Men's Basketball Season Preview (Part 2)

The Syracuse Men's Basketball team opens the 2007-08 season on Monday night with a first round Preseason NIT game against the Siena Saints. The game will mark a renewal of sorts, as a new-look Orange squad will attempt to erase some of the bitter memories of a 2006-07 season that never quite managed to live up to expectations.

Schedule

Donte Greene and company will have a chance to test themselves against strong competition right out of the gate, as Syracuse tips off the season with the Preseason NIT. To advance to the semifinals in Madison Square Garden, the Orange will have to win home games against Siena and the winner of the Fairleigh Dickinson/St. Joseph's game.


Freshman sensation Donte Greene.

The other headliner schools are Ohio State, Washington, and Texas A&M. A PNIT championship would go a long ways in establishing the Orange as a formidable team in '07-08, as the semifinals/finals in will be showcased on ESPN the day before and after Thanksgiving. Sandwiched between the two home games and two games at MSG is a contest against Fordham, which will provide a good tune-up should the Orange advance.

Once the PNIT is over, Boeheim's squad takes on Massachusettes and Tulane in the Dome before heading down to Virginia to take on the Cavaliers on Dec 5th. The Cavs figure to offer the stiffest test, but UMass and Tulane are both teams that shouldn't be overly intimidated. A game against Rhode Island is followed by four cupcakes prior to the start of Big East play. Colgate and East Tennessee State are bound to bring down SU's RPI, but Cornell is actually projected to vie for an Ivy League Championship this year, and they also gave Syracuse fits the last time they came to the Dome.

The beginning of Big East play looks manageable. The 'Cuse starts with St. Johns and South Floride at home, then heads out for a two game road trip to Cincinnati and West Virginia. The Mountaineers game will be very interesting, as Boeheim and Huggins have such disparate coaching styles. Huggins hasn't had time to assemble his usual collection of football players parading as hoopsters, so they might not be too overly physical yet, but this series should become very heated down the road.

Things start to get tougher in the middle of January, with back to back games against Villanova and Georgetown, two teams that are likely to be near the top of the Big East. After a short respite with Providence and DePaul, the Orange close out the regular season with a hellacious stretch that includes games against 'Nova, UConn, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, and Marquette. Three of the last five games are on the road.

Overall, the non-conference schedule is slightly better than normal, but still not anything outstanding. It will be nice to have an early game outside of New York state. The bulk of the tough Big East games come late in the season, so this could be the type of year when SU has a good record in mid-January but you still don't have a read on how good they are. One thing is for sure, the stretch of games from Feb 2 (at 'Nova) to March 8th (vs. Marquette) will show us just how good (or bad) SU can be. SU plays home-and-homes with Villanova, Georgetown, and South Florida. I would have preferred Pitt, UConn, Louisville, or Marquette over South Florida.

Outlook

My gut feeling is that this will be an exciting and fun team to watch, the type that stumbles when you least expect it, but comes up big in big games. Look for a return to the Big Dance and Boeheim's first wins there since 2004. I'm expecting a team that is better on offense but probably worse on defense. The lack of experience in the frontcourt is a major concern, but it's not like Boeheim has to replace Derrick Coleman, Etan Thomas, and Carmelo Anthony... this might prove to be an "addition by subtraction" formula. A frontcourt of Onuaku/Jackson/Harris/Greene is likely to provide more offense and rebound on par with the departed trio of Roberts, Watkins, and Nichols. The bigger question is how well can they stop the opposition?


Paul Harris Knows Defense.

Look for the team to be much better balanced offensively, now that Johnny Flynn is running the show. That said, expect Flynn to go through some rough patches and experience his share of growing pains from time to time. While he posted an excellent 13:5 assist to turnover ratio in the exhibitions, we have to bear in mind that this was against Division II competition. The point guard position is inherently difficult to master, and asking too much too soon may be a problem. Boeheim could of course turn to Devendorf, Wright, or Harris to run the point if necessary, but as we saw last year, none of these players offer a stable long-term solution.


Get Up! Johnny Flynn shows off the hops.

Forecasting the season, I expect SU to get off to a good start and enter Big East play with only 1 or 2 losses. The first portion of the Big East schedule looks relatively soft, but after the Rutgers game on January 16th, things get tough and its easy to foresee the dreaded late January/early February swoon. Look for SU to drop something like 4 or 5 of the 8 games played between January 19th (Villanova) and February 18th (at Louisville), then expect Boeheim to iron out the kinks for a strong stretch run into the Big East Tourney and hopefully beyond.

Team and Player Projections

Just for fun, why not?

Leading Scorer: Eric Devendorf: 16-18 ppg, 2.5-3.5 apg - Plays more under control with a better surrounding cast and the burden of being the primary ballhandler lifted.

Glue Guy: Paul Harris: 11-13 ppg, 8.5 - 9.5 rbg, 2 - 3 apg, 2 st, 1 bs - Becomes more comfortable on the court playing with former teammate Johnny Flynn. His skill set complements the current roster much better than last year. Doesn't overwhelm you with offense, but does all the little things and carries an infectious will to win.

Comeback Award: Arinze Onuaku: 6-8 ppg, 5-7 rbg, 1 bs - I'd project better numbers from Onuaku except I worry that conditioning and foul trouble will limit to him to 20-25 minutes per game. He has the look of a player who gets better evey year, unlike the departed players he is replacing.

Cool Hand Luke Award: Johnny Flynn: 8-10 ppg, 5 - 6.5 apg - Probably the single most important player in '07-08, Flynn will be asked to completely overhaul the SU offense. Will he be up to the challenge?

Newcomer Extraordinaire: Donte Greene: 13-16 ppg, 5-7 rbg, 35-38% 3pt - Dominates the early portion of the schedule but comes back down to earth against Big East competition. Consistency will be an issue, but we'll see some monster games out of him when he has the right matchups. Will compete with Devendorf for leading scorer. Serious Player of the Year contender if he comes back in '08-09.

Bench Energizer: Kristof Ongenaet: 3-5 ppg, 3-4 rpg - Won't back down from physical play, stronger and more athletic than he looks, good complement to current roster.

Otis Hill Would be Proud Award: Rick Jackson: 4-6 ppg, 4-6 rpg - Effectiveness will be determined by matchups. Physically he might be a year away from imposing his will on Big East opponents, but this kid has a very bright future and will give needed scoring off the bench this year.

Fight-It-Out Award: Josh Wright and Scoop Jardine: Probably the hardest players to project, as Wright has yet to see action in the preseason exhibitions. Scoop could help this team, but Boeheim rarely goes deeper than 7 or 8. I won't eliminate Wright from the conversation because it's hard to tell how Flynn will adjust to Big East ball. Let's say 5 ppg, 2 apg between the two.


Maxin' and Relaxin': Antonio "Scoop" Jardine

That's about 76 to 79 ppg if you take the mid-point in scoring averages for each player.

Regular Season: 23-8/ 11-7 Big East
Post Season: 2-1 Big East Tourney / #6 seed NCAA / 2-1 (Sweet 16)
Overall Record: 27-10

 


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