Pre-Orange vs. White scrimmage -- preseason practice report

RF2044

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Practice this year has been more difficult to get access to than in years past. Not that the staff is doing anything to be intentionally more "secretive," just that with the security protocol being what it is at the Melo Center, it is more difficult to get permission to observe. Even my father's usual sources [which are fairly well chronicled] haven't had as plentiful access as in the past. This will not be as long / detailed as write ups I've done in the past for that reason.

I've been sitting on much of this, hoping to get another opportunity to observe practice and pass along more detailed impressions. But with tonight's scrimmage -- I'll share these now as a primer for tonight's game. Please note that aspects of some of these observations have been alluded to in other threads / media coverage -- that's the price I pay for going "last," as opposed to doing these posts on the first day of camp as I've done in the past.

So without further ado...
  • The team has a tremendous amount of cohesion: Last year's run through the NCAA was great for the fanbase, but it was also important for the psychology / chemistry of our team. We want from not deserving to be in the field in the eyes of many to having a very solid run, which included beating a Michigan State team that many claimed was their best team since the 2000 NC squad in what was a de facto home game for them. We also got an extra "W" as a function of our participation in the play-in game. Last year's team peaked at the right time, but also gained a lot of confidence with our postseason play -- which also included our first ever ACC tournament victory. It might seem trivial, but with the entire starting lineup returning, not only was the postseason a learning opportunity, it was also a character builder. It also showed this core nucleus that they have the chops to be elite. It was something to build upon, and with the return of Battle, Brissett announcing early he wants to return to be "...part of something great," etc. you can sense that this team believes in itself. Not that they are cocky / over-confident -- rather, they have a quiet confidence and look like they're having fun -- which in turn should translate into this being a fun year for us fans.

  • Depth is substantially improved: Injuries again took their toll last year, and the Orange trudged through a major portion of the schedule without a scholarship backup guard to play behind starters Tyus Battle / Frank Howard, and no backup center behind Paschal Chukwu. Coach Boeheim was often forced to use a 6-player rotation, which led to three of our players being in the top 10 for minutes played last year. This year's roster is cut from a different cloth entirely. Incoming frosh Jalen Carey / Buddy Boeheim erase the guard depth issue, and transfer Elijah Hughes is finally eligible after having to sit out last year [and boy, could we have used him last season]. In addition to numbers, these guys bring multi-position flexibility that will go a long way toward preventing last year's depth issues from rearing their ugly head again.

  • Expanded rotation? We all know that JB prefers a rotation of 7.5 players. We also know that when he's had a roster full of good players [as in 2000 and 2012], he plays an expanded roster and goes 8 or 9 deep consistently. So what should we expect this season? Given the players' capabilities, I'd be shocked if we don't play 9 on a fairly consistent basis. Boeheim's son [more on him later] is probably the 9th guy -- and he's pretty good. He's also a pretty good shooter, so I wouldn't expect him to get "Booheimed." Look for a more expanded roster than usual, as JB finds creative ways to take advantage of the improved depth.

  • What about the defense? When you think Syracuse basketball, one of the first things you invariably think about is the zone. We return our entire starting five from a group that formed one of the top statistical defenses last year, with a front line that stands 6-8, 6-10, and 7-2. With better depth and more athleticism on this year's squad, I think we'll feature the press more as a mechanism to generate turnovers, the way we did in 2012. We'll also have fresher legs without having to play guys 39+ MPG, so it will be up to JB to find a way to make use of the tools at his disposal.

Now, onto the players...
  • Oshae Brissett... looks about the same: Please don't take this as a knock at first glance. Brissett came in with a well-developed frame last year, and proceeded to put together a very impressive year in most respects, with the notable exception of scoring in the paint [where he converted an abysmal percentage of his FG attempts]. Brissett looks about the same physically, but he's more vocal. He is the guy who really looks like he's having FUN being out there. Boards hard, but in the very limited practice run observed, he mostly hung out near the three point line. Whether he's improved his ability to finish inside will be a major story line of the year.

  • The Tyus Battle hype is real: Tyus had a terrific sophomore year, stepping into a scoring void left by White / Lydon / Gillon and answering the bell. It is important to note that not all players can handle being the focal point of the opposition's defensive game plan; some just aren't up to the challenge. Despite his limitations, Battle was. He was also an absolute iron man -- something that undoubtedly adversely impacted his efficiency on offense last season. Tyus flirted with the NBA draft, and then continued to work out with a professional trainer the entire summer to hone his fine skill development, and the results are noticeable. Last year, Tyus's handle was more mechanical; he had a couple of things he liked to do -- a crossover from right-to-left to sweep into the lane, a step back, and a spin move to go baseline. Despite having a somewhat limited repertoire as a ball handler, he used those favored moves to solid effect. This year, his handle seems tighter. He's handling / passing the ball more comfortably, allowing the offense to run through him, looking to facilitate more, and finishing inside better. He's in phenomenal shape, and looks like he intends to make a big splash in his final year in Orange. One other important thing to mention: Battle benefits from having a similarly big, strong, athlete in Hughes to match up with in practice every day. Hughes also pushes him to play tough defense -- and you can tell that these two really enjoy competing against each other.

  • Hughes was the component we lacked last season: Given all of last year's depth / scoring problems, a guy like Hughes could have solved a lot of issues merely by himself. First, he could play a couple of positions, helping to singlehandedly mask the depth constraints. On a shooting-challenged squad, he would have been a positive contributor to help balance the floor. He's also a good ball handler who excels at creating for both himself and others off of the bounce -- so he would have given us an offensive dimension -- to say nothing of a scoring weapon off of the bench that was lacking last season -- that would have made it far less of a struggle to score points. Hughes is the biggest "loser" of the Battle-returning-to-SU offseason sweepstakes, but you'd never know it. When I said that the team was cohesive above, I meant it -- and Hughes has great chemistry with his teammates. He looks most comfortable launching threes [or at least he did in the limited opportunity to observe scrimmages], but is decisive with the ball in transition. Very smooth handle -- very pretty shot. Hughes will offer a return to our great teams from 5 years ago that had guys off of the bench who legitimately could get double figures any game -- something we've lacked since 2014. He's strong -- built like Dave Johnson -- but I don't have a great feel for how he'll rebound playing the back line of the zone.

  • Frank Howard hasn't played: Our returning PG has spent the majority of the fall recovering from a surgical procedure. His foot is in a boot, so he can't play. From what I understand, JB and the staff aren't worried -- they are going to let him heal at his own pace, as we have the depth to allow him to take his time. Plus, they are already comfortable with his knowledge of how to play in our system on both sides of the ball. Being out has afforded Frank with a rare opportunity -- to be a semi-"coach" during practice, while he's sidelined. And true to form -- he's been vocal. One other thing to add which I can't confirm first hand: Frank has reportedly put a lot of work into his jump shot this offseason, and the staff feels that he might be a legitimate candidate to shoot 40% from three point range -- apparently, he's turned himself into a knock down shooter.

  • Howard Washington is playing, but...: Howard Washington's rehab is going ahead of schedule, but the coaches are being cautious with him as he isn't 100%. There is legitimate talk that he might redshirt, so as not to squander a year of eligibility -- but as JB has mentioned, it will be entirely up to HW himself. Given the depth ahead of him, it wouldn't be a bad idea -- he's not going to play ahead of Carey / Buddy.

  • Chukwu has taken steps forward: When you think about it, the way Chukwu's career has unfolded makes a lot of sense. He was a tall guy who didn't have a lot of refinement coming out of high school. Then he goes to Providence and doesn't play much his freshman year. Then he sits out a year as a transfer. Then he plays a couple of games here, but gets injured and misses 85% of his sophomore season of eligibility. Last year was the first time in three years that he'd gotten any meaningful playing time, and to noone's surprise he was up-and-down. But with Sidibe being unable to play in many games due to chronic tendinitis, Chukwu was forced to be an iron man. Not only did he have to anchor the zone defensively, get after shots, and also fight inside for rebounds -- but he had to be smart and avoid foul trouble. All while not having anybody to give him a breather for the majority of the second half of last season. Chukwu -- who's always been a pretty hard worker in the weight room -- is noticeably stronger this year. The coaching staff also can see from practice that his "feel" for the game has improved as a function of playing such a heavy dose of minutes, and that he's on the cusp of things snapping into place in terms of his play. Although it might not show up statistically, as he should be playing fewer minutes this year with Sidibe back and healthy, but I think we might see improved play in shorter bursts from Chukwu, who will also be able to play much more aggressively knowing that there isn't a drop off behind him when Sidibe comes in tot the game. Will be interesting to see what the big guy can do now that he's finally an experienced vet.

  • Dolezaj will show expanded play: Dolezaj's extensive international resume showed last season -- despite being physically underdeveloped, he displayed a great feel for the game, a versatile skill set, he played hard, and he wasn't faxed by pressure [as a veteran of junior national competition, he was accustomed to playing high stakes ball]. If there's one thing that disappoints me, its that he hasn't gained any weight. He still has the same physique as last year. But unlike last year, where he basically played "smart" and deferred offensively to more experienced teammates, didn't try to do too much, and avoided making mistakes -- he has far more of a green light from the coaching staff this year. In fact, you could make the case that our team's turnaround coincided with Marek's late season emergence as an offensive threat -- which happened at the perfect time. With a fourth scorer, suddenly we were more formidable offensively... right at the right time. In scrimmages, Dolezaj is shooting the ball confidently, while also putting it on the floor more to drive. Wouldn't surprise me to see him average 10ppg this year. Now, if only we could get him in the dining hall...

  • Bourama Sidibe hasn't gained a pound, either: Sidibe's promising freshman season was derailed by tendinitis that impaired his mobility and prevented him from running / jumping. But when he played, he flashed a LOT of potential. He hasn't gained a pound -- that's the bad news. But the good news is that he looks really athletic, and is moving well. If there's a downside to his offseason, its that he spent the summer recuperating physically instead of working on his game. Even so, expect a more assertive Sidibe this year. If he ever can bulk up to 230 pounds, I still believe he could be an NBA player.

