year. I don't think he's ready to put together a Carmelo-like freshman year, but there will be moments…

Arinze Onuaku I gotta say I loved what I saw from The Big O (Part Deux). Yeah, he had trouble hanging on to the ball early in the game, took a few crazy-out-of-control-whirling-dervish shots, and was a tad slow to rotate on defense from time to time, but I loved his effort and the fact that he was in the middle of everything. The kid was all over the boards on both ends, and as he shakes off the rust I expect his hands to improve. He could have easily had 15 or 16 boards yesterday if they hadn't betrayed him.

One of the things that I kept thinking during the game was how Darryl Watkins could never match-up against smaller opponents. Onuaku isn't the athlete that Mookie was, but he was able to keep the munchkins away from the offensive glass in a manner that Watkins never could. I also liked the fact that Onuaku TOOK IT TO his defender every time he realized he had a smaller player on him. On two different occasions he simply power-dribbled his way by the defense and pounded down a dunk, another thing that Mookie never seemed to develop.

End Game Performance Yeah, it was just a DII opponent, but the Orange finished out the last 6 minutes with focus and tenacity. Shanty Robinson hit a jumper that gave the Golden Knights a 63-62 lead with under six minutes to go but SU responded with an 18-8 run to close out the game.

The two main catalysts were Johnny Flynn and Paul Harris. Immediately after St. Rose had taken the lead, Flynn knifed into the paint, drew the defense, and kicked out to Devendorf, who hit a three-pointer and was fouled. Flynn then scored a layup on a beautiful pass from Harris and also broke down the D to find Onuaku under the basket for another score. He finished things up with an off-the-glass oop to Harris, giving him three assists in the final 5 minutes. Harris's presence was mainly felt on the defensive end, where he simply owned the glass in the later part of the game.

Scoop! OK, I'm gonna be honest… I just like writing/saying "Scoop". How can you not like a hoopster named Scoop?

Jardine had some nice moments on Sunday, but had some shaky ones as well. His handle looked suspect and his passing wasn't exactly pinpoint. If Flynn's +/- was overwhelmingly positive, then I'd imagine that Jardine's was pretty close to even, as the ‘Cuse offense didn't flow nearly as well with him in command. But, he did manage two important steals, went coast to coast for a lay-in, and also hit a floating mid-range jumper in the lane that brought back shades of Billy Edelin.

I think he's got a lot to work on to really become comfortable in Boeheim's system, but I also think he has that kind of quirky, heady game that helped Josh Pace and Billy Edelin eventually become Dome favorites. Like Pace and Edelin, his form on the deep shot leaves a lot to be desired. Don't expect to see him hitting many threes this year.

Kristof Henceforth, I will be referring to Kristof Ongenaet simply as "Kristoff". It just seems like he should be referred with only one name. I don't know why, but I liked him. It looks like he plays hard, is willing to mix it up a bit, and usually seems to have his head in the game. I say "usually" because he did have one truly horrific play where he saved the ball directly to a St. Rose player under their basket.

Kristof scored 6 points in limited action, had an uncontested dunk, and hit an uncontested triple. With the frontcourt rotation being so young and inexperienced, I can imagine this kid will play out of necessity. I don't expect him to be much of a consistent threat from deep (a check of his numbers at Questa College reveals that he rarely shot 3s as a JC player), but he could certainly play the roll of energizer off the bench.

Negatives

Free Throw Shooting I'm not going to waste space analyzing this. 2-8 from the line during a crucial stretch in the second half is not going to cut it against good teams.

Ballhandling Clearly the most obvious weakness during Sunday's exhibition was ballhandling. The Orange committed a total of 21 turnovers, most of them coming against St. Rose's half-court man to man trap. The Golden Knights proved to be a very well coached team that executed their defense extremely well – if they had had the athletes to match their discipline, they would have likely come away victorious.

The most disappointing aspect of SU's Sunday Matinee turnover-fest was the fact that two of last year's primary ballhandlers were at the center of the debacle. Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf, seasoned Big East veterans, should both know better than to throw lazy cross-court passes over a doubleteam.

Devendorf also suffered some of the same miscommunication turnovers (i.e. throwing passes behind cutters and over teammates' heads) that plagued his late game meltdowns at Connecticut and Louisville last year. While this can be partially excused by the number of new players on the floor, it was still disheartening to see coming from a junior who will be relied on as a key ballhandler this year.

