rakeemWell, it wasn’t pretty but at the end of the day, a win is a win. The seemingly overmatched Hampton Pirates hung around a lot longer than anyone could have anticipated, and Syracuse found itself in a defensive struggle that was brought about largely due to the Orange’s inability to shoot the ball. Ultimately, the Orange pulled away thanks to a 13-2 run and outscored Hampton 20-7 over the game’s final 9:12 to earn a 65-47 win and improve to 2-0.

There are some lessons to be taken away from this game, and I’ll just go ahead and run through them point by point.

Perimeter Shooting

We knew it coming into the season, and we saw it last year, but jump shooting was always going to be a questionable endeavor for the Orange this season. Something certainly seems off with Trevor Cooney, and some of his shots looked pretty ugly not because of the result, but because of some pretty wonky mechanics. He did knock down a three to jump start the decisive 13-2 run, but if you go back and watch the tape you’ll see he went pretty much straight up and down, coming around a screen, and had a great release. Then, go back and look at some of his misses and you’ll see him off balance, kicking his legs out, and basically just looking uncomfortable shooting the rock.

Outside of Cooney, the rest of the Orange had some trouble knocking down shots from outside the lane as well. BJ Johnson knocked down two threes, but finished the game just 2-of-7 overall and 2-of-5 from three. And to make matters worse, he was banished to the bench midway through the second half after a botched defensive possession in which he let a Hampton defender get behind him for an easy dunk.

Michael Gbinije is the other potential three point threat, and while he did knock down one triple he missed three more. Buss Patterson didn’t get much run, but when he did he fired up two misses from outside the arc. Let’s put it this way: if the Big Bad Wolf came looking for Jimmy Boeheim, he could have comfortably hidden behind the safety of all the bricks his players were clanging off the rim.

We knew perimeter shooting could be trouble. It certainly looks like it will be, particularly as the Orange start facing better, more active, and more athletic defenses.

Foul Trouble

It took us less than two games to see the Orange get into serious foul trouble along the front line, and the results weren’t great. As expected, Boeheim went small rather than plugging in Chino Obokoh, playing Tyler Roberson at the four and sliding Chris McCullough to the five when Christmas picked up his fourth foul. Of course McCullough was also playing with four fouls, and I don’t know about you but I’m not particularly excited to see what happens when either Christmas or McCullough actually fouls out and we’re forced to roll the dice without one or – god forbid – both of them.

You could certainly see a difference on both ends of the floor with the duo of Christmas and McCullough, and it may or may not be a good sign for the future that as soon as McCullough came back into the game with about six minutes remaining, the Orange got a lot more active and just looked better on offense.

The bottom line is that it wasn’t a pretty sight with those two guys having to play passively at both ends for fear of picking up their fifth foul, and let’s all pray to whatever gods we believe in and sacrifice as many goats and Rutgers graduates as we need to in order to guarantee it never happens again.

Musical Interlude

And now, let’s take a moment to enjoy this musical guide to what we should expect to see this year, particularly this early in the season:

And We’re Back…

Yes, that’s the theme music to the 80’s sitcom “Growing Pains.” That’s going to be a theme for the 2014-2015 campaign, because obviously that’s going to happen when you’re relying on so many young guys. I haven’t even talked about Kaleb Joseph yet, and he’s still a guy I’m very high on but is clearly still trying to figure out how to play at the NCAA Division I level. It’ll come, but he’s showing that he’s not quite as ready as Tyler Ennis was last season. He had another quiet game, scoring five points and handing out five assists, and he turned the ball over three times.

That said, it’s really hard to accurately judge this team precisely because we know these are growing pains, and we have to hope that Jimmy B can pull his best Alan Thicke impression and guide our team full of Mike Seavers through the early stages and teach them how to be college ballplayers.

It feels redundant to keep harping about inexperience and post play and foul trouble and three point shooting, but at the end of the day those are the things we all knew would be the big question marks heading into the year, and that would dictate what kind of team this is. The post play question, against two lesser opponents, seems to be getting answered pretty emphatically, although the foul trouble thing could certainly get in the way moving forward, as could the inexperience. Tyler Roberson certainly has the size and natural ability, but he looks completely timid and tight whenever he touches the ball on offense. BJ Johnson is still rail thin (shockingly, he hasn’t gained 20 pounds of muscle since I wrote this same thing on Friday night), and while active and gaining confidence, is clearly still a work in progress at both ends of the floor.

The Bottom Line

A win, is a win, is a win. That’s really all anyone is going to care about at the end of the season, and frankly people might forget about how we got the win and just remember that, oh yeah, we won, in a couple of days. The fact we wound up winning by 18 certainly helps from that perspective, though anyone who watched the game knows it was a lot closer than that.

The team rebounding was disappointing, as was the lack of second chance points, and the continued inability to knock down jumpers. But Rakeem Christmas posted a double-double with 15 points and 15 boards – he simply needs more help on the glass and, for that matter, in the halfcourt offense.

This has all the makings of a team that will be much better in March than it is in November, and unfortunately for us, that means we’re going to have to watch the team struggle from time to time as it strives to realize its potential.

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