  • The coach's kid ain't too bad: Boeheim has been glib when it comes to discussing his son. But the reality is: Buddy isn't a token, the kid can play. He's got an impressive skill set [coach's kid, after all] and a really good feel for the game, kind of like Andy Rautins. He can handle a little bit and pass, although those aren't the strengths of his game. He's got a good frame for an incoming frosh, and obviously has a pretty jump shot. Although I'll qualify that by acknowledging that he missed the majority of shots I saw him take. He's got pro size for a 2, and will be a multi-year starter here, I'd expect. If he can get off to a good start this preseason, I could see him helping to really space the floor. You can also see that he's tight with his teammates, which is good to see.

  • That Braswell kid isn't too bad, either: Anybody expecting Braswell to factor in much this year should probably temper expectations. Not that the potential isn't there, but barring catastrophic injuries, he shouldn't have to be rushed out there. Built like a human hyphen, that's probably not a bad thing given the ACC competition that awaits. All of that said, Braswell looks like he belongs out there during practice. From what I've heard, the coaching staff viewed him as a good gamble because of his athleticism, but his skill level surpasses what they were expecting from him. Tidbit #2: I've also heard that Pitino was enamored of him after watching him practice a few weeks ago, and labeled him as a future star in our system. Kid shows a more advanced handle [at least in the open floor] than expected, and has a solid stroke. Obviously needs to gain weight. Would love to see him redshirt, but doubt that happens.

  • Last but not least, Carey: I mentioned above that Hughes was the biggest loser of Battle returning from a minutes perspective, but if he's 1A than Carey might 1B. He's been force fed a practice role of having to fill Howard's shoes while the incumbent recovers from surgery, and he shows off impressive tools. Although lithe physically, he really attacks the rim. He is fast as hell, and can drive on anyone. Last year, aggressive presses really forced us to play slow, and Frank often struggled to attack them. This kid won't -- he has the type of tight handle / speed to make teams pay for playing like that. He's outstanding in transition, too. Very strong handle, and not a bad passer, either, although he is very offensive minded. Gambles a lot defensively from what I saw in [admittedly limited] observation. Pretty good stroke, but his release looked a little bit slow to me. Again, didn't see enough to form a definitive opinion on that. If I had to describe his game and make a comparison, I'd say that he's the anti-Kaleb Joseph -- he's everything that Joseph was supposed to be, only he has the tools that Kaleb lacked. It is incredible to me that he is going to come off of the bench -- giving JB yet ANOTHER guy who could get double figures any given game, against any caliber opponent. But such is the luxury of depth.

  • The rotation: That last sentence is a good segue into my final observation -- unlike last year, JB won't be locked into playing guys who aren't performing well any given night. I also think we could see varied lineups, depending on matchups or who happens to be playing better any given game [aka, going with the hot hand]. Last year, if Howard [just for example] was struggling, JB had to ride him out because there were literally no other options over the 2nd half of last year. This year, JB could pull him for Carey, or Hughes, or Buddy. The depth we have this year is really an embarrassment of riches, after being so depleted last year. Plus we have guys who can play multiple positions [Carey, Battle, Hughes, Marek, Brissett, Braswell]. I'd predict that we see 8 guys comprise the rotation: Howard, Battle, Brissett, Dolezaj, Chukwu, Hughes, Sidibe, Carey, Boeheim. Washington / Braswell are probably the two odd men out... at least this year.

  • Final Prediction: Two years ago, a quartet of morons [and those morons know who they are] jumped down my throat for my optimistic preseason prognostications prior to the 2016-2017 season. My position has always been that I don't make predictions, I convey observations, and then my expectations follow suit with what I see. Two years ago, I saw another team that had talent and depth. Then, the bottom fell out. Several players expected to be key contributors got injured, depth got compromised, and the team had to overcome our worst preseason start of the Boeheim era. By the time JB adjusted the lineup and the team got back on track [posting a 10-8 conference record and beating three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time we played them], it was too late.
I am hesitant to offer much by way of a season prediction, given the extremely limited practice time I was able to observe. But in light of the following observations:
  • Team seems extremely poised / confident
  • We have a battle tested core nucleus
  • We have depth at every position, and practices seem extremely competitive
  • We have more offensive firepower than last year
  • We have more shooters, and better shooters than last year
  • We have more guys who can create off the bounce for themselves and others this year
  • Tyus Battle seems poised for greatness

...I don't think that I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that this team could quickly find themselves in the top 10 if we get out to a quick start in the preseason. I've heard that JB feels like it is a three horse race in the ACC... and that we're one of the three who will contend.

I'm not going to speculate on what our record might be, but I think this team has all of the elements, talent, and offensive firepower to be a #3 seed or higher. I also expect the team to get to ~75ppg just as a function of better depth, shooting, and having more personnel who can attack off of the dribble. Last year's offense was such a struggle, I think that this year will be far improved -- having guys who can make plays is often the only difference between "good" and "bad" offensive sets, and we have a lot more answers this year than last.

It also bears mentioning that it is veritably unprecedented to return five quality starters in the modern era. I'd expect the nucleus to show the newcomers the ropes, and that JB will be able to blend the new players in with the incumbents seamlessly -- the team chemistry appears to be that strong. This team has all of the makings of a final four caliber squad, and the experience / talent to pull it off. Will be fun to see how it plays out this year!

Let's Go Orange!!!
 
Joined
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#3
All:

Practice this year has been more difficult to get access to than in years past. Not that the staff is doing anything to be intentionally more "secretive," just that with the security protocol being what it is at the Melo Center, it is more difficult to get permission to observe. Even my father's usual sources [which are fairly well chronicled] haven't had as plentiful access as in the past. This will not be as long / detailed as write ups I've done in the past for that reason.

I've been sitting on much of this, hoping to get another opportunity to observe practice and pass along more detailed impressions. But with tonight's scrimmage -- I'll share these now as a primer for tonight's game. Please note that aspects of some of these observations have been alluded to in other threads / media coverage -- that's the price I pay for going "last," as opposed to doing these posts on the first day of camp as I've done in the past.

So without further ado...
  • The team has a tremendous amount of cohesion: Last year's run through the NCAA was great for the fanbase, but it was also important for the psychology / chemistry of our team. We want from not deserving to be in the field in the eyes of many to having a very solid run, which included beating a Michigan State team that many claimed was their best team since the 2000 NC squad in what was a de facto home game for them. We also got an extra "W" as a function of our participation in the play-in game. Last year's team peaked at the right time, but also gained a lot of confidence with our postseason play -- which also included our first ever ACC tournament victory. It might seem trivial, but with the entire starting lineup returning, not only was the postseason a learning opportunity, it was also a character builder. It also showed this core nucleus that they have the chops to be elite. It was something to build upon, and with the return of Battle, Brissett announcing early he wants to return to be "...part of something great," etc. you can sense that this team believes in itself. Not that they are cocky / over-confident -- rather, they have a quiet confidence and look like they're having fun -- which in turn should translate into this being a fun year for us fans.

  • Depth is substantially improved: Injuries again took their toll last year, and the Orange trudged through a major portion of the schedule without a scholarship backup guard to play behind starters Tyus Battle / Frank Howard, and no backup center behind Paschal Chukwu. Coach Boeheim was often forced to use a 6-player rotation, which led to three of our players being in the top 10 for minutes played last year. This year's roster is cut from a different cloth entirely. Incoming frosh Jalen Carey / Buddy Boeheim erase the guard depth issue, and transfer Elijah Hughes is finally eligible after having to sit out last year [and boy, could we have used him last season]. In addition to numbers, these guys bring multi-position flexibility that will go a long way toward preventing last year's depth issues from rearing their ugly head again.

  • Expanded rotation? We all know that JB prefers a rotation of 7.5 players. We also know that when he's had a roster full of good players [as in 2000 and 2012], he plays an expanded roster and goes 8 or 9 deep consistently. So what should we expect this season? Given the players' capabilities, I'd be shocked if we don't play 9 on a fairly consistent basis. Boeheim's son [more on him later] is probably the 9th guy -- and he's pretty good. He's also a pretty good shooter, so I wouldn't expect him to get "Booheimed." Look for a more expanded roster than usual, as JB finds creative ways to take advantage of the improved depth.

  • What about the defense? When you think Syracuse basketball, one of the first things you invariably think about is the zone. We return our entire starting five from a group that formed one of the top statistical defenses last year, with a front line that stands 6-8, 6-10, and 7-2. With better depth and more athleticism on this year's squad, I think we'll feature the press more as a mechanism to generate turnovers, the way we did in 2012. We'll also have fresher legs without having to play guys 39+ MPG, so it will be up to JB to find a way to make use of the tools at his disposal.

Now, onto the players...
  • Oshae Brissett... looks about the same: Please don't take this as a knock at first glance. Brissett came in with a well-developed frame last year, and proceeded to put together a very impressive year in most respects, with the notable exception of scoring in the paint [where he converted an abysmal percentage of his FG attempts]. Brissett looks about the same physically, but he's more vocal. He is the guy who really looks like he's having FUN being out there. Boards hard, but in the very limited practice run observed, he mostly hung out near the three point line. Whether he's improved his ability to finish inside will be a major story line of the year.

  • The Tyus Battle hype is real: Tyus had a terrific sophomore year, stepping into a scoring void left by White / Lydon / Gillon and answering the bell. It is important to note that not all players can handle being the focal point of the opposition's defensive game plan; some just aren't up to the challenge. Despite his limitations, Battle was. He was also an absolute iron man -- something that undoubtedly adversely impacted his efficiency on offense last season. Tyus flirted with the NBA draft, and then continued to work out with a professional trainer the entire summer to hone his fine skill development, and the results are noticeable. Last year, Tyus's handle was more mechanical; he had a couple of things he liked to do -- a crossover from right-to-left to sweep into the lane, a step back, and a spin move to go baseline. Despite having a somewhat limited repertoire as a ball handler, he used those favored moves to solid effect. This year, his handle seems tighter. He's handling / passing the ball more comfortably, allowing the offense to run through him, looking to facilitate more, and finishing inside better. He's in phenomenal shape, and looks like he intends to make a big splash in his final year in Orange. One other important thing to mention: Battle benefits from having a similarly big, strong, athlete in Hughes to match up with in practice every day. Hughes also pushes him to play tough defense -- and you can tell that these two really enjoy competing against each other.

