My 2023-24 SU Basketball Preview - Part 1 | Syracusefan.com

My 2023-24 SU Basketball Preview - Part 1

SWC75

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(I'll post one part a day)

THE SITUATION

It’s a whole new ballgame up on the Hill and Jim Boeheim after 47 years as a head coach and 54 years of being on the SU coaching staff has decided to retire, (which is why most images you see of him on the net these days show him smiling). Some people wanted us to go for a coach outside the program to make the changes they wanted. Instead, SU promoted from within, (that’s what successful programs tend to do). Yet those changes may be happening anyway.

Adrian Autry came here as a highly-recruited freshman point guard in 1990. He had his downs and ups as a player. His ‘net points’ (add the statistical positives, subtract the negatives) per forty minutes: 8.4 as a freshman, 8.7 as a sophomore, 14.6 as a junior and 16.8 as a senior, his career ending with a legendary game that paralleled his career arc in the NCAA tournament against Missouri when he was shut out in the first half but scored 30 points in 25 minutes after halftime in a game we lost in overtime. Those downs and ups will allow him to connect with his players because, where they’ve been, he’s been there.


But he’s in a different position now than he was last year. I remember when Fred Lewis left in 1968, he was succeeded by his top assistant, (and freshman coach), Roy Danforth. The players approved of the change, saying that Coach Danforth understood them better and was easier to get along with. When Danforth left in 1975, he was succeeded by his top assistant and freshman coach, Boeheim, of whom the players on that team said the same thing. I’m sure it’s the same now. A head coach has to be the boss and demand more things of the players. He has to make decisions that aren’t going to set well with some players. The assistant, especially the lead assistant, is the guy who puts his arm around a player and talks him down from being upset in those situations. That will now be somebody else’s job.

Adrian, (everybody calls him ‘Red’ or ‘Coach Red’), will also have to become the face of the program, making public appearances at all kinds of events, doing the weekly radio show, answering for every aspect of what goes on in the games. Nobody knows how that will go, maybe not even him. That may be an even bigger legacy from Boeheim, who was outspoken on every subject, basketball or not and had both a notable temper and sense of humor. He had a real concept of being the most prominent member of the community and that giving him a bully pulpit to comment on everything. I’m guessing Autry will be more like our football coach, Dino Babers, in avoiding controversy, although I doubt he’ll talk in metaphors and movie references the way Dino does. Red will have his own style and we are about to see what it is.

But what fans really want to know is what changes we will see on the court. They tended to assume that Red would be a clone of Boeheim and all the problems we’ve had in recent years would continue. The 2-3 zone has been outmoded by a generation of players who want to be like Steph (Curry), more than be like Mike (Jordan). There’s just too much reliable outside shooting in basketball these days to hang back in a zone and cut off the driving and passing lanes to the basket, (unless they’re playing us: more on that later). Fans want to see at least some flexibility: we’ve got to either play an aggressive zone that can extend itself to cover shooters, a man for man that can follow them wherever they go or a press that that will at least hurry them up and could take the ball away before they ever get into their half-court sets. Red has said that that’s exactly what he intends to do. He wants to get us running like we did in the old days. This is my que to post my favorite You-Tube video, which every Syracuse fan is obligated to watch at least once a year:

The Syracuse "Dunk Tape"

The thing is, Jim Boeheim made some statements in recent years that they were going to try the man-for-man. We wouldn’t play it well and we returned to the 2-3 zone. I think a big factor in whether a team does something well is whether the head coach really believes in doing it. Are Autry’s excited utterances about man for man and aggressive defense just noise? I get the impression that they are not, that he’s been sitting next to JB these recent years wishing to make some changes that he can now make.

One thing we know: He’s aggressively pursued the talent needed to play the game he’s described. He convinced Judah Mintz, his star point guard who is a driver, passer and combative defender to skip the NBA for another year. He went out and got JJ Starling, who played for Baldwinsville High school here before transferring to a high school and playing for Notre Dame last year. Mike Brey retired as coach there and JJ came home. He’s a similar player to Judah. He also got Chance Westry, another highly rated guard we were hot after two years back who went to Auburn, got hurt and decided he’d rather come back here. Then he got still another talented guard, Kyle Cuffe, from Kansas to transfer here. Throw in Quadir Copeland who was recruited here last year to be a point guard and you’ve got quite a backcourt. One problem: Judah and JJ both shot 30% from three last year. Westry was 0 for 14. Cuffe never even attempted one, (he played 3 minutes in one game before he got hurt). Copeland was 1 for 9. Not a Steph Curry in the bunch. SU fans note that Mintz showed improvement late in the year and in practice for this year and Starling did too. But what we need is a guy the defense will bend itself out of shape to cover. We had one in Joe Girard but he decided to spend his COVID year playing for Clemson, (twice against us), after four years of constant criticism here for his defense and ball-handling. Now we’ll see if we can do it without him. Ironically, Boeheim’s 2-3 zone might be the best way to defend us!

