Normally it is difficult to draw conclusions from a single game. It becomes even more challenging when that game is played atop an aircraft carrier with wind blowing shots wide and the sun blinding seemingly wide-open looks. Nonetheless, considering Syracuse opened its season against a ranked opponent for the first time since 1987, there are a few things we can take away from the Orange’s opener on the Midway.
First, the biggest concern for SU this season is going to be turnovers. The Orange committed 18 of them against SDSU, something that only happened once all of last year. Of course, the venue almost certainly contributed to some of these. After the game, Fair said he thought the wind took off with a couple of passes. The lack of foul calls (SU was whistled for 23 vs. 15 for SDSU) may have also helped the Aztec’s aggressive defense force turnovers.
But excuses aside, many of the turnovers came from out-of-control drives by Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche. The starting backcourt combined for nine of the 18 turnovers, and they only managed four assists each. This is not a single anomaly, either. In the exhibition game against Pace, Syracuse committed 19 turnovers, nine of which again came from Triche and Carter-Williams.
Triche has consistently had a middling assist-to-turnover ratio throughout his career at Syracuse, ranging from 1.4 his freshman year to 1.9 last season. But Carter-Williams boasted a stellar 3.4 ratio in limited time last year. Despite the numbers, many commentators said before the season that the biggest area he needed to improve was his decision-making.
It looks like they may be right. Syracuse will not get far in the NCAA tournament with turnover numbers reaching into the high teens. Caring for the ball starts with the point guard. Carter-Williams is proving he can score, but he needs to limit his mistakes for the Orange to reach its potential.
Another takeaway from the season opener is that this SU team, despite its roster depth, will not have the scoring and offensive balance of last year. Carter-Williams, Triche and C.J. Fair combined to take 73 percent of Syracuse’s shots and accounted for 79 percent of its points. Last year, SU’s top three shooters – Triche, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph – combined for 48 percent of both the team’s shots and its points.
We can expect to see Trevor Cooney and James Southerland score more once the games move indoors and Jim Boeheim allows them to shoot 3s. We can also expect to see Dajaun Coleman play more minutes and contribute more scoring as he gains experience. But increases in production from this trio of role players will pale in comparison to the contributions of last year’s secondary players, such as Scoop Jardine, Fair and Fab Melo.
The exhibition games also suggested Syracuse’s offense will be dominated by Fair, Triche and Carter-Williams. Although the three accounted for less total offense, this was because Boeheim subbed them out when the game got out of hand. Against Pace and Bloomsburg, the trio fired up .37 shots per minute, exactly the same shot rate the three had against SDSU.
Finally, one very positive takeaway from the SDSU win was the play of Baye Moussa Keita. Although he only managed two points, he pulled down 8 rebounds in just 23 minutes of action. He also asserted himself on the defensive end with a block, a steal and several other contested shots.
If Boeheim continues to give Coleman the “Fab treatment,” starting him but pulling him out of the lineup almost immediately, it is encouraging that SU has a backup it can count on for the frontline.
The Aztecs did not have a player over 6-8, but once the Orange faces Big East frontlines, Rakeem Christmas and Coleman will inevitably get into foul trouble. Having Keita waiting in the wings will be a big boost to SU’s chances once the conference season gets underway.