Lessons learned, thoughts on Year 2 of Red | Syracusefan.com

Lessons learned, thoughts on Year 2 of Red

billsin01

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Interesting season: Wouldn't say we exactly turned anything around and there are certainly a few holes in the old resume, but at the same time we saw some encouraging things and if we're able to build on it, we could feel like we are rounding that corner next season. With that, some thoughts:

We're officially a man-2-man team
The defense had some atrocious moments but I have to give Red credit for ripping the band-aid off and moving to primarily M2M. Feel like this was always going to be a bit ugly, or at least uneven, whenever it happened and we witnessed that, particularly the last 8 games or so. But completely switching up your defensive philosophy, increasing the pace significantly and managing to keep your head above water with solid but unspectacular talent is a pretty solid debut for a first-year head coach. Credit to Red.

Some old basketball tropes proved true. Others proved less true.
Two of the big things repeated here and all over the college basketball world for the past few years were that it's hard to rebound out of the zone and you give up a lot of threes if you play a zone all game. The latter appears to be true, for the most part. We allowed 243 3-pointers made on 712 attempts this season vs. surrendering 329 and 958 last season and we did that while playing at a faster pace. The percentages were basically the same .341 vs. .343, but we seemed to do a better job limiting damage from three. Rebounding was a different story as we finished 294th in that category (and yes, perhaps personnel was a much bigger factor here than defensive system). But I think the bottom line here is whatever defense you play, you need to communicate and play it well or you can get torched. We've seen too much of that the past few years, so we need to improve on this end of the floor (more on that in a bit).

Red's offseason moves were mediocre at best. His in-season management was pretty solid.
JJ was a nice addition -- room to improve, but solid addition. Cuffe has some potential and had a few moments, but was a peripheral figure much of the year. McLeod was ... not great. Westry didn't play. Patterson didn't play. There's a bit of wait and see here in terms of JJ's potential, Cuffe's potential, the potential of a healthy Westry and whatever Patterson potentially becomes, but at least based on year one, it's a lot of meh. That said, thought we managed to get some nice moments out of Benny once he got on the court and Red made the tough, but correct decision to part ways when we did. He got good contributions from a bunch of players including Cope, Brown and JJ improving significantly over the course of the season, Cuffe contributing a bit and staying competitive despite a significant lack of size. If Red has a better off-season this year (which seems likely with Freeman as a good start), it could be a very interesting season with a little bit more of a foundation to build off.

We were brutal in transition defense ... even off makes on the offensive end
Not sure I've seen a Syracuse team this bad at getting back on defense. Judah was a big offender, Bell was a big one too. Even Brown sometimes found himself behind the play. Add that to fact that we didn't really dedicate much to offensive rebounding and it was a really bad mix.

We were brutal against good teams
The UNC win was great and it was really, really important for this group. Outside of that we had a bunch of nice wins -- Pitt, NC State, etc. But we really struggled against well-coached, talented teams. Like struggled to even be in the game. We don't need to win all those (thought that would be fine too), but we have to find a way to be in those games fairly consistently and to win our fair share. More talent and depth would help, but we also need to make it tougher from an approach standpoint against those teams. To that end ...

Some thoughts looking ahead to Year 2

We need more imagination on defense and offense

The thing that really jumped out to me, particularly early in the season was how stagnant our offense was (everyone blames judah, but we ran a ton of minutes with a lineup of three struggling offensive players in Taylor, McLeod and JJ and a stationary spot-up shooter in Bell. Tough mountain to climb.) and how rudimentary our defensive approach was. It was like five guys defending five guys vs. a team playing defense together. Thought the more we saw of Copeland and Bell, the more variety we saw in the offense and we actually were pretty impressive on that end in Februrary ... we even saw Bell moving some off the ball. The defense overall really struggled but we were better defending the high ball screen, which was killing me early in the season.

But more actions and secondary actions offensively will really help if Judah isn't around and defensively we need to have wrinkles that make teams work. The interesting thing against Clemson was that we gave up 90 without really getting killed in transition. They just consistently got whatever they wanted and on the few possessions they didn't, they found a matchup they liked (a big singled up against Brown deep in the post, anyone Bell was guarding) and attacked that way. It was a nearly effortless 90. Not great. We have to find a way to make teams like that more uncomfortable. Better help and communication would be a start. Can you get creative with doubles to jump teams or reduce the issues with bad matchups? Can we get better (and it was better later in the season) at not having a player out of the play defensively chasing from behind? Can we employ some sort of creative defense to take advantage of the rim protection of McLeod without exposing him as a defender on the perimeter? We need our approach to be more sophisticated on this end if we ever hope to be a top tier team in the regular season.