The outside shooting may have to come from the forwards. Chris Bell and Justin Taylor came here as freshmen with reputations as shooters. They didn’t do a lot else, so ripping the cords was why they were in there. Taylor had a huge early game against Bryant with 25 points but never more than 12 after that, with only three double figure games for the year. He did hit 39.3% of his three pointers. But he’s got to play and score a lot more than he did to warrant any special attention by the defense. Bell played and scored more but shot only 34.5% from outside, not good enough to be a team’s primary outside threat. Benny Williams who’s likely to play power forward, shot a surprising 39.6% but in a very limited sample, 48 attempts in 30 games. The defensive focus was elsewhere. The other forward, Maliq Brown was 0 for 0 and probably will be this year, too. Maybe someone will emerge here as a consistent outside threat but we really need to take the ball away and beat the other team downcourt to be successful.

Red also hit the transfer portal to bring in the biggest Syracuse player in history. Not the highest ranked recruit: the physically largest: Naheem McLeod, 7-4 265. He came here from Florida State where Leonard Hamilton collects 7 footers like sea shells and alternates guys at every position. Naheem played 13 minutes a game and averaged 3.8 points and 2.7 rebounds. He wanted to play more and the center spot opened up for SU because Jesse Edwards, after going from an unknown to a star here, followed the NIL road, (even though foreign players – he’s Dutch – aren’t supposed to get NIL) to West Virginia, only to see Bob Huggins’ career crash to an end. I hope he’s happy. Behind McLeod is 6-11 Mounir Hima, who has a 7-6 reach and once blocked 7 shots in 18 minutes of play against St. John’s. 6-11, (some say 7-1) Peter Carey is an athletic player who can shoot and pass but has only played 20 minutes of basketball in this decade. He had the Covid year, was injured his senior year in high school and then was operated on and redshirted last year, despite those 20 minutes. Then there’s William Patterson, a 7-2 high school recruit, (remember them?). That’s a lot of centers, big ones.

The problem is, none of those centers have ever started. Williams and Brown haven’t reached their potential at power forward. Neither have Bell or Taylor at small forward. Westry and Cuffe have hardly played at this level. Mintz and Starling have been the only guys who have played 30 minutes per game or scored in double figures. We’re going to depend on a lot of guys who haven’t really proven themselves yet.

And the schedule is loaded with teams that have proven themselves. Colgate’s beaten us twice in a row and will be just as good this year. We start with Tennessee in the Maui invitational, then could play Purdue or Gonzaga. Kansas, Marquette and UCLA are in the other half of the bracket, if it matters. It’s now the ACC-SEC challenge. We play LSU and in the very next game opens the ACC schedule at Virginia. Later we play Oregon and Georgetown before starting the main part of the conference schedule. It may take Red Autry a while to become a genius. That arc of his playing career may repeat for his head coaching career.

Or maybe he’ll surprise everyone and get some big victories that will get the confidence of players and fans bubbling over and that will give us the momentum for a great season. Maybe. I did a study of the winning percentages of coaches who won at least 500 games in their careers and their successors. I compared the winning percentages of each. 76% of the time the ‘legend’ had a better winning percentage than his successor. I was asked to compare the last few years of the legend’s career at their school to that of the successor. I picked the last 5 of the legend vs. the first 5 of the successor, (who often didn’t last that long) and the difference was less but there still was one: 64% of the time the old coach was better in his last five years than his successor. My gut feeling is that Red Autry will be in that other 36%: JB was 89-70, .560 in his last five years. That’s doable but hardly inevitable. But it’s easy to have gut feelings when the new guy is 0-0. Finding out will make this the most interesting SU season in a long time, but not necessarily the most joyous.
 