But let's not absolve the young'ins' from blame too… Donte Greene had several vintage "freshman moments" where he looked uncomfortable and confused. He needs to protect the ball better when dribbling in the paint, and his cross-over dribble comes perilously close to being a carry every time he breaks it out. Fellow frosh Scoop Jardine also had some really shaky moments at the point, throwing away a few lazy passes. To his credit, it seemed like he almost immediately negated each of his bad passes by stealing the ball right back.

Defensive Lapses Rick Jackson repeatedly gave up the baseline on dribble drives. He logged some minutes at the "4" position with Arinze Onuaku at center, but he had a lot of trouble guarding the smaller St. Rose players away from the basket. This leads me to believe that he doesn't quite have the footspeed to play the 4 in Boeheim's vaunted 2-3 zone.

Giving up the baseline was also a problem for Donte Greene, and Onuaku had problems giving up an initial step on D. Fortunately, Big O was able to recover and contest the shot in most circumstances, but against Big East players, a moment of inattention will equal a thunderous dunk. The interior players have a long way to go to be ready for Big East play.

On the perimeter, it seemed like the SU guards bit on almost every shot fake that the Golden Knights threw at them. Paul Harris, Johnny Flynn, and Scoop Jardine all took turns losing Steve D'Agostino, who proved to be quite a strong shooter. D'Agostino finished with 17 points and 6 assists and looked every bit as good as many Division I point guards.

Perimeter Shooting Sooner or later this team will really miss Andy Rautins. Flynn didn't look too comfortable shooting from deep, Greene was inconsistent, and Devendorf is at his best when attacking the glass. Harris… ahh… yeah… I mean, "NO". This looks like the type of team that will hit 10 threes one game, then turn around and go 3-26 the next game.

Focus Simply put, this team needs direction to stay focused and sharp. When Flynn was off the floor, the Orange consistently lapsed into segments of sloppy and uninspired play. Both Eric Devendorf and Donte Greene also had serious focus issues in this game. Devo was basically a non-factor in the first half, but got going offensively in the second half. The opposite was true of Greene, who looked like a budding superstar while knocking down 16 first half points, but then appeared to be a spectator in a scoreless second half.

My biggest knock on Greene when I saw him in high school was that he seldom seemed focused enough to play with aggression through a full game. Yesterday's showing reiterated those concerns.

Team Chemistry It's obviously way too early to be drawing any serious conclusions here, but there were a few plays yesterday that bothered me. The early 15-2 run was sparked by some very unselfish play with Syracuse players making the extra pass to free up the open man. However, once St. Rose made a run to get back into the game, a few Orange(men) took it upon themselves to operate outside of the SU offense. Eric Devendorf was the main offender, but Paul Harris also took a few ill-advised jumpshots early in the shot clock that clanged off the rim. While Harris's form and release on the J looks much better than last year, it would be nice if it translated into some on-court success.

Another interesting "chemistry" moment was the Flynn to Harris "off-the-backboard" oop. Sure, this was an exciting play that nearly blew the roof off the Carrier Dome, but watching the replay showed that Eric Devendorf was ahead of the pack and could have easily scored before Harris got into position for the dunk. Looking off the likely leading scorer to make a relatively high risk hot-dog play raised the ire of Jim Boeheim, and given the circumstances (8 point game with about a minute left) his wrath was entirely warranted. If we see this play happen again in real game, we might just see Boeheim's roof blow off.

Scoop also had a fastbreak basket where he ignored an open Donte Greene and instead went behind the back with his dribble and scored on a circus shot. Both the Flynn and Jardine plays ended with the Orange putting points on the board, but I always prefer to go with the sure thing.

The Big Picture It's hard to really take too much from a game like this. It was disappointing that the ‘Cuse was so sloppy with the ball and that they didn't win by 20+ points, but at the same time there was a lot to like in this game. Onuaku looks mobile and aggressive. Kristof looks like he might be able to provide some productive minutes off the bench. Flynn will star at SU before all is said and done. Greene has nearly limitless potential. The biggest question will be whether the players can mesh and form a cohesive unit. This might take more than a single season, but if everyone sticks around for awhile and the egos get put aside, we could be looking at a Final Four caliber collection of talent.

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