JJ needs more Copeland swag in his game
Interesting year for JJ. Hard to pick on him too much because he was huge for us in the second half once he rediscovered his shot. But he's an odd player at the same time. He took a lot of criticism for his defense but I actually thought he played decent position defense, but he just never gambles. Never reaches in and picks anyone's pocket, never really shoots passing lanes, never drops his man and helps to mess up the opponent. He just sort of runs around with his guy. His 1.4 fouls a game means he's not in foul trouble, but it also often means you're not much of a factor either. Offensively is the same, the jumper came around and he is really tough in the mid-range, but he struggles to get to the rim and he never draws contact -- he shot 56 FTs on the season, less than half as many as Cope in nearly 400 more minutes as a primary ball-handler. Crazy.

Some interesting decisions lie ahead
Don't love speculating on the portal because it's such a crapshoot. But just thinking about how they value players and where they see them fitting is an interesting exercise. Bell is a really interesting one. The kid is a really talented scorer and an elite shooter. Obviously it's a lot of threes, but he's got a pump fake and pullup in his game, he hits contested shots, he can get to the rim a bit and finish on the break. If he can move better, he's tough to defend. Defensively, the chase-down block he's got ... the rest of it ... that's a work in progress. And the rebounding is a killer. A bit better late, but it's a struggle. Taylor is pretty much the opposite player -- lots of hustle and movement, works hard defensively and on the glass, but he just has such a tough time offensively I'm not sure. Does the staff think Carey can get healthy and be a factor with his athleticism? Seems hard to imagine, but maybe. Patterson is likely back after redshirting ... can he be a factor?

Lots of folks talking about a big, but I'd settle for a couple longish athletes
I wonder if there are many traditional bigs who will thrive in this system given the demands on the perimeter. But a couple 6'7"/6'8" dudes who play hard and have some athleticism could give you a frontcourt that can work on both ends and help give you a defensive identity. I think that could work.

I don't know -- there's a probably a lot more, but that's a start.
 
Identity. For year 2, I’m looking for the team to develop some kind of identity. We’re not going to be what we want to be if we just play like everybody else and hope that some years we have more talent. We gotta do something that’s “us” and we gotta be great at that something.

My only other comment is about getting a big man. We cannot play 3 Forwards and 2 Guards or 3 Guards and 2 Forwards and expect to be successful. We need a big who can play basketball. He doesn’t need to be all-ACC, he doesn’t even need to average double digit points per game. But he’s gotta be big and he’s gotta be able to play basketball.

The only way we could get away with a small frontcourt of 6’7” and 6’8” guys is if we press a bunch and get a lot of depth.
 
Reserving judgement until the season actually ends. Freshmen look great but I don’t think we’d be upgrading in the portal should we lose some of these guys everyone is still a sophomore after all. This board is insane with the sentiment being to push out our best players or keep them coming off the bench.
 
If 7'4, Carey, Patterson are healthy roll with them at the 5.
Bring in a great shooter. Forward or true 2.
If Chance is healthy use him Cuffe, Cope at the point.
Freeman is a stud who will play 20 a game.
Moore can give you 10 a game and can shoot.

Roster.
McCleod, Carey, Patterson, Brown, Chance, JJ, Cope, Freeman, Moore, Bell, Cuffe, Taylor, Portal.
 
Identity. For year 2, I’m looking for the team to develop some kind of identity. We’re not going to be what we want to be if we just play like everybody else and hope that some years we have more talent. We gotta do something that’s “us” and we gotta be great at that something.

My only other comment is about getting a big man. We cannot play 3 Forwards and 2 Guards or 3 Guards and 2 Forwards and expect to be successful. We need a big who can play basketball. He doesn’t need to be all-ACC, he doesn’t even need to average double digit points per game. But he’s gotta be big and he’s gotta be able to play basketball.

The only way we could get away with a small frontcourt of 6’7” and 6’8” guys is if we press a bunch and get a lot of depth.
Some teams can be successful without playing a big man but they have to have a lead guard with a strategy of making a series of quick passes to find an open man for a corner three and have people who can make that open three.

JT's lack of outside shooting really hurt this team. QC and Judah are not 3 point shooters. JJ possibly next year could be but that's to be determined. Same with Cuffe. Maliq showed a nice stroke in very limited attempts. But none of them are guaranteed to be 40% high volume shooters.

There are a lot of great shooters in college basketball but usually if they are great shooters, they might not be lock down defenders. Bell is a good example of that. However we need another sniper.

Ivy league kids can't play a grad year in that league. I can't say I'm an expert on Ivy players, but if we can get the best of the best. There is a local kid from Yale, August Mahoney, who is a 45% shooter from three. I'm not saying he's the guy we want, but if we can't open the court next year, there is only so much we can do.

