It's Not Chicago, but . . .
Having exhausted his record 23rd year of eligibility, Gerry McNamara has moved on, leaving uncertainty in his wake. But he also leaves several skilled upperclassmen and a super frosh in his wake. And, the word from under the Dome's baggy roof is that a lot of the guys feel a whole lot better now that the teacher's pet is no longer in the room. McNamara had a deservedly long leash from Jim Boeheim, but it made it harder for a lot of the other players to understand why they remained on Boeheim's typically shorter leash.
The Gender Neutral Orange have played their usual New York-centric early season schedule this year. Quite frankly, who can blame them when they have the Big East waiting down the road. Plenty of challenges ahead. Still, the pre-conference schedule offers a couple of interesting pairings, one of which takes place tonight. Already this season, Syracuse stretched their legs in fine fashion against perenial Ivy League champ and NCAA tournament team Penn. They also lost a close game to Missouri Valley power Wichita State. Yes, the Shockers are a legit power this year, and the MVC is clearly one of the top conferences in the country right now. If the Shockers don't make the Sweet 16, this season will be a disappointment for them, and actually, I thought the close game against them was a good sign for Syracuse.
Tonight, Syracuse gets another good early season test against Oklahoma State on a "neutral" floor. No, they're not leaving New York state, let's not get crazy. But Madison Square Garden isn't the Dome, and I know some OSU fans headed to the game tonight. JamesOn Curry is the Cowboys' nominal leader. He plays the most minutes for them, and is one of their go-to guys. He's a good overall offensive player, distributes the ball fairly well, and is better than average protecting it. Their best player though is Mario Boggan. Boggan is highly efficient on the offensive end, with an effective field goal percentage over 64%. He's aggressive enough to take advantage of his offensive efficiency, and he does a nice job on the offensive glass. The guy who needs to step up for them to become a real contender is David Monds. Monds is also very efficient on offense, but he takes only a peripheral role in the offense. He is the team's best rebounder and a decent shot blocker. If he gets more aggressive, he could really lift them.
The Cowboys will provide a test, but Syracuse should win this game. They play smothering defense, especially on the interior, and are second in the NCAA in percentage of opponents' shot attempts blocked. They also collect more than their fair share of steals because of the length and athleticism they feature around the perimeter of their vaunted 2-3 zone. Darryl Watkins doesn't play a ton of minutes, but he is a game changing shot blocker when he's on the court. Watkins blocks nearly one out of every five two-point shot attempts while he's on the floor. Terrance Roberts and Matt Gorman are good shot blockers as well.
Offensively, the Orange are not nearly as efficient. Eric Devendorf is the team's go-to scorer. He's the only player on the team who uses more than 25% of the team's possessions while he is on the floor. Unfortunately, he's also the team's least efficient offensive player. The team will function better on offense this year if Devendorf surrenders a little more of the scoring burden to Demetris Nichols and freshman Paul Harris.
As much as the team's offense remains a work in progress, Syracuse should win tonight thanks to its excellent defense. I'm predicting 75-70 tonight in the Garden, and then a month of easy wins as the 'Cuse gets ready for Pitt, a month from now under the Dome.