Item: What’s come over college basketball this decade? Scoring has gone steadily downhill, not only for Syracuse but nationwide, despite teams shooting an onslaught of shots beyond the arc. After two exhibition game blowouts and an opening night 57-47 win over Patriot League member Lehigh (only 57 points?) in which the ‘Cuse (1-0) launched an incredible total of 34 three-pointers, or just five off the school record, unless the Orange develops some sort of inside game offensively, we figure to see a lot more of where that came from the rest of this season, continuing with tonight’s revival of the one-time upstate grudge rivalry with St. Bonaventure (1-0) in the Dome (7:00 p.m. ET / ACCRSNs-ESPN3).
No wonder Sherman Douglas (1986-89) left the Syracuse campus in the spring of 1989 as the NCAA all-time leader in assists with 960, a record since broken by six players and currently topped by former Duke great Bobby Hurley with 1076. Douglas also holds the school and NCAA (tied with two others) game record with 22 “dimes” in a 1989 win over Providence.
Over essentially three seasons (Douglas played behind Pearl Washington his freshman year) running the offense, including Jim Boeheim’s first Final Four team of 1987, Douglas had an uncanny knack in the offensive end of driving towards the basket and finding an open Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly, Stevie Thompson, or Billy Owens, for an all-in-one motion pass and easy inside shot for a hoop, and he had the green light from Jim Boeheim to execute the play whenever he saw fit.
Unlike this current edition of the Orange, even with a small sample size so far, Syracuse had a strong inside game during that era that opponents respected, whether it was Coleman on the offensive and defensive boards, a true center that could score and who improved drastically over his four seasons wearing orange in Seiklay, and the shorter-in-stature jumping jacks Thompson and Owens who could get off the floor in a hurry, grab Douglas’s perfectly timed lob passes, and slam the ball into the basket with authority.
With Dajaun Coleman still getting his legs back under him after missing the past season and a half, and backed-up by the still essentially new to-the-scene Chinonso Obokoh and freshman Tyler Lydon, and a season before 7’2” transfer Paschal Chukwu becomes eligible, SU lacks an inside offensive presence, combined with defenses that will tend to sag back towards the basket to cut off driving lanes and dare the Orange to shoot from the perimeter.
As newcomers Malachi Richardson and Lydon have started to mesh with returning shooters Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije and Kaleb Joseph, the offensive focus has shifted to launching three-pointers which can result in a “live or die” aspect to winning games.
“We’re going to struggle if they (Cooney and Gbinije) shoot 9 for 26, 5 for 18 (as examples), those are going to be tough nights,” Boeheim said after the season opening victory against Lehigh. “We need them to be more productive (on the perimeter). If we get 30 good threes, which we got (vs.Lehigh), I think with this team we can make 15, 16 of them.”
So get ready for a lot of long distance shooting this season, with perhaps some old time theatrics on display when the Orange run off defensive forced turnovers and the occasional more conventional alley oop passes for dunks in an offensive set. But it won’t be the same natural flow of the good old days of Douglas ally ooping to Thompson, Derrick Coleman, Owens, et al. for an emphatic slam.