Oh, yes. This feels so right. Basketball is back. I love football, don’t get me wrong. Syracuse football is on an exciting trajectory right now, but for me, basketball is the center of my sports world. And tonight, Syracuse basketball is back in an exhibition game against Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Obviously, we’re not going to get much out of an exhibition game against a Division II opponent. And it’s a good Division II school, too. Don’t get me wrong; IUP was 21-8 last season, ending its year with a loss in its conference semifinal by one point in overtime to a top 20 team in the nation at that level. And Syracuse has had its stumbling moments with DII schools in the past, which we won’t mention here *coughLeMoynecough*.
But let’s be real, here. Syracuse is going to win this one by 30+ points, and we’re probably going to get five solid minutes of walk-ons to end the game. You have to hand it to IUP, by the way: they’re following up tonight’s exhibition game with another exhibition against defending champ Villanova on Saturday night.
That all said, here are a few things I’m going to be watching tonight…
The Starting Lineup
I’ve been toying with different lineup ideas for awhile, with the idea that Tyus Battle is just too good to come off the bench, while emerging superstar Tyler Lydon could potentially take on a Dion Waiters-esque role as the super-sixth man. But all indications are that the first lineup we’ll see on the floor will be Frank Howard at point guard, Andrew White at shooting guard, Tyler Lydon at small forward, Tyler Roberson at power forward, and Dajuan Coleman at center.
The great thing about landing Andrew White is that he adds an essential piece of a championship puzzle with his elite shooting. That said, even if he starts at shooting guard, I don’t anticipate him spending the majority of his time there. I’ve talked about it at length in the past, but White is a prototype small forward who will be better at the back of the zone than up top. I think the lineup we’re going to see as much as any this season will include Battle at SG and White at SF, and then Lydon at either PF or C and fit the rest of the pieces around that trio.
The rotation is going to evolve over the course of the season, particularly as we get closer to conference play. But it’ll be interesting to see who the first couple of guys off the bench are, and how quickly they’re inserted into the game. Battle and John Gillon seem the most likely candidates for sixth man, with my money being on Battle. But here’s where it’ll get interesting: as I alluded to in the previous section, it wouldn’t surprise me if Battle comes in not for Andrew White, but for Dajuan Coleman, sliding Lydon to the five and White to the three.
I’ll also be curious to see when Paschal Chukwu gets called upon, as he offers a game-changing attribute with his shot blocking. But is he advanced enough offensively to make him a guy who will force Jim Boeheim to play him 15-20 minutes on a nightly basis?
I’ve talked about the reported emergence of Frank Howard and how much he’s improved in the offseason. Tonight is our first chance at seeing how accurate those reports have been, with our own eyes. Howard looks considerably bigger from a physical standpoint, and he certainly showed flashes of being a dynamic playmaker as the season progressed last year.
But will be become enough of a scoring threat to hold off John Gillon for starting point guard duties? Gillon’s offensive credentials aren’t in question. Howard, however, needs to prove he can score the basketball to stay on the floor.
All of the pieces are in place to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament again this season. Syracuse boasts shooting, size, rebounding, shot blocking, and depth at every position. The question is: how well will these pieces fit together?
Particularly with the late addition of White, and so many new faces in general (two graduate transfers and three freshman – and I’m not counting Chukwu, since he practiced with the team all last season), team chemistry is going to be an essential factor in the team’s success … or failure. If the Orange can gel, they could potentially cut the nets down in April.
Tonight we’ll get our first look at how well this team can play together. I expect some mistakes and some rust, and a lot of that will stem with a bit of unfamiliarity with one another. Like I said, a lot of key players are in their first season with the Orange. As the season progresses, they’ll begin to gel and be better in March than they are tonight.
But I’m looking forward to watching the team grow. And you can bet your ass I’ll be watching every second of this meaningless, glorified scrimmage – which is being broadcast on WatchESPN, for those who (like me) aren’t in the Syracuse area and can’t check it out in person.