This week, the focus of the college basketball world turned to upstate New York as Jim Boeheim joined the 900-win club. It is an incredible milestone for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, who has Syracuse playing at a high level once again. Under the watchful eye of their head coach, Syracuse has quietly turned into the model program.
Jim Boeheim recently joined the 900-win club and keeps Syracuse rolling.
Take a moment to consider how they have dealt with adversity and haven’t missed a beat or that they bring in high level recruits that buy into the system even if playing time and gaudy numbers are two years down the line. This rarely happens in modern college basketball. In fact, we wonder if a Jim Boeheim, a lightly used walk-on (who later evolved into captain) and was fortunate to get a chance to assist at his alma mater can rise within the college ranks today as he did thirty years ago. On the court, Syracuse doesn’t lose games prior to January. Each year, the Orange graduate NBA talent and guys just step right in and perform.
This year is a great example as the losses for most programs would be catastrophic. Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters, two-thirds of the backcourt nucleus, all-conference forward Kris Joseph and Fab Melo an inside force, all gone from last year’s team. Despite this, the ‘Cuse keeps rolling. Enter Mike Carter-Williams, Rakeem Christmas, James Southerland, three players who once averaged 10,11 and 16 minutes a game respectively now double their production. In modern day college basketball, talented players like these, expect to play upon landing on campus and often transfer rather than wait their turn, not at Syracuse, where Boeheim gets players to buy in.
This year’s team is No. 2 in the nation in defensive efficiency and that is the best Syracuse has been in a decade. Significant improvements in steal percentage, block percentage and effective field goal rate from last year’s team has paced the defensive attack. The Orangemen are in the top 10 nationally in all three of those categories. Many believe it was the inevitable departure of Syracuse, a founding member of the Big East, that has destroyed the once almighty basketball super-conference. This is the swan song for Syracuse in the Big East and the top part of the league is as tough as ever. The top five of the conference is currently, 49-3.
The keys for Syracuse to win the conference and make a deep tournament run will lie in three areas:
1- Frontcourt production with freshman sensation Dajuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas. Can they rebound and provide a constant inside scoring threat? They currently are contributing a combined 14pts and 11 rebounds per game.
2- Consistency from beyond-the-arc. Currently Syracuse is shooting a pedestrian 34 percent from the three-point line which is a five-year low. Star guard, Mike Carter-Williams is shooting just over 23 percent from the “three”.
3- Taking care of the basketball. Syracuse turns the basketball over too many times. Brandon Triche, part of the nucleus from last year’s prolific backcourt, has seen his turnovers double. Michael Carter-Williams, who has emerged as the nation’s top point guard prospect for the NBA Draft is averaging nearly four turnovers a game. In a league with elite defensive teams such as Louisville, Pittsburgh and Georgetown, you cannot win if you do not take care of the basketball. Look for a real emphasis by Boeheim and the Orangemen in this area.
As the last few days prior to conference play wind down, on the top of the list of the national contenders is Syracuse, 101-16 since 2010. The Orange continue to dazzle with defense and despite placing three players from last year’s team in the NBA, they have come back as strong as ever.
Who would have thought that this would be the swan song for Syracuse in the Big East, a marriage that was great for both while it lasted? Then again, who would have thought a walk-on from Lyons, NY (a population mind you of under 4,000 people) would win 900 games at his alma mater and take them to three Final Fours and a National Championship? Probably not even Boeheim himself.
Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to 247Sports' coverage of college basketball. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein