Michael Carter-Williams, Derrick Wilson

Syracuse’s back court struggles becoming a major concern

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It was just five weeks ago that Syracuse went into Louisville and knocked off the then-No. 1 Cardinals, a game that thrust the Orange into the midst of the national title picture and made us all wonder just who the best team in the Big East was this season.

At that point, it was the Orange.

It’s a different story now.

Syracuse has gone 5-5 since that win over Louisville. Despite playing in a Big East that has as many good teams at the top half of the league as ever, the Orange has notched just a single quality win since then*. That was against Notre Dame at home. And after losing at No. 22 Marquette 74-71 on Monday night, all of a sudden the No. 12 Orange look like a shell of their former selves.

*(Please don’t try to argue Cincinnati as a quality win. That was Cashmere Wright’s first game back from the knee injury that has devastated the Beatcat’s season.)

Exactly one month ago Monday, Syracuse was the only team in the Big East conference without a loss in league play. Nine games later, they are 10-5 in the conference, two games behind first place Georgetown and in danger of missing out on the double-bye. They still have to play Louisville at home on Saturday and pay a visit to Georgetown a week later.

The problem isn’t James Southerland; he’s been back for a few weeks now. DaJuan Coleman probably could have helped slow down Davante Gardner and his 24 points on Monday, but I’m not sure how much of a difference he would have made during the Otto Porter Show on Saturday.

Where Syracuse has really been hurting is in their back court. Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams, who looked like arguably the best back court in the country back in January, have struggled mightily.

If you factor out the 29 point explosion that Triche had against Seton Hall on the 16th (which, ironically enough, saved Syracuse from getting upset by a team that’s currently 2-13 in the Big East and considering firing their hed coach), he’s averaged  just 12.6 points while shooting 34.0% from the floor and 15.9% from three over the last eight games, a stretch that has featured five Syracuse losses. Michael Carter-Williams hasn’t been much better. In those five losses, he’s accounted from 17 assists and 19 turnovers.

I’ll admit, I’m being a bit selective with those stats, but it’s only to drive home a point: Triche and Carter-Williams have not played well over the past month, and it’s why Syracuse is struggling.

I wrote on Saturday that it was not yet time to be concerned about the Orange, and I still think that it is too early to panic. Four of their five losses have come on the road to teams that will likely be in the NCAA tournament. The fifth loss came at home to a team that has an outside shot at earning a No. 1 seed and has been the hottest team in the country over the last seven weeks. It’s not like Syracuse lost to DePaul and South Florida.

But these are still losses, and while good teams win games at home, national title contenders beat good teams on the road.

This is no longer slump. This is a trend, one that’s not necessarily unique. Triche collapsed down the stretch of last season as well.

Syracuse has three games to right the ship before March. Can they make it happen?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.