  • Hughes was the component we lacked last season: Given all of last year's depth / scoring problems, a guy like Hughes could have solved a lot of issues merely by himself. First, he could play a couple of positions, helping to singlehandedly mask the depth constraints. On a shooting-challenged squad, he would have been a positive contributor to help balance the floor. He's also a good ball handler who excels at creating for both himself and others off of the bounce -- so he would have given us an offensive dimension -- to say nothing of a scoring weapon off of the bench that was lacking last season -- that would have made it far less of a struggle to score points. Hughes is the biggest "loser" of the Battle-returning-to-SU offseason sweepstakes, but you'd never know it. When I said that the team was cohesive above, I meant it -- and Hughes has great chemistry with his teammates. He looks most comfortable launching threes [or at least he did in the limited opportunity to observe scrimmages], but is decisive with the ball in transition. Very smooth handle -- very pretty shot. Hughes will offer a return to our great teams from 5 years ago that had guys off of the bench who legitimately could get double figures any game -- something we've lacked since 2014. He's strong -- built like Dave Johnson -- but I don't have a great feel for how he'll rebound playing the back line of the zone.

  • Frank Howard hasn't played: Our returning PG has spent the majority of the fall recovering from a surgical procedure. His foot is in a boot, so he can't play. From what I understand, JB and the staff aren't worried -- they are going to let him heal at his own pace, as we have the depth to allow him to take his time. Plus, they are already comfortable with his knowledge of how to play in our system on both sides of the ball. Being out has afforded Frank with a rare opportunity -- to be a semi-"coach" during practice, while he's sidelined. And true to form -- he's been vocal. One other thing to add which I can't confirm first hand: Frank has reportedly put a lot of work into his jump shot this offseason, and the staff feels that he might be a legitimate candidate to shoot 40% from three point range -- apparently, he's turned himself into a knock down shooter.

  • Howard Washington is playing, but...: Howard Washington's rehab is going ahead of schedule, but the coaches are being cautious with him as he isn't 100%. There is legitimate talk that he might redshirt, so as not to squander a year of eligibility -- but as JB has mentioned, it will be entirely up to HW himself. Given the depth ahead of him, it wouldn't be a bad idea -- he's not going to play ahead of Carey / Buddy.

  • Chukwu has taken steps forward: When you think about it, the way Chukwu's career has unfolded makes a lot of sense. He was a tall guy who didn't have a lot of refinement coming out of high school. Then he goes to Providence and doesn't play much his freshman year. Then he sits out a year as a transfer. Then he plays a couple of games here, but gets injured and misses 85% of his sophomore season of eligibility. Last year was the first time in three years that he'd gotten any meaningful playing time, and to noone's surprise he was up-and-down. But with Sidibe being unable to play in many games due to chronic tendinitis, Chukwu was forced to be an iron man. Not only did he have to anchor the zone defensively, get after shots, and also fight inside for rebounds -- but he had to be smart and avoid foul trouble. All while not having anybody to give him a breather for the majority of the second half of last season. Chukwu -- who's always been a pretty hard worker in the weight room -- is noticeably stronger this year. The coaching staff also can see from practice that his "feel" for the game has improved as a function of playing such a heavy dose of minutes, and that he's on the cusp of things snapping into place in terms of his play. Although it might not show up statistically, as he should be playing fewer minutes this year with Sidibe back and healthy, but I think we might see improved play in shorter bursts from Chukwu, who will also be able to play much more aggressively knowing that there isn't a drop off behind him when Sidibe comes in tot the game. Will be interesting to see what the big guy can do now that he's finally an experienced vet.

  • Dolezaj will show expanded play: Dolezaj's extensive international resume showed last season -- despite being physically underdeveloped, he displayed a great feel for the game, a versatile skill set, he played hard, and he wasn't faxed by pressure [as a veteran of junior national competition, he was accustomed to playing high stakes ball]. If there's one thing that disappoints me, its that he hasn't gained any weight. He still has the same physique as last year. But unlike last year, where he basically played "smart" and deferred offensively to more experienced teammates, didn't try to do too much, and avoided making mistakes -- he has far more of a green light from the coaching staff this year. In fact, you could make the case that our team's turnaround coincided with Marek's late season emergence as an offensive threat -- which happened at the perfect time. With a fourth scorer, suddenly we were more formidable offensively... right at the right time. In scrimmages, Dolezaj is shooting the ball confidently, while also putting it on the floor more to drive. Wouldn't surprise me to see him average 10ppg this year. Now, if only we could get him in the dining hall...

  • Bourama Sidibe hasn't gained a pound, either: Sidibe's promising freshman season was derailed by tendinitis that impaired his mobility and prevented him from running / jumping. But when he played, he flashed a LOT of potential. He hasn't gained a pound -- that's the bad news. But the good news is that he looks really athletic, and is moving well. If there's a downside to his offseason, its that he spent the summer recuperating physically instead of working on his game. Even so, expect a more assertive Sidibe this year. If he ever can bulk up to 230 pounds, I still believe he could be an NBA player.

  • The coach's kid ain't too bad: Boeheim has been glib when it comes to discussing his son. But the reality is: Buddy isn't a token, the kid can play. He's got an impressive skill set [coach's kid, after all] and a really good feel for the game, kind of like Andy Rautins. He can handle a little bit and pass, although those aren't the strengths of his game. He's got a good frame for an incoming frosh, and obviously has a pretty jump shot. Although I'll qualify that by acknowledging that he missed the majority of shots I saw him take. He's got pro size for a 2, and will be a multi-year starter here, I'd expect. If he can get off to a good start this preseason, I could see him helping to really space the floor. You can also see that he's tight with his teammates, which is good to see.

  • That Braswell kid isn't too bad, either: Anybody expecting Braswell to factor in much this year should probably temper expectations. Not that the potential isn't there, but barring catastrophic injuries, he shouldn't have to be rushed out there. Built like a human hyphen, that's probably not a bad thing given the ACC competition that awaits. All of that said, Braswell looks like he belongs out there during practice. From what I've heard, the coaching staff viewed him as a good gamble because of his athleticism, but his skill level surpasses what they were expecting from him. Tidbit #2: I've also heard that Pitino was enamored of him after watching him practice a few weeks ago, and labeled him as a future star in our system. Kid shows a more advanced handle [at least in the open floor] than expected, and has a solid stroke. Obviously needs to gain weight. Would love to see him redshirt, but doubt that happens.

  • Last but not least, Carey: I mentioned above that Hughes was the biggest loser of Battle returning from a minutes perspective, but if he's 1A than Carey might 1B. He's been force fed a practice role of having to fill Howard's shoes while the incumbent recovers from surgery, and he shows off impressive tools. Although lithe physically, he really attacks the rim. He is fast as hell, and can drive on anyone. Last year, aggressive presses really forced us to play slow, and Frank often struggled to attack them. This kid won't -- he has the type of tight handle / speed to make teams pay for playing like that. He's outstanding in transition, too. Very strong handle, and not a bad passer, either, although he is very offensive minded. Gambles a lot defensively from what I saw in [admittedly limited] observation. Pretty good stroke, but his release looked a little bit slow to me. Again, didn't see enough to form a definitive opinion on that. If I had to describe his game and make a comparison, I'd say that he's the anti-Kaleb Joseph -- he's everything that Joseph was supposed to be, only he has the tools that Kaleb lacked. It is incredible to me that he is going to come off of the bench -- giving JB yet ANOTHER guy who could get double figures any given game, against any caliber opponent. But such is the luxury of depth.

  • The rotation: That last sentence is a good segue into my final observation -- unlike last year, JB won't be locked into playing guys who aren't performing well any given night. I also think we could see varied lineups, depending on matchups or who happens to be playing better any given game [aka, going with the hot hand]. Last year, if Howard [just for example] was struggling, JB had to ride him out because there were literally no other options over the 2nd half of last year. This year, JB could pull him for Carey, or Hughes, or Buddy. The depth we have this year is really an embarrassment of riches, after being so depleted last year. Plus we have guys who can play multiple positions [Carey, Battle, Hughes, Marek, Brissett, Braswell]. I'd predict that we see 8 guys comprise the rotation: Howard, Battle, Brissett, Dolezaj, Chukwu, Hughes, Sidibe, Carey, Boeheim. Washington / Braswell are probably the two odd men out... at least this year.

  • Final Prediction: Two years ago, a quartet of morons [and those morons know who they are] jumped down my throat for my optimistic preseason prognostications prior to the 2016-2017 season. My position has always been that I don't make predictions, I convey observations, and then my expectations follow suit with what I see. Two years ago, I saw another team that had talent and depth. Then, the bottom fell out. Several players expected to be key contributors got injured, depth got compromised, and the team had to overcome our worst preseason start of the Boeheim era. By the time JB adjusted the lineup and the team got back on track [posting a 10-8 conference record and beating three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time we played them], it was too late.
I am hesitant to offer much by way of a season prediction, given the extremely limited practice time I was able to observe. But in light of the following observations:
  • Team seems extremely poised / confident
  • We have a battle tested core nucleus
  • We have depth at every position, and practices seem extremely competitive
  • We have more offensive firepower than last year
  • We have more shooters, and better shooters than last year
  • We have more guys who can create off the bounce for themselves and others this year
  • Tyus Battle seems poised for greatness

...I don't think that I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that this team could quickly find themselves in the top 10 if we get out to a quick start in the preseason. I've heard that JB feels like it is a three horse race in the ACC... and that we're one of the three who will contend.

I'm not going to speculate on what our record might be, but I think this team has all of the elements, talent, and offensive firepower to be a #3 seed or higher. I also expect the team to get to ~75ppg just as a function of better depth, shooting, and having more personnel who can attack off of the dribble. Last year's offense was such a struggle, I think that this year will be far improved -- having guys who can make plays is often the only difference between "good" and "bad" offensive sets, and we have a lot more answers this year than last.

It also bears mentioning that it is veritably unprecedented to return five quality starters in the modern era. I'd expect the nucleus to show the newcomers the ropes, and that JB will be able to blend the new players in with the incumbents seamlessly -- the team chemistry appears to be that strong. This team has all of the makings of a final four caliber squad, and the experience / talent to pull it off. Will be fun to see how it plays out this year!

Let's Go Orange!!!
Thank you, as always, for your annual post with your insights. It takes a lot to go on this board and post this kind of information year after year because there will inevitably be push back if/when things aren't going great as you mentioned. So coming from an appreciative diehard fan, thank you again.

