No. 2 Syracuse kicked off their tenure in the ACC on Saturday afternoon, taking on Miami (FL) in the Carrier Dome.
It was anything but pretty.
Miami did everything they could to make the game as slow and as ugly as possible. They never sent more than two guys to the offensive glass in an effort to minimize Syracuse’s transition game. They drained the shot clock on every possession and packed in their defense, daring the Orange to beat them from the perimeter.
And it worked for a while. Trevor Cooney, who is more-or-less the only shooter on the Syracuse roster, went 2-for-12 from beyond the arc and the Orange, as a team, shot just 36.2% from the floor. The Orange dug themselves a six-point hole early in the second half, a lead that felt much bigger than it actually was due to the slow tempo of the game.
Down the stretch, however, it was C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis making the big buckets for the Orange. Fair finished with 15 points and Ennis chipped in with 10 points, seven assists and three steals in a 49-44 win.
It would be easy for Syracuse fans to overreact to their struggles offensively, but I would urge them to keep their concerns in check. Jim Larrañaga is a good basketball coach. There’s a reason that he made a Final Four with George Mason and won dual-ACC titles last season. He knows how to game-plan, and he had a great one against the Orange. Throw in the fact that one of the most important players on the roster — Cooney — shot like he was shaving points, and I’m not sure that this outcome is really all that disappointing.
The bottom line is that the Orange are not going to be a team that scores a ton of points. They are never really going to have more than three guys on the floor at one time that are weapons to score in half court sets. This is a team that’s going to win with their defense, their transition game and by attacking the offensive glass. Fair and Ennis are going to be the guys that key the offense, and they didn’t do a bad job of it against Miami. If Cooney doesn’t shoot 2-for-12 from the floor, this post has a very different tone.
If there is anything that we know about college basketball, it’s that you should never question a win in league play.
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.
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.