Let’s get one thing out of the way: today was a solid win for the Orange. Running away from Boston University by a score of 99-77 is, by definition, pretty solid when you consider the Terriers lost to UConn and NC State by a combined six points. It’s just what the doctor ordered, but there were still some things that need to be addressed. It might be time to reassess exactly what this year’s team is, what it can be, and what it means for the future.
Jim Boeheim himself still says this is a roster that has a chance to constitute one of his most talented teams. There’s a reason we were all buzzing about this squad before the season, after all. Sure, a lot of the individual pieces are unproven, and they’re still learning how to become a cohesive unit. But the potential is certainly there.
But we have to start thinking about the fact that this team isn’t what we expected, and I say this even coming off of perhaps the team’s best (offensive, at least) performance of the season.
As far as the defense goes… well, let’s just say it needs work. It’s abundantly clear this team needs some serious work on how to run an effective 2-3 zone. Nowhere on the court is it more apparent that this team is full of new pieces, who’ve never played this zone, than on the defensive end of the court. Missed rotations, far too many backdoor cuts, and a general failure to close out on three point shooters are all you need to witness to understand that.
But there are some bright spots from today’s win. Most noteworthy are the performances of John Gillon and, even more impressively, Taurean Thompson. Let’s start with Gillon.
The 6-foot (ha!) guard from Houston has been in a funk the last few games, and it’s been revealed that the fifth year transfer is going through a bit of an emotional rollercoaster at the moment, having lost his grandfather this week. But even before that, he seemed a little shellshocked, in particular after getting yelled at and quickly benched by Boeheim a few games ago. Since then he’s been reluctant to shoot, and has seemed generally hesitant, perhaps out of fear of being yanked yet again.
But today? None of that reluctance was present. Today, he hit 6-of-7 three pointers and finished with 23 points, just edging out Thompson for the team lead in that category. Something lit a fire under the diminutive point guard, and he showed flashes of being a terrific offensive weapon – whether that means just being a scoring spark plug off the bench or ultimately taking over starting duties remains to be seen, particularly after an 0-for-5 shooting performance from Frank Howard.
Now, obviously, Howard finished with 11 assists today, against just two turnovers. But he was far from perfect on the day, and a 23 point, five rebound, four assist line from Gillon is worth noting, compared to six points, two rebounds, and 11 assists from Howard.
The real revelation today, though, was Thompson. The 6-foot-10 freshman has shown flashes of offensive brilliance here and there, but nothing like today. He struggles still on the defensive end of the court, there’s no doubt about it. He too often looks lost in the zone, misses his rotations, and allows opposing players to sneak behind him for backdoor layups and rebounds way too frequently.
But it’s hard to deny how much he brings to the table offensively. For everything Syracuse’s other post players fail to offer on offense, Thompson has it and then some. He can score inside, he can knock down midrange jumpers, and as he showed today, he’s got the ability to step out and bury the occasional three pointer. From a purely offensive standpoint, Taurean Thompson is perhaps the most talented big man Syracuse has brought into the fold in ages. As far as his ability to score is concerned, he’s what we thought Chris McCullough would be during his half season with the Orange… at least, so far.
So what can we make of this Syracuse team? At 6-3, there are still so many flaws with this team. The Orange are still awaiting the emergence of a leader, and there’s still not really a go-to guy on offense. The defense needs a ton of work, and it’s abundantly clear that Jim Boeheim is still ironing out the rotation.
I said this on Twitter but I’ll say it again here: right now, this year’s squad reminds me a bit of the so-called “Dynasty” squad featuring Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn. That team, we all thought, was going to be fantastic. However, like this year’s roster, while it was full of talent and potential, the combination of inexperience and newness to Boeheim’s systems led to a pretty catastrophic (by Syracuse standards) final record.
I’ll say this much: before the season, I was pretty well convinced that Tyler Lydon and Tyus Battle were going to be off to the NBA after this season. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe that’s the silver lining here. As the Orange continue to find out who they actually are this year, maybe it’ll lead to Syracuse’s two most talented players deciding to come back for an additional year. If they do… I hesitate to even say this, all things considered, but: holy hell, next year would have the potential to be amazing.