I do have a couple questions you may, or may not be able to answer. I almost hate to ask them because I don't like the potential of people "using" your response negatively against you in the future so feel free not to answer if you so choose. But, from your limited viewing, do you see buddy strictly as a 2 in the system? And how was his defense? Also, I like the fact that we have the potential of attacking of the bounce with Battle and Carey, do you think Hughes might also fall into this category or is he more of a perimeter oriented guard? Thanks!
 

RF2044

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Thank you, as always, for your annual post with your insights. It takes a lot to go on this board and post this kind of information year after year because there will inevitably be push back if/when things aren't going great as you mentioned. So coming from an appreciative diehard fan, thank you again.

I do have a couple questions you may, or may not be able to answer. I almost hate to ask them because I don't like the potential of people "using" your response negatively against you in the future so feel free not to answer if you so choose. But, from your limited viewing, do you see buddy strictly as a 2 in the system? And how was his defense? Also, I like the fact that we have the potential of attacking of the bounce with Battle and Carey, do you think Hughes might also fall into this category or is he more of a perimeter oriented guard? Thanks!
Appreciate the kind words, Janner.

Hughes is DEFINITELY the kind of player who can attack off of the bounce. He's got a very smooth handle, gets into the lane easily, but his preferred "spot" on the floor, if you will, is out near the three point line. Hughes is a pretty slick passer, too.

In terms of Buddy -- it's funny you ask, as my father and I discussed this very topic. At his current size, he's a 2. Could he play the three a la Rautins, Mali, etc. in a pinch? Sure -- but that's not a great fit for our system.

THAT SAID -- his brother is approaching 6-8, entering his sophomore year at Cornell. If Buddy "grows" to that size range, I could see him growing into a 3. But for now, he's probably a 2. His defense looks adequate -- he'll be a smarts / hustle type of defender, versus a stud athlete, who will need to show that he understands his assignments and anticipates where the ball will go. Andy and Cooney were great at that. Not suggesting Buddy is at that level yet.
 
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#6
All:

Practice this year has been more difficult to get access to than in years past. Not that the staff is doing anything to be intentionally more "secretive," just that with the security protocol being what it is at the Melo Center, it is more difficult to get permission to observe. Even my father's usual sources [which are fairly well chronicled] haven't had as plentiful access as in the past. This will not be as long / detailed as write ups I've done in the past for that reason.

I've been sitting on much of this, hoping to get another opportunity to observe practice and pass along more detailed impressions. But with tonight's scrimmage -- I'll share these now as a primer for tonight's game. Please note that aspects of some of these observations have been alluded to in other threads / media coverage -- that's the price I pay for going "last," as opposed to doing these posts on the first day of camp as I've done in the past.

So without further ado...
  • The team has a tremendous amount of cohesion: Last year's run through the NCAA was great for the fanbase, but it was also important for the psychology / chemistry of our team. We want from not deserving to be in the field in the eyes of many to having a very solid run, which included beating a Michigan State team that many claimed was their best team since the 2000 NC squad in what was a de facto home game for them. We also got an extra "W" as a function of our participation in the play-in game. Last year's team peaked at the right time, but also gained a lot of confidence with our postseason play -- which also included our first ever ACC tournament victory. It might seem trivial, but with the entire starting lineup returning, not only was the postseason a learning opportunity, it was also a character builder. It also showed this core nucleus that they have the chops to be elite. It was something to build upon, and with the return of Battle, Brissett announcing early he wants to return to be "...part of something great," etc. you can sense that this team believes in itself. Not that they are cocky / over-confident -- rather, they have a quiet confidence and look like they're having fun -- which in turn should translate into this being a fun year for us fans.

  • Depth is substantially improved: Injuries again took their toll last year, and the Orange trudged through a major portion of the schedule without a scholarship backup guard to play behind starters Tyus Battle / Frank Howard, and no backup center behind Paschal Chukwu. Coach Boeheim was often forced to use a 6-player rotation, which led to three of our players being in the top 10 for minutes played last year. This year's roster is cut from a different cloth entirely. Incoming frosh Jalen Carey / Buddy Boeheim erase the guard depth issue, and transfer Elijah Hughes is finally eligible after having to sit out last year [and boy, could we have used him last season]. In addition to numbers, these guys bring multi-position flexibility that will go a long way toward preventing last year's depth issues from rearing their ugly head again.

  • Expanded rotation? We all know that JB prefers a rotation of 7.5 players. We also know that when he's had a roster full of good players [as in 2000 and 2012], he plays an expanded roster and goes 8 or 9 deep consistently. So what should we expect this season? Given the players' capabilities, I'd be shocked if we don't play 9 on a fairly consistent basis. Boeheim's son [more on him later] is probably the 9th guy -- and he's pretty good. He's also a pretty good shooter, so I wouldn't expect him to get "Booheimed." Look for a more expanded roster than usual, as JB finds creative ways to take advantage of the improved depth.

  • What about the defense? When you think Syracuse basketball, one of the first things you invariably think about is the zone. We return our entire starting five from a group that formed one of the top statistical defenses last year, with a front line that stands 6-8, 6-10, and 7-2. With better depth and more athleticism on this year's squad, I think we'll feature the press more as a mechanism to generate turnovers, the way we did in 2012. We'll also have fresher legs without having to play guys 39+ MPG, so it will be up to JB to find a way to make use of the tools at his disposal.

Now, onto the players...
  • Oshae Brissett... looks about the same: Please don't take this as a knock at first glance. Brissett came in with a well-developed frame last year, and proceeded to put together a very impressive year in most respects, with the notable exception of scoring in the paint [where he converted an abysmal percentage of his FG attempts]. Brissett looks about the same physically, but he's more vocal. He is the guy who really looks like he's having FUN being out there. Boards hard, but in the very limited practice run observed, he mostly hung out near the three point line. Whether he's improved his ability to finish inside will be a major story line of the year.

  • The Tyus Battle hype is real: Tyus had a terrific sophomore year, stepping into a scoring void left by White / Lydon / Gillon and answering the bell. It is important to note that not all players can handle being the focal point of the opposition's defensive game plan; some just aren't up to the challenge. Despite his limitations, Battle was. He was also an absolute iron man -- something that undoubtedly adversely impacted his efficiency on offense last season. Tyus flirted with the NBA draft, and then continued to work out with a professional trainer the entire summer to hone his fine skill development, and the results are noticeable. Last year, Tyus's handle was more mechanical; he had a couple of things he liked to do -- a crossover from right-to-left to sweep into the lane, a step back, and a spin move to go baseline. Despite having a somewhat limited repertoire as a ball handler, he used those favored moves to solid effect. This year, his handle seems tighter. He's handling / passing the ball more comfortably, allowing the offense to run through him, looking to facilitate more, and finishing inside better. He's in phenomenal shape, and looks like he intends to make a big splash in his final year in Orange. One other important thing to mention: Battle benefits from having a similarly big, strong, athlete in Hughes to match up with in practice every day. Hughes also pushes him to play tough defense -- and you can tell that these two really enjoy competing against each other.

  • Hughes was the component we lacked last season: Given all of last year's depth / scoring problems, a guy like Hughes could have solved a lot of issues merely by himself. First, he could play a couple of positions, helping to singlehandedly mask the depth constraints. On a shooting-challenged squad, he would have been a positive contributor to help balance the floor. He's also a good ball handler who excels at creating for both himself and others off of the bounce -- so he would have given us an offensive dimension -- to say nothing of a scoring weapon off of the bench that was lacking last season -- that would have made it far less of a struggle to score points. Hughes is the biggest "loser" of the Battle-returning-to-SU offseason sweepstakes, but you'd never know it. When I said that the team was cohesive above, I meant it -- and Hughes has great chemistry with his teammates. He looks most comfortable launching threes [or at least he did in the limited opportunity to observe scrimmages], but is decisive with the ball in transition. Very smooth handle -- very pretty shot. Hughes will offer a return to our great teams from 5 years ago that had guys off of the bench who legitimately could get double figures any game -- something we've lacked since 2014. He's strong -- built like Dave Johnson -- but I don't have a great feel for how he'll rebound playing the back line of the zone.

  • Frank Howard hasn't played: Our returning PG has spent the majority of the fall recovering from a surgical procedure. His foot is in a boot, so he can't play. From what I understand, JB and the staff aren't worried -- they are going to let him heal at his own pace, as we have the depth to allow him to take his time. Plus, they are already comfortable with his knowledge of how to play in our system on both sides of the ball. Being out has afforded Frank with a rare opportunity -- to be a semi-"coach" during practice, while he's sidelined. And true to form -- he's been vocal. One other thing to add which I can't confirm first hand: Frank has reportedly put a lot of work into his jump shot this offseason, and the staff feels that he might be a legitimate candidate to shoot 40% from three point range -- apparently, he's turned himself into a knock down shooter.

  • Howard Washington is playing, but...: Howard Washington's rehab is going ahead of schedule, but the coaches are being cautious with him as he isn't 100%. There is legitimate talk that he might redshirt, so as not to squander a year of eligibility -- but as JB has mentioned, it will be entirely up to HW himself. Given the depth ahead of him, it wouldn't be a bad idea -- he's not going to play ahead of Carey / Buddy.

  • Chukwu has taken steps forward: When you think about it, the way Chukwu's career has unfolded makes a lot of sense. He was a tall guy who didn't have a lot of refinement coming out of high school. Then he goes to Providence and doesn't play much his freshman year. Then he sits out a year as a transfer. Then he plays a couple of games here, but gets injured and misses 85% of his sophomore season of eligibility. Last year was the first time in three years that he'd gotten any meaningful playing time, and to noone's surprise he was up-and-down. But with Sidibe being unable to play in many games due to chronic tendinitis, Chukwu was forced to be an iron man. Not only did he have to anchor the zone defensively, get after shots, and also fight inside for rebounds -- but he had to be smart and avoid foul trouble. All while not having anybody to give him a breather for the majority of the second half of last season. Chukwu -- who's always been a pretty hard worker in the weight room -- is noticeably stronger this year. The coaching staff also can see from practice that his "feel" for the game has improved as a function of playing such a heavy dose of minutes, and that he's on the cusp of things snapping into place in terms of his play. Although it might not show up statistically, as he should be playing fewer minutes this year with Sidibe back and healthy, but I think we might see improved play in shorter bursts from Chukwu, who will also be able to play much more aggressively knowing that there isn't a drop off behind him when Sidibe comes in tot the game. Will be interesting to see what the big guy can do now that he's finally an experienced vet.

