Here at the intersection of hype, hope and school spirit, we’ve once again stumbled upon the beginning of the college basketball season, and the Orange have gone Bonnie Raitt, because we’ve got plenty to talk about.
Combine a Sweet Sixteen campaign that managed to exceed the Nostradamian expectations of the preseason Top 25 with a top-ranked recruiting class, and you’ll barely be able to get the kids to bed at night.
Nothing in sports is as exciting and mysterious as a highly touted group of freshmen basketball players. Football players take too long to adjust and pro basketball rookies are all known quantities who can’t dominate in a league with that many superstars.
Freshman cagers, though, they can bring it. Is there going to be a John Wall this year? A Kevin Durant? A Carmelo? Who’s bringing in the most five-stars?
Shavlik Randolph says “Who cares?” We’ve sung the same song before, and I for one am hoping we won’t end up doing the same dance. Coming off the title season, the 2003-04 team was bringing in a collection of four- and five-star recruits, and people were excited.
Then we found out that Terrence Roberts played with his eyes closed, Demetris Nichols was gun-shy, Darryl Watkins was an upper-middle-class man’s Jeremy McNeil and Louie McCroskey just didn’t fit on pretty much any level.
So what do we have this year?
It’s difficult to compare. The 2003-04 team was returning a lot of bodies in the frontcourt, whereas this year, Rick Jackson is basically it.
We’ve already gotten to know at least as much about Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita as we know about Roberts and Mookie 1.0. While the foul rates are pretty familiar (Melo and Keita are averaging about 10 and 5 fouls per 40 minutes, while Roberts and Watkins averaged 7.5 and 9 their freshmen years), as are the free throws (Oh the free throws!), the current pair, in particular Keita, are already producing at a much higher level, and their considerably higher usage should help their progress.
The wing spots are a different story. In ’03, Carmelo and his 36 mpg at small forward were gone, as was Kueth Duany at the 2. Their minutes went to Josh Pace, a half-season of the enigmatic Billy Edelin, McCroskey and Nichols.
Nichols was a skilled shooter, but he was so jittery that he ended up shooting below 50 percent for the season from the line, let alone the field. It took him two years to get comfortable.
McCroskey was a slasher who boarded well for his position, but was a terrible shooter. He never earned the playing time he wanted, and eventually wore out his welcome with head coach Jim Boeheim.
This year, with Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, James Southerland and everyone’s favorite gunner Mookie Jones, there’s some serious traffic on the outside.
C.J. Fair comes in at the small 4/big 3, and has been an efficient scorer in his early minutes, in addition to solid rebounding and weak side shot blocking.
Dion Waiters at the 2 brings a lot of confidence, decent defense and a pretty sweet stroke from downtown. It’s pretty safe to say that he won’t have the same problems as Nichols, and given the hole in perimeter scoring left by the departures of Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson, we might end up being pretty thankful for that.
So, really, what have we got? Sad to say it isn’t last year’s Kentucky squad, but it is a well-rounded group with enough court smarts to help out right now and enough untapped potential that we’ll probably have a chance to get to know them a little better over an overstuffed Chipotle burrito.
They’ve had a few rocky out-of-conference tune-ups, and there’s still a turbulent Big East season to go, but the team has shown enough to raise my singular eyebrow.
I’m ready to weather the storm.
Mike Chandler is a staff writer for The Juice Online.