(I'll post one part a day)

THE SITUATION

It’s a whole new ballgame up on the Hill and Jim Boeheim after 47 years as a head coach and 54 years of being on the SU coaching staff has decided to retire, (which is why most images you see of him on the net these days show him smiling). Some people wanted us to go for a coach outside the program to make the changes they wanted. Instead, SU promoted from within, (that’s what successful programs tend to do). Yet those changes may be happening anyway.

Adrian Autry came here as a highly-recruited freshman point guard in 1990. He had his downs and ups as a player. His ‘net points’ (add the statistical positives, subtract the negatives) per forty minutes: 8.4 as a freshman, 8.7 as a sophomore, 14.6 as a junior and 16.8 as a senior, his career ending with a legendary game that paralleled his career arc in the NCAA tournament against Missouri when he was shut out in the first half but scored 30 points in 25 minutes after halftime in a game we lost in overtime. Those downs and ups will allow him to connect with his players because, where they’ve been, he’s been there.


But he’s in a different position now than he was last year. I remember when Fred Lewis left in 1968, he was succeeded by his top assistant, (and freshman coach), Roy Danforth. The players approved of the change, saying that Coach Danforth understood them better and was easier to get along with. When Danforth left in 1975, he was succeeded by his top assistant and freshman coach, Boeheim, of whom the players on that team said the same thing. I’m sure it’s the same now. A head coach has to be the boss and demand more things of the players. He has to make decisions that aren’t going to set well with some players. The assistant, especially the lead assistant, is the guy who puts his arm around a player and talks him down from being upset in those situations. That will now be somebody else’s job.

Adrian, (everybody calls him ‘Red’ or ‘Coach Red’), will also have to become the face of the program, making public appearances at all kinds of events, doing the weekly radio show, answering for every aspect of what goes on in the games. Nobody knows how that will go, maybe not even him. That may be an even bigger legacy from Boeheim, who was outspoken on every subject, basketball or not and had both a notable temper and sense of humor. He had a real concept of being the most prominent member of the community and that giving him a bully pulpit to comment on everything. I’m guessing Autry will be more like our football coach, Dino Babers, in avoiding controversy, although I doubt he’ll talk in metaphors and movie references the way Dino does. Red will have his own style and we are about to see what it is.

But what fans really want to know is what changes we will see on the court. They tended to assume that Red would be a clone of Boeheim and all the problems we’ve had in recent years would continue. The 2-3 zone has been outmoded by a generation of players who want to be like Steph (Curry), more than be like Mike (Jordan). There’s just too much reliable outside shooting in basketball these days to hang back in a zone and cut off the driving and passing lanes to the basket, (unless they’re playing us: more on that later). Fans want to see at least some flexibility: we’ve got to either play an aggressive zone that can extend itself to cover shooters, a man for man that can follow them wherever they go or a press that that will at least hurry them up and could take the ball away before they ever get into their half-court sets. Red has said that that’s exactly what he intends to do. He wants to get us running like we did in the old days. This is my que to post my favorite You-Tube video, which every Syracuse fan is obligated to watch at least once a year:

The Syracuse "Dunk Tape"

The thing is, Jim Boeheim made some statements in recent years that they were going to try the man-for-man. We wouldn’t play it well and we returned to the 2-3 zone. I think a big factor in whether a team does something well is whether the head coach really believes in doing it. Are Autry’s excited utterances about man for man and aggressive defense just noise? I get the impression that they are not, that he’s been sitting next to JB these recent years wishing to make some changes that he can now make.

One thing we know: He’s aggressively pursued the talent needed to play the game he’s described. He convinced Judah Mintz, his star point guard who is a driver, passer and combative defender to skip the NBA for another year. He went out and got JJ Starling, who played for Baldwinsville High school here before transferring to a high school and playing for Notre Dame last year. Mike Brey retired as coach there and JJ came home. He’s a similar player to Judah. He also got Chance Westry, another highly rated guard we were hot after two years back who went to Auburn, got hurt and decided he’d rather come back here. Then he got still another talented guard, Kyle Cuffe, from Kansas to transfer here. Throw in Quadir Copeland who was recruited here last year to be a point guard and you’ve got quite a backcourt. One problem: Judah and JJ both shot 30% from three last year. Westry was 0 for 14. Cuffe never even attempted one, (he played 3 minutes in one game before he got hurt). Copeland was 1 for 9. Not a Steph Curry in the bunch. SU fans note that Mintz showed improvement late in the year and in practice for this year and Starling did too. But what we need is a guy the defense will bend itself out of shape to cover. We had one in Joe Girard but he decided to spend his COVID year playing for Clemson, (twice against us), after four years of constant criticism here for his defense and ball-handling. Now we’ll see if we can do it without him. Ironically, Boeheim’s 2-3 zone might be the best way to defend us!