  • Dolezaj will show expanded play: Dolezaj's extensive international resume showed last season -- despite being physically underdeveloped, he displayed a great feel for the game, a versatile skill set, he played hard, and he wasn't faxed by pressure [as a veteran of junior national competition, he was accustomed to playing high stakes ball]. If there's one thing that disappoints me, its that he hasn't gained any weight. He still has the same physique as last year. But unlike last year, where he basically played "smart" and deferred offensively to more experienced teammates, didn't try to do too much, and avoided making mistakes -- he has far more of a green light from the coaching staff this year. In fact, you could make the case that our team's turnaround coincided with Marek's late season emergence as an offensive threat -- which happened at the perfect time. With a fourth scorer, suddenly we were more formidable offensively... right at the right time. In scrimmages, Dolezaj is shooting the ball confidently, while also putting it on the floor more to drive. Wouldn't surprise me to see him average 10ppg this year. Now, if only we could get him in the dining hall...

  • Bourama Sidibe hasn't gained a pound, either: Sidibe's promising freshman season was derailed by tendinitis that impaired his mobility and prevented him from running / jumping. But when he played, he flashed a LOT of potential. He hasn't gained a pound -- that's the bad news. But the good news is that he looks really athletic, and is moving well. If there's a downside to his offseason, its that he spent the summer recuperating physically instead of working on his game. Even so, expect a more assertive Sidibe this year. If he ever can bulk up to 230 pounds, I still believe he could be an NBA player.

  • The coach's kid ain't too bad: Boeheim has been glib when it comes to discussing his son. But the reality is: Buddy isn't a token, the kid can play. He's got an impressive skill set [coach's kid, after all] and a really good feel for the game, kind of like Andy Rautins. He can handle a little bit and pass, although those aren't the strengths of his game. He's got a good frame for an incoming frosh, and obviously has a pretty jump shot. Although I'll qualify that by acknowledging that he missed the majority of shots I saw him take. He's got pro size for a 2, and will be a multi-year starter here, I'd expect. If he can get off to a good start this preseason, I could see him helping to really space the floor. You can also see that he's tight with his teammates, which is good to see.

  • That Braswell kid isn't too bad, either: Anybody expecting Braswell to factor in much this year should probably temper expectations. Not that the potential isn't there, but barring catastrophic injuries, he shouldn't have to be rushed out there. Built like a human hyphen, that's probably not a bad thing given the ACC competition that awaits. All of that said, Braswell looks like he belongs out there during practice. From what I've heard, the coaching staff viewed him as a good gamble because of his athleticism, but his skill level surpasses what they were expecting from him. Tidbit #2: I've also heard that Pitino was enamored of him after watching him practice a few weeks ago, and labeled him as a future star in our system. Kid shows a more advanced handle [at least in the open floor] than expected, and has a solid stroke. Obviously needs to gain weight. Would love to see him redshirt, but doubt that happens.

  • Last but not least, Carey: I mentioned above that Hughes was the biggest loser of Battle returning from a minutes perspective, but if he's 1A than Carey might 1B. He's been force fed a practice role of having to fill Howard's shoes while the incumbent recovers from surgery, and he shows off impressive tools. Although lithe physically, he really attacks the rim. He is fast as hell, and can drive on anyone. Last year, aggressive presses really forced us to play slow, and Frank often struggled to attack them. This kid won't -- he has the type of tight handle / speed to make teams pay for playing like that. He's outstanding in transition, too. Very strong handle, and not a bad passer, either, although he is very offensive minded. Gambles a lot defensively from what I saw in [admittedly limited] observation. Pretty good stroke, but his release looked a little bit slow to me. Again, didn't see enough to form a definitive opinion on that. If I had to describe his game and make a comparison, I'd say that he's the anti-Kaleb Joseph -- he's everything that Joseph was supposed to be, only he has the tools that Kaleb lacked. It is incredible to me that he is going to come off of the bench -- giving JB yet ANOTHER guy who could get double figures any given game, against any caliber opponent. But such is the luxury of depth.

  • The rotation: That last sentence is a good segue into my final observation -- unlike last year, JB won't be locked into playing guys who aren't performing well any given night. I also think we could see varied lineups, depending on matchups or who happens to be playing better any given game [aka, going with the hot hand]. Last year, if Howard [just for example] was struggling, JB had to ride him out because there were literally no other options over the 2nd half of last year. This year, JB could pull him for Carey, or Hughes, or Buddy. The depth we have this year is really an embarrassment of riches, after being so depleted last year. Plus we have guys who can play multiple positions [Carey, Battle, Hughes, Marek, Brissett, Braswell]. I'd predict that we see 8 guys comprise the rotation: Howard, Battle, Brissett, Dolezaj, Chukwu, Hughes, Sidibe, Carey, Boeheim. Washington / Braswell are probably the two odd men out... at least this year.

  • Final Prediction: Two years ago, a quartet of morons [and those morons know who they are] jumped down my throat for my optimistic preseason prognostications prior to the 2016-2017 season. My position has always been that I don't make predictions, I convey observations, and then my expectations follow suit with what I see. Two years ago, I saw another team that had talent and depth. Then, the bottom fell out. Several players expected to be key contributors got injured, depth got compromised, and the team had to overcome our worst preseason start of the Boeheim era. By the time JB adjusted the lineup and the team got back on track [posting a 10-8 conference record and beating three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time we played them], it was too late.
I am hesitant to offer much by way of a season prediction, given the extremely limited practice time I was able to observe. But in light of the following observations:
  • Team seems extremely poised / confident
  • We have a battle tested core nucleus
  • We have depth at every position, and practices seem extremely competitive
  • We have more offensive firepower than last year
  • We have more shooters, and better shooters than last year
  • We have more guys who can create off the bounce for themselves and others this year
  • Tyus Battle seems poised for greatness

...I don't think that I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that this team could quickly find themselves in the top 10 if we get out to a quick start in the preseason. I've heard that JB feels like it is a three horse race in the ACC... and that we're one of the three who will contend.

I'm not going to speculate on what our record might be, but I think this team has all of the elements, talent, and offensive firepower to be a #3 seed or higher. I also expect the team to get to ~75ppg just as a function of better depth, shooting, and having more personnel who can attack off of the dribble. Last year's offense was such a struggle, I think that this year will be far improved -- having guys who can make plays is often the only difference between "good" and "bad" offensive sets, and we have a lot more answers this year than last.

It also bears mentioning that it is veritably unprecedented to return five quality starters in the modern era. I'd expect the nucleus to show the newcomers the ropes, and that JB will be able to blend the new players in with the incumbents seamlessly -- the team chemistry appears to be that strong. This team has all of the makings of a final four caliber squad, and the experience / talent to pull it off. Will be fun to see how it plays out this year!

Let's Go Orange!!!

Great write up! Thanks for taking the time put this here.
 

MSOrange

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#8
Thanks as always for the update. You know much I appreciate and respect your opinions. I'm still digesting the info but encouraging news all around and pretty much what I was hoping to read. Guess the thing that stood out initially is the legitimate discussion of HW redshirting. That seems to indicate the coaches think he can at least be a contributor at this level, which I agree with, and don't want to waste a year to just get his 4 years over with.
 
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Maybe Bourama's lack of weight gain is a good thing and/or intentional given his knee issues? Love the tibdit about Pitino and Braswell. Things sound promising w/ Quincy Guerrier (knock on wood), but it's great to know we have another promising wing already on campus if he decides to go elsewhere.

Awesome stuff. Thanks!
 
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#18
All:

Practice this year has been more difficult to get access to than in years past. Not that the staff is doing anything to be intentionally more "secretive," just that with the security protocol being what it is at the Melo Center, it is more difficult to get permission to observe. Even my father's usual sources [which are fairly well chronicled] haven't had as plentiful access as in the past. This will not be as long / detailed as write ups I've done in the past for that reason.

I've been sitting on much of this, hoping to get another opportunity to observe practice and pass along more detailed impressions. But with tonight's scrimmage -- I'll share these now as a primer for tonight's game. Please note that aspects of some of these observations have been alluded to in other threads / media coverage -- that's the price I pay for going "last," as opposed to doing these posts on the first day of camp as I've done in the past.

So without further ado...
  • The team has a tremendous amount of cohesion: Last year's run through the NCAA was great for the fanbase, but it was also important for the psychology / chemistry of our team. We want from not deserving to be in the field in the eyes of many to having a very solid run, which included beating a Michigan State team that many claimed was their best team since the 2000 NC squad in what was a de facto home game for them. We also got an extra "W" as a function of our participation in the play-in game. Last year's team peaked at the right time, but also gained a lot of confidence with our postseason play -- which also included our first ever ACC tournament victory. It might seem trivial, but with the entire starting lineup returning, not only was the postseason a learning opportunity, it was also a character builder. It also showed this core nucleus that they have the chops to be elite. It was something to build upon, and with the return of Battle, Brissett announcing early he wants to return to be "...part of something great," etc. you can sense that this team believes in itself. Not that they are cocky / over-confident -- rather, they have a quiet confidence and look like they're having fun -- which in turn should translate into this being a fun year for us fans.

  • Depth is substantially improved: Injuries again took their toll last year, and the Orange trudged through a major portion of the schedule without a scholarship backup guard to play behind starters Tyus Battle / Frank Howard, and no backup center behind Paschal Chukwu. Coach Boeheim was often forced to use a 6-player rotation, which led to three of our players being in the top 10 for minutes played last year. This year's roster is cut from a different cloth entirely. Incoming frosh Jalen Carey / Buddy Boeheim erase the guard depth issue, and transfer Elijah Hughes is finally eligible after having to sit out last year [and boy, could we have used him last season]. In addition to numbers, these guys bring multi-position flexibility that will go a long way toward preventing last year's depth issues from rearing their ugly head again.

  • Expanded rotation? We all know that JB prefers a rotation of 7.5 players. We also know that when he's had a roster full of good players [as in 2000 and 2012], he plays an expanded roster and goes 8 or 9 deep consistently. So what should we expect this season? Given the players' capabilities, I'd be shocked if we don't play 9 on a fairly consistent basis. Boeheim's son [more on him later] is probably the 9th guy -- and he's pretty good. He's also a pretty good shooter, so I wouldn't expect him to get "Booheimed." Look for a more expanded roster than usual, as JB finds creative ways to take advantage of the improved depth.

