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Better off next year? A point-counterpoint

Posted by Tom on February 12, 2007

Reading Syracusan’s post about our two incoming McDonald’s All-Americans led me to confront and issue that’s been bubbling under the surface of every Syracuse hoops fan this year. As we watch the 06-07 Orange seal their fates as mild to severe disappointments, we can’t help but look ahead to next year’s heralded recruiting class. Will we really be a better team next year?

I realize point counterpoints are traditionally composed by two people going head to head from different perspectives on the same issue, but I decided I’ve got enough hotly polarized ambivalence on this issue to fuel both sides. So here we go.

Thesis: Next year’s team will finish the regular season with a better record than this year’s.

Point: Two McDonalds all-Americans, and a highly regarded player coming in at each position constitutes a full reload.

Counterpoint: Losing an entire front line of seniors (and the only big-man backup) constitutes a completely blown load. Losing the experience of four senior contributors (including the team’s #1 scorer) is nearly impossible to replace with guys straight out of high school, no matter how good.

Point: Johnny Flynn and Donte Green have the potential to be a Gerry & Carmelo-like tandem off the bat in their freshman year.

Counterpoint: Gerry and Carmelo were a one-of-a-kind duo who gave us an unforgivably skewed perspective of what to expect from freshman. For realistic perspective, our subsequent top ten All-American recruits have immediately shown how much work they have to do, as evidenced by Harris and Devendorf’s struggles to become consistent and limit their turnovers.

Point: Arinze Onuaku returns as the dark-horse, sporting a flashy new (can we say “trick”) knee. He showed some great rebounding and low-post scoring presence last year, and already seemed to make fewer boneheaded plays than

Counterpoint: The man’s missed an entire year, and is therefore unlikely to take any major steps forward.

Point: Johnny Flynn gives us another pure point guard option, and will challenge Josh Wright for PT off the bat.

Counterpoint: Flynn sounds awfully similar to Wright coming out of high school. Undersized point guard, quick enough to score at will in High School based on athleticism. Wright was a top 30 recruit himself, and we’re still waiting for him to really deliver. Can a freshman come in and immediately play Jimmy B’s system better than a senior? Doubt it.

Point: The Mason theory of Syracuse basketball dictates thus: Any Syracuse team that enters the season unranked, under the radar, and finds itself tagged with the “rebuilding year” label, will have a few bad losses early but ultimately play in the national championship game. Evidence: ’87: Pearl Washington is gone, Sherm and DC come in as freshmen. ’96: Moten years over, team relies on John Wallace to carry a cast of unheralded players and first-year starting point guard Z Sims. 03: Team coming out of a total disintegration, low point NIT year featuring Deshawn Williams, Shumpert, etc, the team loses its top 3 leading scorers. Again, heavy reliance on young and untested players (Anthony, McNamara, Warrick, Pace). Just watched the Kansas game last week, and it was amazing. Enough said.

Counterpoint: Conceded! Too giddy about pattern of low national expectations breeding success to be a party pooper!

Point: Next year’s losses, even if there are 10 or more of them, will be easier to handle because we can convince ourselves that the young guys will learn from the experience.

Counterpoint: True, but next year’s team will probably exceed this year’s outfit’s turnover total. Watching this will be excruciating.

Conclusion: It’s always easier to route for guys whose potential is still unknown (therefore limitless) and who haven’t totally disappointed you yet. While I can’t understate how huge losing all four of our big men is, and how everyone is looking past this because they’ve proven to be incredibly frustrating in each of their special ways, the bottom line is that I created the Mason theory and have to stand by it. That said:

This year’s team: 21-12 (second round NIT loss)

Next year’s team: 26-10 (national championship game loss as 9 seed)


4 Responses to “Better off next year? A point-counterpoint”

  1. syracusan said

    Well, at least you didn’t go out on a limb with that prediction!

  2. agerard said

    Conclusion: It’s always easier to route for guys whose potential is still unknown (therefore limitless) and who haven’t totally disappointed you yet.

    I think that’s what makes watching the team this year so difficult. We undoubtedly have talent on this team, and so many of these guys have the experience too. It’s just been so many years of watching and waiting for them to do something. And now that three of them are seniors and still nothing is happening, it makes it harder to watch.

    But as die hard Syracuse fans, we always expect the most from our teams. I realized a few years ago that every game, no matter who is playing for Syracuse, I feel they can win. It’s unreasonable but every loss, in my head, is due to us playing poorly or making mistakes down the stretch. We’re never outmatched. We’re never the inferior team. We just don’t always play to our potential. Again, this is just how my head works. It’s not actually reality.

  3. Josh said

    I had also noticed that their championship runs always followed bad years, but the big difference in those situations and this one is that in those years there was SOMETHING coming back:

    -In ’87, Seikaly returned, along with starters Monroe and Triche. Douglas was actually a sophomore who’d been a primary bench guy the year before.
    -In ’96, there was Wallace of course, but also Otis Hill. Burgan had been a key sub, and Sims was a senior even though he’d not played much.
    -’03, for all their youth, actually returned 2.5 starters: Forth & Duany, plus Warrick who started towards the end of the season. (In fact I still remember The Syracusan in an email before the 03 season saying something like: “What everyone is talking about: Carmelo and the rest of the stud freshmen. What NOBODY is talking about: Hakim Warrick. Watch out.” I guess Royal Ivey didn’t get cc’ed on that email.)

    The common thread is not just experience, but FRONTCOURT experience. All these teams returned their Centers, and all returned two of three frontcourt starters and plugged a newcomer into the other forward slot (Coleman/Burgan/Anthony). They also all had a backup center returning (Brower/Reafsnyder/J McNeil). All the current team will be returning is two turnover-prone guards and Paul Harris, plus a rusty Onuaku. Not much of a foundation. They will be relying on freshmen in the paint much more than any previous good team.

    You were clear in making your point that losing the frontcourt is a big deal, but what I think you missed is that it puts next year’s team outside the historical domain of the Mason Effect. Think about what happened last year, after we lost all three frontline starters (Forth/Warrick/Pace) and replaced them with guys with little experience (the current front line). We were an NIT-level team that snuck into the tournament by the hairs on Gerry’s sack.

    It could turn out that the new guys can handle the college game. Every year in college basketball there are some freshman forwards who dominate (eg Durant & Oden this year, Hansbrough last year). Not saying that Greene & Jackson have to be as good as those guys, but that it’s entirely plausible that they have objectively good seasons (as opposed to “good for a freshman”) and if that happens, next year’s team will have a decent chance to exceed this year’s achievements, but that is only a consequence of the underachieving going on this year. More likely, though, that next year’s team will be like this year’s UConn team and we’ll have to suck it up and look towards the future.

    PS. Thanks to OrangeRay’s site for refreshing my memory about players’ years of service.

    PPS. Longest… comment… ever.

  4. syracusan said

    Also, the Mason Theory, as I understand it, does not actually require a trip to the Final Four in years with little pre-season hype. To me, the Mason Theory entails: in years where SU starts the season unranked or objectively underrated, we tend to do very well. In years we start the season with a lot of hype, high hopes, and/or high rankings, we tend to crap out. Yes?

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