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This season has been a little bit hard to watch at time for Syracuse basketball fans. For a pick me up, I watched some of the games from the magical 2002-03 title year. A couple of things stuck out for me, and the biggest one was Craig Forth. The 7-footer set absolutely monster picks, and did a great job freeing up Gerry McNamara, Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick and company for good looks and a lot of buckets. It got me thinking about how I wish they give a statistic for a pick that leads to a bucket.

Here’s one example showing how effectively Forth works the pick and roll with Gerry McNamara:

So why did I pick this time, and this particular attribute to point out? Primarily because I’ve grown weary of watching our opponents set good screens for open shots, while we use brush screens time and time again that really do little to nothing beyond when we occasionally get a nice pick and roll play. ACC foes have really hurt us with the fundamentals, such as setting good screens to ensure contact is made. Obviously illegal screens are a gray area per the officials, but these lazy screens drive me crazy. It limits our ball movement on offense at times and frees shooters on defense on the other side.

Let’s take one more look at Craig Forth working in tandem with G-Mac for a terrific pick and roll for an easy dunk:

Something else about that great SU team was the motion elements to the offense. We have two very good scorers in Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney. It is no shocker they tend to work the hardest to find their shot and it makes sense we go to them. However, we rarely run much for anyone else. Back in ’03, you see constant movement and motion to setup for Billy Edelin or Josh Pace penetrating, Gerry from outside, or Melo and Hak getting space to work in the post. All of that still comes back to setting solid screens and making the defense work hard.

The last few years we have seen a lack of this, as well as a heavy reliance on our defense to carry the weight.
That is the segue to my final grievance. The trapping and pressure in the half court is an energy drain for sure, and we are limited there.

Yet it was really bothering UNC, and we seemed to only do it sparingly. When rushed they took bad shots. When we sat back, they just torched us from the outside and middle of the paint. We have to be able to apply some pressure to be consistently good in this league. The zone is not enough. The increased number of possessions means gambling can be less of a risk than in the slow down, rock fights of the old Big East. I really felt we should have put the heat on UNC early in the second half and go after them. They got far too comfortable. That said, and even in previous versions where we won many games, these things are not new and continue to show their faces in tough losses. I am no coach, and not trying to say I know a half a percent as much as a Hall of Famer like Jim Boeheim, but these things seem like obvious fundamental approaches that could be taken to help our chances, and put more games in the win column.

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