Why Syracuse won’t make the Final Four

It’s March 2011, and I am sitting at the H Street Country Club in Washington, DC. I want to watch some college basketball, but this area of the city is a hipster haven so my choices are limited. I’m in luck though. My bar of choice not only is showing the NCAA Tournament, but it has a miniature golf course in it. Yes, inside the bar. That should make any guy happy. I’m not. I’m by myself and angry. Why? Because once again a Syracuse team with so much promise makes an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Smash cut to today. The start of college basketball is a heartbeat away, and our beloved Syracuse Orange are the No. 5 team in the nation. This team is surrounded by more hope and hype than we have seen in a long time. I should be on the national title train like everyone other Orange fan.

I’m not. Not this time. Not this year.

When it comes to this season, you can call me Lord Buzz Killington, the Duke of Negativity. I don’t want to ruin everyone’s fun, and I’m not one of the forever negative commenters you see on the Syracuse message boards. Preseason expectations are great. But we shouldn’t get overly excited about this season. Syracuse has glaring weaknesses that could kill the dreams of a Big East title, not to mention Final Four aspirations.

No inside presence

Here’s the crazy thing about this season’s expectations. The Orange is getting hyped up after losing its best player from last season. Syracuse’s success last season based primarily on the breakout performance of Rick Jackson. Without a real replacement for his defensive presence and rebounding production, this season could go downhill fast.

The 2011-2012 Orange is a team without bangers. There is nobody who can do the dirty work that Jackson did so well last season, or Onuaku before him.  Right now, it appears we are going to rely on Fab Melo to be that guy. Talk about hope and hype. Does everyone remember him last season? Players can improve over time, and maybe he somehow found the inner Derrick Coleman over the summer. However, nothing I saw last year showed me he could be trusted be the guy to get the big rebound, tap in the big put back, or make the big block for an entire season.

Freshman Rakeem Christmas has the build to be our Mr. Inside. But as highly touted as he is, young big men can get eaten alive by the experienced big bodies that inhabit the Big East. Again, see Melo comma Fab.

CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita? I’m a pretty big on both these guys, but neither really fits the role as bangers. They have superior athleticism but are rail thin and can get pushed around by the bigger bodies in the conference. One of them would need to turn into Hakim Warrick, and neither is really there yet.

The guy who is the best for this role is probably Joseph. But, this offseason told me everything I need to know. He worked on his midrange jumper. Which is great… it helped him improve his draft status. But for this Syracuse team to have success, he would be most useful spending time down low with the big guys, doing some dirty work. Another five rebound per game season isn’t going to cut it for this team. He’ll need to push that number much closer to eight for this team to have any chance of success.

No consistent 3-point threat

Syracuse is in the second round of the NCAA Tournament playing against the mid-major flavor of the month. Mid-major State has started to heat up, getting the crowd on their side. People smell an upset. What Syracuse needs is a big 3 to quiet the crowd and end the run. So, Triche brings the ball up and court and passes to… umm, yeah.

There is no 3-point threat on this team. Triche can hit the 3 himself, but I wouldn’t consider him a pure shooter. Scoop throws the ball at the basket pretty well. Sometimes they even go in. Many times though, not so much. Joseph has a 3-point shot. But is your best big man really the guy you want out there taking that shot?

The bench isn’t really inspiring either. Dion “Doghouse” Waiters? Possibly, if he ever gets off the bench. I just don’t see him getting many minutes this season — not with the depth on this team. Cooney has a good outside shot, but he’s not seeing the court this year either.

Syracuse’s successful teams of the past decade have all had a solid outside presence. Years of Gerry McNamara and Andy Rautins tends to spoil you I guess. These guys had pure shooting strokes, and you could always count on them to drain one from deep when it was needed most. That player doesn’t exist on this team. This is a team of slashers, not shooters.

I have a solution to our problem though. Can anyone say Mookie? Anyone? No? Well, OK.

No clutch go-to guy

March is when college basketball legends are made. Danny Manning, Christian Laettner, Juan Dixon, Mateen Cleaves. Almost every team that wins a title has a dominant go-to guy who can put a team on his shoulders and lead it to victory. Look no further than Kemba Walker last season. He took a talented team and willed them to a national title. Need a clutch shot made? Kemba Walker. Need someone to draw the double-team to kick the ball out to an open player for free or a pass to a streaking teammate for an easy layup? Kemba Walker. Big players make the big plays.

Syracuse doesn’t have that guy.

Scoop wants to be the man. But wanting isn’t always enough to make it happen. Scoop is a good player, but he isn’t a go-to guy. He’s just a college scorer. He doesn’t make the players around him better and is not a clutch shooter. He can make the big shot to win you the game, but just as often he will make a terrible decision at a clutch moment or force a horrible shot when the smart play is needed. Another season of shooting 41 percent from the field isn’t going to do it for this team, and when has passing ever been an option for Scoop?

Joseph should be our guy. He has the talent to be the next Carmelo Anthony or John Wallace. But nowhere in his three seasons on the hill has he ever shown the drive to want to be the man. For all his NBA potential, he’s never tried to carry this team to victory. Special players have an It factor, and with Mr. Joseph, it sadly just hasn’t been there. It’s a shame too, because he is this team’s best hope.

Listen, I’m not saying this is a bad team. Not by a long shot. Top to bottom this is one of the deepest Syracuse teams in recent memory. But thinking about this team, it reminds me of USA basketball failures in the last decade. Lots of great individual talent but lacking players that fill the key roles needed to make a team successful. For all the expectations placed on this season, this team just isn’t built right to make a serious play for a Big East title, let alone the Final Four.

Buzz Killington Out.

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