The outside shooting may have to come from the forwards. Chris Bell and Justin Taylor came here as freshmen with reputations as shooters. They didn’t do a lot else, so ripping the cords was why they were in there. Taylor had a huge early game against Bryant with 25 points but never more than 12 after that, with only three double figure games for the year. He did hit 39.3% of his three pointers. But he’s got to play and score a lot more than he did to warrant any special attention by the defense. Bell played and scored more but shot only 34.5% from outside, not good enough to be a team’s primary outside threat. Benny Williams who’s likely to play power forward, shot a surprising 39.6% but in a very limited sample, 48 attempts in 30 games. The defensive focus was elsewhere. The other forward, Maliq Brown was 0 for 0 and probably will be this year, too. Maybe someone will emerge here as a consistent outside threat but we really need to take the ball away and beat the other team downcourt to be successful.

Red also hit the transfer portal to bring in the biggest Syracuse player in history. Not the highest ranked recruit: the physically largest: Naheem McLeod, 7-4 265. He came here from Florida State where Leonard Hamilton collects 7 footers like sea shells and alternates guys at every position. Naheem played 13 minutes a game and averaged 3.8 points and 2.7 rebounds. He wanted to play more and the center spot opened up for SU because Jesse Edwards, after going from an unknown to a star here, followed the NIL road, (even though foreign players – he’s Dutch – aren’t supposed to get NIL) to West Virginia, only to see Bob Huggins’ career crash to an end. I hope he’s happy. Behind McLeod is 6-11 Mounir Hima, who has a 7-6 reach and once blocked 7 shots in 18 minutes of play against St. John’s. 6-11, (some say 7-1) Peter Carey is an athletic player who can shoot and pass but has only played 20 minutes of basketball in this decade. He had the Covid year, was injured his senior year in high school and then was operated on and redshirted last year, despite those 20 minutes. Then there’s William Patterson, a 7-2 high school recruit, (remember them?). That’s a lot of centers, big ones.

The problem is, none of those centers have ever started. Williams and Brown haven’t reached their potential at power forward. Neither have Bell or Taylor at small forward. Westry and Cuffe have hardly played at this level. Mintz and Starling have been the only guys who have played 30 minutes per game or scored in double figures. We’re going to depend on a lot of guys who haven’t really proven themselves yet.

And the schedule is loaded with teams that have proven themselves. Colgate’s beaten us twice in a row and will be just as good this year. We start with Tennessee in the Maui invitational, then could play Purdue or Gonzaga. Kansas, Marquette and UCLA are in the other half of the bracket, if it matters. It’s now the ACC-SEC challenge. We play LSU and in the very next game opens the ACC schedule at Virginia. Later we play Oregon and Georgetown before starting the main part of the conference schedule. It may take Red Autry a while to become a genius. That arc of his playing career may repeat for his head coaching career.

Or maybe he’ll surprise everyone and get some big victories that will get the confidence of players and fans bubbling over and that will give us the momentum for a great season. Maybe. I did a study of the winning percentages of coaches who won at least 500 games in their careers and their successors. I compared the winning percentages of each. 76% of the time the ‘legend’ had a better winning percentage than his successor. I was asked to compare the last few years of the legend’s career at their school to that of the successor. I picked the last 5 of the legend vs. the first 5 of the successor, (who often didn’t last that long) and the difference was less but there still was one: 64% of the time the old coach was better in his last five years than his successor. My gut feeling is that Red Autry will be in that other 36%: JB was 89-70, .560 in his last five years. That’s doable but hardly inevitable. But it’s easy to have gut feelings when the new guy is 0-0. Finding out will make this the most interesting SU season in a long time, but not necessarily the most joyous.
Great preview. Lots of (understandable) notes of caution in there. I believe Red will be more like Tom Izzo, Matt Painter, Roy Williams and Brian Dutcher (assistants who successfully succeeded legends) than, say, Sean Sutton or Craig Esherick. And as you said, for the past few years, JB hasn’t been winning at the rate he did in his first 40 years, so the bar isn’t as high.
 

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