There is little about the success of the 2011-2012 Orange that will be revealed in tonight’s exhibition game against St. Rose. The Post Standard reported yesterday that several of SU’s walk-ons could start for the D-II Golden Knights.
That’s not to say Syracuse players can take them lightly, however. St. Rose kept a 2007 exhibition match with the Orange to single digits, and veterans of the 2009-2010 Orange can attest to the dangers of overlooking D-II opponents. Nonetheless, the game you see tonight will not resemble Saturday’s game against Fordham – let alone games in the heart of the Big East schedule or March.
But there are a few things we can take from tonight’s matchup. It will reveal far more about the individual players on the Orange and their roles on the team than the fate of the team itself. Here are some things to keep an eye on:
1. Will James Southerland rebound the ball?
James Southerland earned playing time last year as a thee-point specialist who could play the wing in the zone. He began to lose that playing time when coach Jim Boeheim saw that he was not rebounding effectively (2.25 rpg in 14.14 mpg). With CJ Fair flashing a smooth 3-point jumper and the best rounded game of any of the SU forwards vying for playing time opposite Kris Joseph, it seems likely that he will receive the lion’s share of the minutes in that spot. Rakeem Christmas figures to start and play ample minutes as a defender rebounder purely based on his size and athleticism. Meanwhile, Trevor Cooney has staked claim to the role of 3-point specialist off the bench. This all adds up to Southerland riding the bench unless he proves he can be more than a shooter. Playing against a St. Rose team whose tallest player is 6-8 is a good way to start. If he fails to rebound tonight, for all the talk of SU’s deep rotation, Southerland will likely be the first of the players who saw regular minutes last year to find he only reaches the court in garbage time.
2. Will Fab Melo continue to score?
The big story after the first exhibition game against Cal State L.A. was that Melo was in shape and running the floor better than at any point last season. This is not going to change in one game, and if he can maintain his conditioning throughout the season, he will quickly make Orange fans forget the disappointment of last year. What was perhaps a bigger surprise last week was that Melo led the Orange in scoring with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Syracuse has plenty of scoring threats, including three returning starters who average double digits. Will Melo contribute consistently on offense as the season moves forward? Going up against a team whose tallest player is 6 foot 8, one would hope so.
But a better indication of whether Melo will be a consistent scorer in the regular season will be how he gets his points. Boeheim tends to run certain schemes in the preseason regardless of the opposition’s personnel, just to try things out and give players experience where he thinks they need it. One example is the man defense played against CSLA last week and Lemoyne two years ago. If Melo gets the majority of hits points on put-backs or fast-break dunks against the smaller players, it won’t tell us much. But if the team is running plays for Melo and he is scoring from the post, then we can probably expect to see Melo trying his post game later in the season.
3. Will Michael Carter-Williams be a scorer or a distributor?
Before coming to Syracuse, the scouting report on Carter-Williams was that he was a rangy combo guard who could score at will. He was supposed to have both deep range on his jumper and the ability to slash to the basket. Syracuse recruited him as the heir-apparent to Scoop Jardine as the point guard, and he fits the mold of the scoring point guard that Boeheim has recruited in recent years. But with so many other scoring options on the court, Carter-Williams won’t need to score this year. If he receives significant playing time, it will be to feed Joseph, Dion Waiters and Melo the ball when Jardine is taking a rest. In his first game, Carter-Williams displayed a little bit of both abilities. He dished out five assists and scored six points with a couple of slick drives to the hole. But the half-court offense often looked stagnant when he was in the game, and the second unit scored primarily on fast breaks. Keep an eye on how the half-court offense looks when Carter-Williams is in the game to get a sense of whether he is stepping into the back-up point guard role.
4. Will Trevor Cooney get more playing time?
Cooney played only six minutes in last week’s exhibition game, but he made the most of them. He scored seven points on 3-for-4 shooting, including 1 for 1 from downtown. He won’t always be that efficient, but if he can consistently make threes off the bench and display a better-rounded game than Jones or Sutherland, he will likely get the call when the Orange needs a spark. Some of his playing time will be determined by how well Carter-Williams shoots the three, as Carter-Williams will be ahead of Cooney on the depth chart.
5. Can Brandon Triche get his shots to fall?
Normally, I tend to think the exhibition games mean more for the bench players than the established starters. The starters are merely trying to shake off the rust and work out the kinks, while the bench players are vying for playing time for the rest of the season. The one exception might be Triche. It’s not that he is in danger of losing his starting spot; it’s that his confidence wavered so much last year, you have to wonder how two lack-luster exhibition games will affect his psyche. In the CSLA exhibition game, Triche was aggressive, shooting 11 times, but he only knocked down two shots. Many commentators thought he looked out of rhythm, but I didn’t have a problem with the shots he took. In fact, most of them were very makeable. I was even encouraged to see him taking the ball to the basket more, as Triche needs to get to the free throw line, where he shoot 84 percent last year, more often. But the problem with Triche has always been consistency. Some games he knocks down everything; some games he misses the wide-open jumpers. If Triche can gain some confidence against St. Rose, it will bode well for the Orange as they begin the regular season on Saturday.