In football, a common mantra is “next man up.” It’s a simple philosophy, which basically focuses on the schemes and play calling of the coaching staff, essentially rendering the players much less important than the signal callers.
It’s not a universally accepted concept in basketball, where one player can carry a team, but for Coach Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange teams it fits perfectly. It’s also the reason this year’s team can expect to be as good as last year’s.
Yes it’s true that at first glance, this year’s Syracuse Men’s basketball team appears to fall short of the standard set by previous teams, understandably putting some serious doubt in this team’s ability to finish among the elite of the ACC.
Well, even the most jaded Syracuse fan has to trust Coach Jim Boeheim’s plan at this point (myself included.) No matter who graduates, leaves early, or transfers, Boeheim has no problem filling the void. These same questions/concerns have resurfaced time after time over the years, and the man still won 20 games in 36 out of his 38 seasons at the helm, and a mind-blowing 25 games 20 times.
Disparate from other major programs like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas, Syracuse hasn’t relied on the top of the recruiting classes to fill its roster. Instead, Boeheim recruits specific types of players –tall guards and athletic wings- to fill his 2-3 zone defense. When the occasional offensive savant comes his way the teams tend to go further (Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman, Carmelo Anthony, Michael-Carter Williams), but it’s not essential to the team-building process and perennial success. Unlike those other programs, there is no year to year drop off in the absence of star power.
Just look at last year’s transition. Gone was the starting back court of Brandon Triche and Carter-Williams, and 3-point specialist James Southerland. With them went 55% of Syracuse’s offensive production from the prior year. Freshman Tyler Ennis had no problem filling the role of point guard, and Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije picked up the slack in the other guard spot. Jerami Grant emerged as a true star to make up for the loss of Southerland. Everything else fell into place because, like all things Boeheim, it begins and ends with the Zone.
If you believe the best offense is a good defense, then this makes a ton of sense to you. Syracuse relies on the Zone- and the turnovers it creates- to jumpstart its offense. This never changes no matter what personnel are on the court.
Considering this year’s individual losses seem even harder to overcome than before -Ennis, C.J. Fair and Grant are all gone and with them goes 61% of last year’s offensive output in addition to the bottom wings of the defense- who is going to step in?
For starters, like Fair from 2012-2013 to 2013-14, I expect Cooney to increase his scoring output by a
few points per game. I also think it is Rakeem Christmas’ time to shine, and I believe that baby hook brings home an extra 7 points per game.
For the rest of the offense, a balanced contribution from the freshmen, Chris McCollough and Kaleb Joseph, along with Tyler Roberson’s emergence should provide enough offensive firepower to win games. I hate to say it, but at this point I don’t think DaJuan Coleman can be counted on to be healthy.
Defensively, the zone could be stronger than ever. Roberson, 6’10 McCollough and Christmas form an intimidating back line. If Coleman is healthy and Chinonso Obokoh contributes, it morphs into something even scarier. Cooney and Joseph are the type of tall guards Boeheim loves. Gbinije, like last year, can play everywhere.
So yes, the names on the court won’t inspire you to dream big, but trust the blue print set forth by Boeheim. “Next man up” has worked for 38 years and 948 wins. It’s time to trust it- and the guy who brings it to the basketball court.