Coach Boeheim stepped up to the podium after Monday’s close victory against the Cincinnati Bearcats and put it simply for the members of the local media. This team doesn’t win if the guards don’t carry it.
“Our guards have got to play really good… And we’re hoping the other guys can contribute,” he said. “Our guards have got to play good, that’s the bottom line with this team.”
What happens when the guards don’t play well? Michael Carter-Williams’ 3-for-17 performance against Temple is a prime example of what Boeheim meant.
So why are guards so important? Baye Keita, Rakeem Christmas and Dajuan Coleman average a combined 5.5 points per game. Boeheim has said it over and over again; the big men need to get better. And that weakness outside means Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and Trevor Cooney are the guys who need to step up.
“We tried to play the three guards together to get another shooter in the game,” Boeheim said. “It hurts us defensively but when you’re not scoring you’ve gotta try to find a way to score.”
The new look to the Orange lineup featuring three guards definitely has something to do with the absence of James Southerland. Without his scoring in the lineup, the team is relying on the guards to make shots.
If the guards don’t make big plays down the stretch, the Orange loses to Louisville and again to Cincinnati. It was the big steal against the Cardinals and a few big shots from Triche and Carter-Williams on Monday that kept the team in the game.
“Without those two things happening, we’re 0-and-2 and everybody is saying ‘Syracuse is in trouble’,” Boeheim said. “We should have lost both of these games.”
Cooney is the unknown variable in this equation. He’s young and young guys make mistakes. Boeheim criticized Cooney after the game for leaving Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick open on multiple three-point attempts. But when Cooney his hitting his shots, he brings something very important to the lineup.
“Coming out and playing hard is my job coming off the bench,” Cooney said. “If I can add just a little spark for our team, it’s going to make us so much better.”
Carter-Williams’ biggest strength is his confidence. On Monday, after hitting just 1-of-4 from deep, he nailed a three-point shot to tie the game late.
“If I missed, coach wouldn’t have been too happy.” Carter-Williams said. “I just took the shot and it looked good all the way. I would have been surprised if I missed it.”
Boeheim said that even though Carter-Williams isn’t shooting a great percentage from beyond the arc (27%), he’ll continue to let him shoot because he believes he can make those shots.
“I can’t cook,” Boeheim joked after the game. “But if I believed in my cooking like Michael Carter-Williams believes in his shooting, I’d win the show Iron Chef. I can’t even boil water.”
But the third and most experienced guard, Triche, lacks that confidence. When Triche was at the foul line late in the game, Boeheim said he could tell he’d miss it. His confidence level just isn’t where it needs to be, but his talent level is through the roof.
“He can do it,” Boeheim said. “He’s proven over and over again, he can do it. So he’s got to take it to another level. I believe he’s a first round pick in the NBA Draft, a tremendous guard.”
But with his last two impressive performances against Cincinnati and Louisville, his confidence level is definitely rising.
When asked about his missed foul shot after the game, Triche responded simply:
“I’m definitely going to make the next one.”