So what's the strategy? Find a big that we can pound the ball inside to or be small and be able to shoot the ball. Judah had some great games where he was able to penetrate, but if the refs weren't calling fouls or if the defensive strategy was focused on not letting Judah get into the lane then we were cooked.

Ideally we want to have an identity on both ends of the court. Pressure defense creating fast break offense is what Red would hope for. But we need to be able to do something in the half-court. That's going to be Red's biggest challenge for next season.
 
Identity. For year 2, I’m looking for the team to develop some kind of identity. We’re not going to be what we want to be if we just play like everybody else and hope that some years we have more talent. We gotta do something that’s “us” and we gotta be great at that something.

My only other comment is about getting a big man. We cannot play 3 Forwards and 2 Guards or 3 Guards and 2 Forwards and expect to be successful. We need a big who can play basketball. He doesn’t need to be all-ACC, he doesn’t even need to average double digit points per game. But he’s gotta be big and he’s gotta be able to play basketball.

The only way we could get away with a small frontcourt of 6’7” and 6’8” guys is if we press a bunch and get a lot of depth.
Yeah, identity is key. I used the term sophistication, but you need to have some things on both ends that you can hang your hat on. They won't win you every game, but its something your opponent has to account for. Don't feel like we had that this season.

As for a big, my guess is that our best option is trying to get something out of the three bigs who are likely to return, if I had to guess. Hima's injuries put him in doubt, I would think, but Carey seems like he could be back and Patterson and McLeod feel like near locks. So we need to scheme up a bit to get something out of those guys then add some switchable size/athleticism on the wings. Not saying that's the only way to go, but a dynamic, two-way center in the portal is going to be a tall order I would think.
 
Reserving judgement until the season actually ends. Freshmen look great but I don’t think we’d be upgrading in the portal should we lose some of these guys everyone is still a sophomore after all. This board is insane with the sentiment being to push out our best players or keep them coming off the bench.
Yeah, didn't mean to suggest there'd be a ton of portal activity, per se. Just that there are probably 2-3 players who may want other opportunities and/or whom the staff feel don't quite fit in a way that's conducive to their continued development. Could be wrong, but reading the tea leaves of college hoops, it's pretty rare to return nearly and entire roster in tact.
 
Some teams can be successful without playing a big man but they have to have a lead guard with a strategy of making a series of quick passes to find an open man for a corner three and have people who can make that open three.

JT's lack of outside shooting really hurt this team. QC and Judah are not 3 point shooters. JJ possibly next year could be but that's to be determined. Same with Cuffe. Maliq showed a nice stroke in very limited attempts. But none of them are guaranteed to be 40% high volume shooters.

There are a lot of great shooters in college basketball but usually if they are great shooters, they might not be lock down defenders. Bell is a good example of that. However we need another sniper.

Ivy league kids can't play a grad year in that league. I can't say I'm an expert on Ivy players, but if we can get the best of the best. There is a local kid from Yale, August Mahoney, who is a 45% shooter from three. I'm not saying he's the guy we want, but if we can't open the court next year, there is only so much we can do.

So what's the strategy? Find a big that we can pound the ball inside to or be small and be able to shoot the ball. Judah had some great games where he was able to penetrate, but if the refs weren't calling fouls or if the defensive strategy was focused on not letting Judah get into the lane then we were cooked.

Ideally we want to have an identity on both ends of the court. Pressure defense creating fast break offense is what Red would hope for. But we need to be able to do something in the half-court. That's going to be Red's biggest challenge for next season.
Yeah, thought the half-court looked better as the season wore on. Taylor started to see some success cutting through the lane and along the baseline; Brown was much better on the short roll and rescreening at the top of the key got Judah going downhill more consistently; Bell was a little bit more active after the Draymond tweet; more quadir and Brown, a more effective JJ ... we were better there. Room for improvement for sure but I was happier late than I was early.
 
Certainly wouldn't rule it out, but it needs to be a big that can handle playing on the perimeter in this defensive style. Those types of bigs are a bit more rare.

Are they? Really?

Because it seems like virtually ALL of our conference opponents manage to have a guy like this.
Often multiple guys like this.

ANY big who dreams of playing NBA or any sort of Pro ball after their college career, is gonna need to be able to switch and play some D on the perimeter.
Not a whole lotta zone getting played as a base D in the Association.

We only need ONE of these guys.

And said guy would have a very clear shot at being a Day 1 starter here.

It's a shame that Jesse's dad got greedy, since a guy like Jesse woulda made a HUGE difference in the team's fortunes this past season.
Double-double machine who provides rim protection, but agile enough to be on the perimeter when needed.

Sigh.
 