  • What about the defense? When you think Syracuse basketball, one of the first things you invariably think about is the zone. We return our entire starting five from a group that formed one of the top statistical defenses last year, with a front line that stands 6-8, 6-10, and 7-2. With better depth and more athleticism on this year's squad, I think we'll feature the press more as a mechanism to generate turnovers, the way we did in 2012. We'll also have fresher legs without having to play guys 39+ MPG, so it will be up to JB to find a way to make use of the tools at his disposal.

Now, onto the players...
  • Oshae Brissett... looks about the same: Please don't take this as a knock at first glance. Brissett came in with a well-developed frame last year, and proceeded to put together a very impressive year in most respects, with the notable exception of scoring in the paint [where he converted an abysmal percentage of his FG attempts]. Brissett looks about the same physically, but he's more vocal. He is the guy who really looks like he's having FUN being out there. Boards hard, but in the very limited practice run observed, he mostly hung out near the three point line. Whether he's improved his ability to finish inside will be a major story line of the year.

  • The Tyus Battle hype is real: Tyus had a terrific sophomore year, stepping into a scoring void left by White / Lydon / Gillon and answering the bell. It is important to note that not all players can handle being the focal point of the opposition's defensive game plan; some just aren't up to the challenge. Despite his limitations, Battle was. He was also an absolute iron man -- something that undoubtedly adversely impacted his efficiency on offense last season. Tyus flirted with the NBA draft, and then continued to work out with a professional trainer the entire summer to hone his fine skill development, and the results are noticeable. Last year, Tyus's handle was more mechanical; he had a couple of things he liked to do -- a crossover from right-to-left to sweep into the lane, a step back, and a spin move to go baseline. Despite having a somewhat limited repertoire as a ball handler, he used those favored moves to solid effect. This year, his handle seems tighter. He's handling / passing the ball more comfortably, allowing the offense to run through him, looking to facilitate more, and finishing inside better. He's in phenomenal shape, and looks like he intends to make a big splash in his final year in Orange. One other important thing to mention: Battle benefits from having a similarly big, strong, athlete in Hughes to match up with in practice every day. Hughes also pushes him to play tough defense -- and you can tell that these two really enjoy competing against each other.

  • Hughes was the component we lacked last season: Given all of last year's depth / scoring problems, a guy like Hughes could have solved a lot of issues merely by himself. First, he could play a couple of positions, helping to singlehandedly mask the depth constraints. On a shooting-challenged squad, he would have been a positive contributor to help balance the floor. He's also a good ball handler who excels at creating for both himself and others off of the bounce -- so he would have given us an offensive dimension -- to say nothing of a scoring weapon off of the bench that was lacking last season -- that would have made it far less of a struggle to score points. Hughes is the biggest "loser" of the Battle-returning-to-SU offseason sweepstakes, but you'd never know it. When I said that the team was cohesive above, I meant it -- and Hughes has great chemistry with his teammates. He looks most comfortable launching threes [or at least he did in the limited opportunity to observe scrimmages], but is decisive with the ball in transition. Very smooth handle -- very pretty shot. Hughes will offer a return to our great teams from 5 years ago that had guys off of the bench who legitimately could get double figures any game -- something we've lacked since 2014. He's strong -- built like Dave Johnson -- but I don't have a great feel for how he'll rebound playing the back line of the zone.

  • Frank Howard hasn't played: Our returning PG has spent the majority of the fall recovering from a surgical procedure. His foot is in a boot, so he can't play. From what I understand, JB and the staff aren't worried -- they are going to let him heal at his own pace, as we have the depth to allow him to take his time. Plus, they are already comfortable with his knowledge of how to play in our system on both sides of the ball. Being out has afforded Frank with a rare opportunity -- to be a semi-"coach" during practice, while he's sidelined. And true to form -- he's been vocal. One other thing to add which I can't confirm first hand: Frank has reportedly put a lot of work into his jump shot this offseason, and the staff feels that he might be a legitimate candidate to shoot 40% from three point range -- apparently, he's turned himself into a knock down shooter.

  • Howard Washington is playing, but...: Howard Washington's rehab is going ahead of schedule, but the coaches are being cautious with him as he isn't 100%. There is legitimate talk that he might redshirt, so as not to squander a year of eligibility -- but as JB has mentioned, it will be entirely up to HW himself. Given the depth ahead of him, it wouldn't be a bad idea -- he's not going to play ahead of Carey / Buddy.

  • Chukwu has taken steps forward: When you think about it, the way Chukwu's career has unfolded makes a lot of sense. He was a tall guy who didn't have a lot of refinement coming out of high school. Then he goes to Providence and doesn't play much his freshman year. Then he sits out a year as a transfer. Then he plays a couple of games here, but gets injured and misses 85% of his sophomore season of eligibility. Last year was the first time in three years that he'd gotten any meaningful playing time, and to noone's surprise he was up-and-down. But with Sidibe being unable to play in many games due to chronic tendinitis, Chukwu was forced to be an iron man. Not only did he have to anchor the zone defensively, get after shots, and also fight inside for rebounds -- but he had to be smart and avoid foul trouble. All while not having anybody to give him a breather for the majority of the second half of last season. Chukwu -- who's always been a pretty hard worker in the weight room -- is noticeably stronger this year. The coaching staff also can see from practice that his "feel" for the game has improved as a function of playing such a heavy dose of minutes, and that he's on the cusp of things snapping into place in terms of his play. Although it might not show up statistically, as he should be playing fewer minutes this year with Sidibe back and healthy, but I think we might see improved play in shorter bursts from Chukwu, who will also be able to play much more aggressively knowing that there isn't a drop off behind him when Sidibe comes in tot the game. Will be interesting to see what the big guy can do now that he's finally an experienced vet.

  • Dolezaj will show expanded play: Dolezaj's extensive international resume showed last season -- despite being physically underdeveloped, he displayed a great feel for the game, a versatile skill set, he played hard, and he wasn't faxed by pressure [as a veteran of junior national competition, he was accustomed to playing high stakes ball]. If there's one thing that disappoints me, its that he hasn't gained any weight. He still has the same physique as last year. But unlike last year, where he basically played "smart" and deferred offensively to more experienced teammates, didn't try to do too much, and avoided making mistakes -- he has far more of a green light from the coaching staff this year. In fact, you could make the case that our team's turnaround coincided with Marek's late season emergence as an offensive threat -- which happened at the perfect time. With a fourth scorer, suddenly we were more formidable offensively... right at the right time. In scrimmages, Dolezaj is shooting the ball confidently, while also putting it on the floor more to drive. Wouldn't surprise me to see him average 10ppg this year. Now, if only we could get him in the dining hall...

  • Bourama Sidibe hasn't gained a pound, either: Sidibe's promising freshman season was derailed by tendinitis that impaired his mobility and prevented him from running / jumping. But when he played, he flashed a LOT of potential. He hasn't gained a pound -- that's the bad news. But the good news is that he looks really athletic, and is moving well. If there's a downside to his offseason, its that he spent the summer recuperating physically instead of working on his game. Even so, expect a more assertive Sidibe this year. If he ever can bulk up to 230 pounds, I still believe he could be an NBA player.

  • The coach's kid ain't too bad: Boeheim has been glib when it comes to discussing his son. But the reality is: Buddy isn't a token, the kid can play. He's got an impressive skill set [coach's kid, after all] and a really good feel for the game, kind of like Andy Rautins. He can handle a little bit and pass, although those aren't the strengths of his game. He's got a good frame for an incoming frosh, and obviously has a pretty jump shot. Although I'll qualify that by acknowledging that he missed the majority of shots I saw him take. He's got pro size for a 2, and will be a multi-year starter here, I'd expect. If he can get off to a good start this preseason, I could see him helping to really space the floor. You can also see that he's tight with his teammates, which is good to see.

  • That Braswell kid isn't too bad, either: Anybody expecting Braswell to factor in much this year should probably temper expectations. Not that the potential isn't there, but barring catastrophic injuries, he shouldn't have to be rushed out there. Built like a human hyphen, that's probably not a bad thing given the ACC competition that awaits. All of that said, Braswell looks like he belongs out there during practice. From what I've heard, the coaching staff viewed him as a good gamble because of his athleticism, but his skill level surpasses what they were expecting from him. Tidbit #2: I've also heard that Pitino was enamored of him after watching him practice a few weeks ago, and labeled him as a future star in our system. Kid shows a more advanced handle [at least in the open floor] than expected, and has a solid stroke. Obviously needs to gain weight. Would love to see him redshirt, but doubt that happens.

  • Last but not least, Carey: I mentioned above that Hughes was the biggest loser of Battle returning from a minutes perspective, but if he's 1A than Carey might 1B. He's been force fed a practice role of having to fill Howard's shoes while the incumbent recovers from surgery, and he shows off impressive tools. Although lithe physically, he really attacks the rim. He is fast as hell, and can drive on anyone. Last year, aggressive presses really forced us to play slow, and Frank often struggled to attack them. This kid won't -- he has the type of tight handle / speed to make teams pay for playing like that. He's outstanding in transition, too. Very strong handle, and not a bad passer, either, although he is very offensive minded. Gambles a lot defensively from what I saw in [admittedly limited] observation. Pretty good stroke, but his release looked a little bit slow to me. Again, didn't see enough to form a definitive opinion on that. If I had to describe his game and make a comparison, I'd say that he's the anti-Kaleb Joseph -- he's everything that Joseph was supposed to be, only he has the tools that Kaleb lacked. It is incredible to me that he is going to come off of the bench -- giving JB yet ANOTHER guy who could get double figures any given game, against any caliber opponent. But such is the luxury of depth.

  • The rotation: That last sentence is a good segue into my final observation -- unlike last year, JB won't be locked into playing guys who aren't performing well any given night. I also think we could see varied lineups, depending on matchups or who happens to be playing better any given game [aka, going with the hot hand]. Last year, if Howard [just for example] was struggling, JB had to ride him out because there were literally no other options over the 2nd half of last year. This year, JB could pull him for Carey, or Hughes, or Buddy. The depth we have this year is really an embarrassment of riches, after being so depleted last year. Plus we have guys who can play multiple positions [Carey, Battle, Hughes, Marek, Brissett, Braswell]. I'd predict that we see 8 guys comprise the rotation: Howard, Battle, Brissett, Dolezaj, Chukwu, Hughes, Sidibe, Carey, Boeheim. Washington / Braswell are probably the two odd men out... at least this year.

