Fundamentals will decide Syracuse's fate

A 98-68 win over Colgate and an 81-66 win over Valparaiso. On the surface, these are two laughers over inferior teams, but a closer look shows that Syracuse is in for a short year if they continue to play this way.

To start off, the free throw shooting for this team has been atrocious, with the leader of the list being superstar Carmelo Anthony.

While Anthony has been the hallmark of consistency, putting up at least 27 points and 10 rebounds per game, he went 3-8 against Valparaiso and 4-7 against Colgate. Syracuse as a team shot 20-32 and 24-35 in those games.

The Orangemen will be able to get away with this against lesser teams like Cornell, who the Orange play tonight at 7 p.m. at the Carrier Dome, but later down the road against Missouri, Georgetown, Pitt and St. Johns, Hack-a-melo may be in full effect.

Defense is the second disturbing trend. The Orangemen's 3-2 defense has been failing them, starting with the center position. Centers Jeremy McNeil and Craig Forth have either been in foul trouble or woefully ineffective – or a combination of the two.

Forth, who has heard the boos from the Dome faithful, has been playing through injuries this season. Still, the sophomore seems to have learned nothing from the summer, including doing more than just putting up his hands when a defender gets down the lane.

Forth's job is to swat away shots and to use his 7-foot frame the best way he can. Right now, Forth is playing more like he's 6-foot-2. He played just 13 minutes against Colgate, notching only two points.

Does Forth deserve the boos? Probably not. But the easiest way to make them go away is to start playing his height.

As for McNeil, his hands are still as bad as they were last year and McNeil is as prone to falling for head fakes as he ever was. Syracuse's press hasn't been as effective since Etan Thomas stalked offenders.

Speaking of unfulfilled potential, Hakim Warrick looks like the same player he was last year. Athletic, full of potential, and fundamentally deprived. Warrick has looked lost on the free throw line and much of his scoring still comes from layups and dunks.

Nowhere have fans seen the shooting touch Warrick said he had gained over the summer. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But the two bright spots on the team have been the surprising play of sophomore Josh Pace and freshman Gerry McNamara. Filling in for the suspended Billy Edelin, McNamara has shown that he can run this team effectively, providing some key long distance shooting and some rock-solid passing.

Pace, who has played some point in Edelin's absence, has been effective defensively, waking Syracuse out of the doldrums with his quick hands and good basketball sense.

The keys to a good basketball season won't be Carmelo's averages or Warrick's gravity-defying dunks. Rather, solid fundamentals like good ball movement, lefty layups and free throw shooting will decide how far Syracuse goes.

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