Biggest concern for me going forward is how Autry is going to handle the frontline. We didn't start our best frontline player until Mcleod got hurt. Then when Maliq was in he had no help on the boards. Even other teams that play small have multiple players that crash the boards.
 
Are they? Really?

Because it seems like virtually ALL of our conference opponents manage to have a guy like this.
Often multiple guys like this.

ANY big who dreams of playing NBA or any sort of Pro ball after their college career, is gonna need to be able to switch and play some D on the perimeter.
Not a whole lotta zone getting played as a base D in the Association.

We only need ONE of these guys.

And said guy would have a very clear shot at being a Day 1 starter here.

It's a shame that Jesse's dad got greedy, since a guy like Jesse woulda made a HUGE difference in the team's fortunes this past season.
Double-double machine who provides rim protection, but agile enough to be on the perimeter when needed.

Sigh.
Fair, perhaps rare is the wrong word choice. Difficult to find in the portal? I just mean you want that dude to bring something on offense and be able to move his feet defensively but not be so good at either that he's headed to the NBA. Then you have to fight off a bunch of programs to get him. Not impossible, for sure, just saying there will be more bigs that don't solve our issues than bigs who do, truly, make us significantly better on defense and don't hamstring our offense in the process.

But I'm with you, there are skilled bigs all over our schedule. Frustrating not to have gotten one more year from Jesse.
 
Fwiw the offense was ranked around 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency after January. I think we are mostly fine on that side of the ball. The defense needs work and it’s not just on the interior. Our ability to stop dribble penetration is lacking.
 
We've only seen glimpses of the Autry system. Early on it was his first year, then all the new faces and youth figuring it out. Then mid season it was the injuries (+benny situation) that killed the depth.

He talks about it alot on the radio and his pressers. Speed, Depth, and Transition basketball. Offensively it's all about spacing, reads and concepts. Defensively it's aggressive D, rebounding, keeping teams out of the lane, rim protection.

From what I've heard he does not want to be a volume 3 point shooting team, 3's are only needed to space the floor. His focus is Defense first.

I agree with most commentary that we need a 1 and 5 from the portal to supplement. Autry is going to pick a point based on Defense and facilitating not shooting. Same thing for the 5, he is not going to be looking for some big man that can run out and take 3's and has crazy post moves.

I expect the pitchforks will come out pretty quickly as people will be upset that Autry is pulling portal players that are role players and not pure scorers

These boards seem to get furious when they don't see offensive plays and bigs scoring points. Like it or not Autry is going to double down on his system next year, why wouldn't he though. He's the only new coach in the P6 to win 20 games this year.
 
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Fwiw the offense was ranked around 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency after January.
I'm ambivalent on this and I don't know how sustainable that is with this group. They were shooting like 37% from three in that stretch based on JJ and Bell getting really hot when in January they barely shot 31%.
 
That’s fine if you believe that, but other teams do. The number one team in the nations tallest guy is 6’7”.
But most of the rest of the top-10 (minus Marquette) have some good bigs and some are serious beef (e.g., Edey, Clingan, Adoo, Bacot, Flip/Mitchell, even Creighton with Kalkbrenner). Houston is more the exception that proves the rule that you don't need a super big center to play extraordinary defense. But it certainly helps.
 
But most of the rest of the top-10 (minus Marquette) have some good bigs and some are serious beef (e.g., Edey, Clingan, Adoo, Bacot, Flip/Mitchell, even Creighton with Kalkbrenner). Houston is more the exception that proves the rule that you don't need a super big center to play extraordinary defense. But it certainly helps.
Not going to argue that, but there’s been a lot of teams over the past few years that have played small and won. I think we would be better with a guy like Freeman at the 4 than Cope or Taylor.

I’m a big believer the perimeter defense is a bigger problem than the interior defense right now. Bell, JJ, and Judah have done a terrible job stopping it.
 
Not going to argue that, but there’s been a lot of teams over the past few years that have played small and won. I think we would be better with a guy like Freeman at the 4 than Cope or Taylor.

I’m a big believer the perimeter defense is a bigger problem than the interior defense right now. Bell, JJ, and Judah have done a terrible job stopping it.
Yeah, quite a few warts that need to change a lot if Red is going for an uber-defensive team.
 
I'm ambivalent on this and I don't know how sustainable that is with this group. They were shooting like 37% from three in that stretch based on JJ and Bell getting really hot when in January they barely shot 31%.
JJ played good for about 6 weeks this season. I think he’s locked in at the 2 so how he improves will probably correlate to how the team improves. He needs to get a lot better on both ends.
 
The weird thing about this year is that for the first 2/3 of the season, I thought this team would have a defensive identity and would need to hang its hat on defense to win games. And then it kind of just flipped where the offense heated up but the defense became swiss cheese.
 

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