  • Final Prediction: Two years ago, a quartet of morons [and those morons know who they are] jumped down my throat for my optimistic preseason prognostications prior to the 2016-2017 season. My position has always been that I don't make predictions, I convey observations, and then my expectations follow suit with what I see. Two years ago, I saw another team that had talent and depth. Then, the bottom fell out. Several players expected to be key contributors got injured, depth got compromised, and the team had to overcome our worst preseason start of the Boeheim era. By the time JB adjusted the lineup and the team got back on track [posting a 10-8 conference record and beating three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time we played them], it was too late.
I am hesitant to offer much by way of a season prediction, given the extremely limited practice time I was able to observe. But in light of the following observations:
  • Team seems extremely poised / confident
  • We have a battle tested core nucleus
  • We have depth at every position, and practices seem extremely competitive
  • We have more offensive firepower than last year
  • We have more shooters, and better shooters than last year
  • We have more guys who can create off the bounce for themselves and others this year
  • Tyus Battle seems poised for greatness

...I don't think that I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that this team could quickly find themselves in the top 10 if we get out to a quick start in the preseason. I've heard that JB feels like it is a three horse race in the ACC... and that we're one of the three who will contend.

I'm not going to speculate on what our record might be, but I think this team has all of the elements, talent, and offensive firepower to be a #3 seed or higher. I also expect the team to get to ~75ppg just as a function of better depth, shooting, and having more personnel who can attack off of the dribble. Last year's offense was such a struggle, I think that this year will be far improved -- having guys who can make plays is often the only difference between "good" and "bad" offensive sets, and we have a lot more answers this year than last.

It also bears mentioning that it is veritably unprecedented to return five quality starters in the modern era. I'd expect the nucleus to show the newcomers the ropes, and that JB will be able to blend the new players in with the incumbents seamlessly -- the team chemistry appears to be that strong. This team has all of the makings of a final four caliber squad, and the experience / talent to pull it off. Will be fun to see how it plays out this year!

Let's Go Orange!!!
Holy sht. You sir are a legend
 
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#19
All:

Practice this year has been more difficult to get access to than in years past. Not that the staff is doing anything to be intentionally more "secretive," just that with the security protocol being what it is at the Melo Center, it is more difficult to get permission to observe. Even my father's usual sources [which are fairly well chronicled] haven't had as plentiful access as in the past. This will not be as long / detailed as write ups I've done in the past for that reason.

I've been sitting on much of this, hoping to get another opportunity to observe practice and pass along more detailed impressions. But with tonight's scrimmage -- I'll share these now as a primer for tonight's game. Please note that aspects of some of these observations have been alluded to in other threads / media coverage -- that's the price I pay for going "last," as opposed to doing these posts on the first day of camp as I've done in the past.

So without further ado...
  • The team has a tremendous amount of cohesion: Last year's run through the NCAA was great for the fanbase, but it was also important for the psychology / chemistry of our team. We want from not deserving to be in the field in the eyes of many to having a very solid run, which included beating a Michigan State team that many claimed was their best team since the 2000 NC squad in what was a de facto home game for them. We also got an extra "W" as a function of our participation in the play-in game. Last year's team peaked at the right time, but also gained a lot of confidence with our postseason play -- which also included our first ever ACC tournament victory. It might seem trivial, but with the entire starting lineup returning, not only was the postseason a learning opportunity, it was also a character builder. It also showed this core nucleus that they have the chops to be elite. It was something to build upon, and with the return of Battle, Brissett announcing early he wants to return to be "...part of something great," etc. you can sense that this team believes in itself. Not that they are cocky / over-confident -- rather, they have a quiet confidence and look like they're having fun -- which in turn should translate into this being a fun year for us fans.

  • Depth is substantially improved: Injuries again took their toll last year, and the Orange trudged through a major portion of the schedule without a scholarship backup guard to play behind starters Tyus Battle / Frank Howard, and no backup center behind Paschal Chukwu. Coach Boeheim was often forced to use a 6-player rotation, which led to three of our players being in the top 10 for minutes played last year. This year's roster is cut from a different cloth entirely. Incoming frosh Jalen Carey / Buddy Boeheim erase the guard depth issue, and transfer Elijah Hughes is finally eligible after having to sit out last year [and boy, could we have used him last season]. In addition to numbers, these guys bring multi-position flexibility that will go a long way toward preventing last year's depth issues from rearing their ugly head again.

  • Expanded rotation? We all know that JB prefers a rotation of 7.5 players. We also know that when he's had a roster full of good players [as in 2000 and 2012], he plays an expanded roster and goes 8 or 9 deep consistently. So what should we expect this season? Given the players' capabilities, I'd be shocked if we don't play 9 on a fairly consistent basis. Boeheim's son [more on him later] is probably the 9th guy -- and he's pretty good. He's also a pretty good shooter, so I wouldn't expect him to get "Booheimed." Look for a more expanded roster than usual, as JB finds creative ways to take advantage of the improved depth.

  • What about the defense? When you think Syracuse basketball, one of the first things you invariably think about is the zone. We return our entire starting five from a group that formed one of the top statistical defenses last year, with a front line that stands 6-8, 6-10, and 7-2. With better depth and more athleticism on this year's squad, I think we'll feature the press more as a mechanism to generate turnovers, the way we did in 2012. We'll also have fresher legs without having to play guys 39+ MPG, so it will be up to JB to find a way to make use of the tools at his disposal.

Now, onto the players...
  • Oshae Brissett... looks about the same: Please don't take this as a knock at first glance. Brissett came in with a well-developed frame last year, and proceeded to put together a very impressive year in most respects, with the notable exception of scoring in the paint [where he converted an abysmal percentage of his FG attempts]. Brissett looks about the same physically, but he's more vocal. He is the guy who really looks like he's having FUN being out there. Boards hard, but in the very limited practice run observed, he mostly hung out near the three point line. Whether he's improved his ability to finish inside will be a major story line of the year.

  • The Tyus Battle hype is real: Tyus had a terrific sophomore year, stepping into a scoring void left by White / Lydon / Gillon and answering the bell. It is important to note that not all players can handle being the focal point of the opposition's defensive game plan; some just aren't up to the challenge. Despite his limitations, Battle was. He was also an absolute iron man -- something that undoubtedly adversely impacted his efficiency on offense last season. Tyus flirted with the NBA draft, and then continued to work out with a professional trainer the entire summer to hone his fine skill development, and the results are noticeable. Last year, Tyus's handle was more mechanical; he had a couple of things he liked to do -- a crossover from right-to-left to sweep into the lane, a step back, and a spin move to go baseline. Despite having a somewhat limited repertoire as a ball handler, he used those favored moves to solid effect. This year, his handle seems tighter. He's handling / passing the ball more comfortably, allowing the offense to run through him, looking to facilitate more, and finishing inside better. He's in phenomenal shape, and looks like he intends to make a big splash in his final year in Orange. One other important thing to mention: Battle benefits from having a similarly big, strong, athlete in Hughes to match up with in practice every day. Hughes also pushes him to play tough defense -- and you can tell that these two really enjoy competing against each other.

  • Hughes was the component we lacked last season: Given all of last year's depth / scoring problems, a guy like Hughes could have solved a lot of issues merely by himself. First, he could play a couple of positions, helping to singlehandedly mask the depth constraints. On a shooting-challenged squad, he would have been a positive contributor to help balance the floor. He's also a good ball handler who excels at creating for both himself and others off of the bounce -- so he would have given us an offensive dimension -- to say nothing of a scoring weapon off of the bench that was lacking last season -- that would have made it far less of a struggle to score points. Hughes is the biggest "loser" of the Battle-returning-to-SU offseason sweepstakes, but you'd never know it. When I said that the team was cohesive above, I meant it -- and Hughes has great chemistry with his teammates. He looks most comfortable launching threes [or at least he did in the limited opportunity to observe scrimmages], but is decisive with the ball in transition. Very smooth handle -- very pretty shot. Hughes will offer a return to our great teams from 5 years ago that had guys off of the bench who legitimately could get double figures any game -- something we've lacked since 2014. He's strong -- built like Dave Johnson -- but I don't have a great feel for how he'll rebound playing the back line of the zone.

  • Frank Howard hasn't played: Our returning PG has spent the majority of the fall recovering from a surgical procedure. His foot is in a boot, so he can't play. From what I understand, JB and the staff aren't worried -- they are going to let him heal at his own pace, as we have the depth to allow him to take his time. Plus, they are already comfortable with his knowledge of how to play in our system on both sides of the ball. Being out has afforded Frank with a rare opportunity -- to be a semi-"coach" during practice, while he's sidelined. And true to form -- he's been vocal. One other thing to add which I can't confirm first hand: Frank has reportedly put a lot of work into his jump shot this offseason, and the staff feels that he might be a legitimate candidate to shoot 40% from three point range -- apparently, he's turned himself into a knock down shooter.

  • Howard Washington is playing, but...: Howard Washington's rehab is going ahead of schedule, but the coaches are being cautious with him as he isn't 100%. There is legitimate talk that he might redshirt, so as not to squander a year of eligibility -- but as JB has mentioned, it will be entirely up to HW himself. Given the depth ahead of him, it wouldn't be a bad idea -- he's not going to play ahead of Carey / Buddy.

  • Chukwu has taken steps forward: When you think about it, the way Chukwu's career has unfolded makes a lot of sense. He was a tall guy who didn't have a lot of refinement coming out of high school. Then he goes to Providence and doesn't play much his freshman year. Then he sits out a year as a transfer. Then he plays a couple of games here, but gets injured and misses 85% of his sophomore season of eligibility. Last year was the first time in three years that he'd gotten any meaningful playing time, and to noone's surprise he was up-and-down. But with Sidibe being unable to play in many games due to chronic tendinitis, Chukwu was forced to be an iron man. Not only did he have to anchor the zone defensively, get after shots, and also fight inside for rebounds -- but he had to be smart and avoid foul trouble. All while not having anybody to give him a breather for the majority of the second half of last season. Chukwu -- who's always been a pretty hard worker in the weight room -- is noticeably stronger this year. The coaching staff also can see from practice that his "feel" for the game has improved as a function of playing such a heavy dose of minutes, and that he's on the cusp of things snapping into place in terms of his play. Although it might not show up statistically, as he should be playing fewer minutes this year with Sidibe back and healthy, but I think we might see improved play in shorter bursts from Chukwu, who will also be able to play much more aggressively knowing that there isn't a drop off behind him when Sidibe comes in tot the game. Will be interesting to see what the big guy can do now that he's finally an experienced vet.

  • Dolezaj will show expanded play: Dolezaj's extensive international resume showed last season -- despite being physically underdeveloped, he displayed a great feel for the game, a versatile skill set, he played hard, and he wasn't faxed by pressure [as a veteran of junior national competition, he was accustomed to playing high stakes ball]. If there's one thing that disappoints me, its that he hasn't gained any weight. He still has the same physique as last year. But unlike last year, where he basically played "smart" and deferred offensively to more experienced teammates, didn't try to do too much, and avoided making mistakes -- he has far more of a green light from the coaching staff this year. In fact, you could make the case that our team's turnaround coincided with Marek's late season emergence as an offensive threat -- which happened at the perfect time. With a fourth scorer, suddenly we were more formidable offensively... right at the right time. In scrimmages, Dolezaj is shooting the ball confidently, while also putting it on the floor more to drive. Wouldn't surprise me to see him average 10ppg this year. Now, if only we could get him in the dining hall...

  • Bourama Sidibe hasn't gained a pound, either: Sidibe's promising freshman season was derailed by tendinitis that impaired his mobility and prevented him from running / jumping. But when he played, he flashed a LOT of potential. He hasn't gained a pound -- that's the bad news. But the good news is that he looks really athletic, and is moving well. If there's a downside to his offseason, its that he spent the summer recuperating physically instead of working on his game. Even so, expect a more assertive Sidibe this year. If he ever can bulk up to 230 pounds, I still believe he could be an NBA player.

  • The coach's kid ain't too bad: Boeheim has been glib when it comes to discussing his son. But the reality is: Buddy isn't a token, the kid can play. He's got an impressive skill set [coach's kid, after all] and a really good feel for the game, kind of like Andy Rautins. He can handle a little bit and pass, although those aren't the strengths of his game. He's got a good frame for an incoming frosh, and obviously has a pretty jump shot. Although I'll qualify that by acknowledging that he missed the majority of shots I saw him take. He's got pro size for a 2, and will be a multi-year starter here, I'd expect. If he can get off to a good start this preseason, I could see him helping to really space the floor. You can also see that he's tight with his teammates, which is good to see.

  • That Braswell kid isn't too bad, either: Anybody expecting Braswell to factor in much this year should probably temper expectations. Not that the potential isn't there, but barring catastrophic injuries, he shouldn't have to be rushed out there. Built like a human hyphen, that's probably not a bad thing given the ACC competition that awaits. All of that said, Braswell looks like he belongs out there during practice. From what I've heard, the coaching staff viewed him as a good gamble because of his athleticism, but his skill level surpasses what they were expecting from him. Tidbit #2: I've also heard that Pitino was enamored of him after watching him practice a few weeks ago, and labeled him as a future star in our system. Kid shows a more advanced handle [at least in the open floor] than expected, and has a solid stroke. Obviously needs to gain weight. Would love to see him redshirt, but doubt that happens.

  • Last but not least, Carey: I mentioned above that Hughes was the biggest loser of Battle returning from a minutes perspective, but if he's 1A than Carey might 1B. He's been force fed a practice role of having to fill Howard's shoes while the incumbent recovers from surgery, and he shows off impressive tools. Although lithe physically, he really attacks the rim. He is fast as hell, and can drive on anyone. Last year, aggressive presses really forced us to play slow, and Frank often struggled to attack them. This kid won't -- he has the type of tight handle / speed to make teams pay for playing like that. He's outstanding in transition, too. Very strong handle, and not a bad passer, either, although he is very offensive minded. Gambles a lot defensively from what I saw in [admittedly limited] observation. Pretty good stroke, but his release looked a little bit slow to me. Again, didn't see enough to form a definitive opinion on that. If I had to describe his game and make a comparison, I'd say that he's the anti-Kaleb Joseph -- he's everything that Joseph was supposed to be, only he has the tools that Kaleb lacked. It is incredible to me that he is going to come off of the bench -- giving JB yet ANOTHER guy who could get double figures any given game, against any caliber opponent. But such is the luxury of depth.

  • The rotation: That last sentence is a good segue into my final observation -- unlike last year, JB won't be locked into playing guys who aren't performing well any given night. I also think we could see varied lineups, depending on matchups or who happens to be playing better any given game [aka, going with the hot hand]. Last year, if Howard [just for example] was struggling, JB had to ride him out because there were literally no other options over the 2nd half of last year. This year, JB could pull him for Carey, or Hughes, or Buddy. The depth we have this year is really an embarrassment of riches, after being so depleted last year. Plus we have guys who can play multiple positions [Carey, Battle, Hughes, Marek, Brissett, Braswell]. I'd predict that we see 8 guys comprise the rotation: Howard, Battle, Brissett, Dolezaj, Chukwu, Hughes, Sidibe, Carey, Boeheim. Washington / Braswell are probably the two odd men out... at least this year.

  • Final Prediction: Two years ago, a quartet of morons [and those morons know who they are] jumped down my throat for my optimistic preseason prognostications prior to the 2016-2017 season. My position has always been that I don't make predictions, I convey observations, and then my expectations follow suit with what I see. Two years ago, I saw another team that had talent and depth. Then, the bottom fell out. Several players expected to be key contributors got injured, depth got compromised, and the team had to overcome our worst preseason start of the Boeheim era. By the time JB adjusted the lineup and the team got back on track [posting a 10-8 conference record and beating three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time we played them], it was too late.
I am hesitant to offer much by way of a season prediction, given the extremely limited practice time I was able to observe. But in light of the following observations:
  • Team seems extremely poised / confident
  • We have a battle tested core nucleus
  • We have depth at every position, and practices seem extremely competitive
  • We have more offensive firepower than last year
  • We have more shooters, and better shooters than last year
  • We have more guys who can create off the bounce for themselves and others this year
  • Tyus Battle seems poised for greatness

...I don't think that I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that this team could quickly find themselves in the top 10 if we get out to a quick start in the preseason. I've heard that JB feels like it is a three horse race in the ACC... and that we're one of the three who will contend.

I'm not going to speculate on what our record might be, but I think this team has all of the elements, talent, and offensive firepower to be a #3 seed or higher. I also expect the team to get to ~75ppg just as a function of better depth, shooting, and having more personnel who can attack off of the dribble. Last year's offense was such a struggle, I think that this year will be far improved -- having guys who can make plays is often the only difference between "good" and "bad" offensive sets, and we have a lot more answers this year than last.

It also bears mentioning that it is veritably unprecedented to return five quality starters in the modern era. I'd expect the nucleus to show the newcomers the ropes, and that JB will be able to blend the new players in with the incumbents seamlessly -- the team chemistry appears to be that strong. This team has all of the makings of a final four caliber squad, and the experience / talent to pull it off. Will be fun to see how it plays out this year!

Let's Go Orange!!!
Awesome report! I haven’t been to a practice this year but I did attend the scrimmage tonight and I thought your assessments were pretty much spot on from what I saw tonight. I’ll try to add a few other additional observations from tonight while trying not to repeat what has been previously stated (and understanding there wasn’t any intense defense being played tonight):

Battle is a stud, we all know that. Didn’t look to assert himself tonight like he will when they play for real, but you can tell he’s ultra confident. His shot however didn’t look a whole lot different to me. Watching him shoot in the 3 point contest, I saw a pretty similar stroke to last season. It seemed to me that he has made a slight adjustment to try to negate the hitch in his shot, but it’s still there somewhat. Hard to break a habit like that. I don’t think Tyus is ever going to be a knock down shooter, but the kid is flat out clutch and will make shots when he needs to.

Paschal looked great...comfortable and decisive on the court, especially on defense. I was blocking everything and moving well. Definitely looks stronger as has been mentioned.

Brissett’s shot looked great in the game and in the shooting contest. Consistency is what he lacked last season, and it certainly looked like he’s made strides there. Super confident as well, as you would expect.

Marek didn’t really stand out (other than a nice windmill dunk on a break away), but a setting like tonight isn’t where his game will shine. Did shoot one three that I remember but it wasn’t really close to going in.

Hughes shoots it well with RANGE. Nice looking stroke out to 25 ft. Excited to see what he can do this year.

Carey’s injury put a damper on the whole night...the dome got deafly quiet when he went down. Hopefully it’s a minor sprain and he doesn’t miss much time because with frank out he’d get a ton of valuable mins in the exhibition games and even first few actual games as they likely ease frank back into the mix. Carey didn’t do much before the injury but it was easy to see his quick twitch athleticism.

Buddy was very impressive. Love the Rautins comparison. Advanced feel for the game and so smart which makes up for lack of athleticism. He had a breakaway with Braswell trailing the play ready to pin his shot against the backboard, but Buddy slowed down, got his body into braswell keeping braswell from being able to jump, went off two feet and scored. Veteran move. I think he’ll get minutes this year, although probably not a ton with the guards we have ahead of him, but he’s got a bright future. Having him and Girard on the same team would be unbelievable and would create so much space on the floor for our better athletes to attack because defenders wouldn’t be able to help off them ever!

Sidibe looked to be moving better but it is clear he is still in a lot of discomfort. He asked out of the scrimmage early after completing a dunk. He seemed to hobble a lot, but he was aggressive offensively and finished well. The article today said the pain is from soreness related to his recovery and not the tendinitis in his knees, so hopefully that’s a good sign. Trainer didn’t even come over to check on him when he asked out and he was put back in soon after so maybe it’s something he’ll work through, but didn’t look like a positive sign to me.

Braswell impressed me, mostly with his timing going for rebounds and the fact that he seemed very poised on the court, never forcing the issue but still making an impact offensively. Southerland clone.

So excited for the season to start, although the injury bug has already grabbed ahold of several players. While there is some depth this year to withstand some of that, if injuries linger it obviously lowers our potential ceiling. Fingers crossed for quick recoveries and a championship season!
 

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