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BIG EAST: 2006-07

College Preview Big East Message Board

By Eric Silver

September 6th, 2006

 

Big East Basketball Preview: Syracuse

 

Syracuse could end up anywhere from third to sixth in the conference this year.  The Orange return four starters, and the only player of consequence Coach Jim Boeheim lost was Gerry McNamara, who, aside from the Big East Tournament, had a somewhat disappointing season in terms of shooting (35% overall and 33% on three-pointers).  Still, his clutch play and leadership will definitely be missed, as will his 16 ppg and 5.9 apg.

However, all three frontcourt starters – Demetris Nichols at the 3, Terrence Roberts at the 4, and Darryl Watkins at the 5 - improved substantially from their sophomore to their junior seasons and should continue to improve this year.  The biggest improvement will probably be in terms of consistency as all three looked terrific at times and horrible at others.

 

Nichols, 6’8”, averaged 13.3 ppg and 5.8 rpg last year in 33.3 mpg.  More than half of his shots (201 of 386) came from behind the three-point line.  His percentage on treys – 36% - means that opposing teams have to respect his shot from there.  Nichols, however, was plagued by inconsistency.  For example, in the Orange’s first game against UConn he scored 28 points; in the second he scored two.  During the conference season he had one stretch in which he scored in double figures seven games in a row.  During another stretch he scored in single digits five games in a row.  For Syracuse to reach its potential this season, Nichols will have to stop the roller coaster ride.

 

Roberts was the team’s leading rebounder at 7.6 rpg (third among returning Big East players).  He added 10.7 ppg in 31.9 mpg.  He grabbed 10 or more rebounds in nine games and had nine rebounds in five others.  He is clearly a force on the boards.   Unlike Nichols, Roberts generally shoots from 12 feet or closer, which explains his impressive shooting percentage of 56%.  His free-throw percentage, however, was a miserable 42%.  As with Nichols, Boeheim never knew what to expect from Roberts in terms of scoring.  In February, for example, he had one five-game period in which he scored 4, 3, 3, 16, and 2 points.  In March he had a six-game period in which he scored 13, 16, 16, 0, 13, and 16 points.  If Roberts can avoid some of those non-productive games, he could end up with all-conference honors.

 

Darryl Watkins, 6’11”, is a decent athlete, but he has what might be called “stone hands”  as he often had trouble handling passes in the paint, which led to missed opportunities for easy baskets.  There’s no simple formula for developing “soft hands,” but the Orange can’t afford to come away empty in such situations.  Watkins averaged 7.1 ppg and 7.3 rpg.  As the season progressed, he became more effective on the offensive end.  The last nine games of the season he averaged 10.3 ppg compared to 5.4 ppg in the 10 previous games.  If he can continue that trend and average around 10 ppg this year, it will also open up more opportunities for teammates.  Watkins’ contributions, however, are not limited to the offensive end of the court.  He is the conference’s leading returning shot blocker at 2.8 blocked shots per game.  He also forces opposing players to alter their shots even if he doesn’t block them.

Sophomore Eric Devendorf, a dangerous offensive player, returns at one guard spot.  He can shoot from deep but also drive.   He averaged 12.2 ppg on 45% shooting, including 38% from behind the arc.  Those stats should climb a bit as he sometimes tended to force shots.  With experience and maturity, he’ll do a better job of determining when to shoot and when not to.  Devendorf does need to work on driving to his right.  Despite being right-handed, he likes to drive to his left.  Defenses began to overplay him that way, so he has to force them to play him straight up.  There is no question that Devendorf is one of the best shooters in the league.  He could easily become one of the top scorers – as in 15-16 ppg – this year.


The big question for Boeheim is who's going to run the show at point.  Josh Wright returns as the only true point guard, but he hasn't shown enough his first two years to be the leading contender for the job.  He’s quick and a solid ball handler, but he’s not much of a shooter or scorer.  He hit on only 23% of his trey attempts, but if he can get the ball to the right people at the right time, he should be able to earn more than the 12.9 mpg he had last year.   The primary reason, though, that Wright will continue to come off the bench is the addition of freshman Paul Harris.

Harris is the highest ranked recruit in the conference and the early pick for Freshman of the Year.  He is an amazing athlete who possesses incredible quickness and astonishing leaping ability along with superior strength.  At Notre Dame Prep, he put some moves on defenders that made him look like the next Dwyane Wade.  In short, Harris can take over a game, and he can do it in a variety of ways.  He has to be on the court as much as possible for the Orange this year.  While he’s not a true point guard, he handles the ball well enough and is a good enough passer to fill that role.   He will be one of the most exciting, most entertaining players in the league.


Another freshman, Mike Jones (#44 on RSCI) will give the Orange added depth and flexibility as he can play either wing.  Still, he won’t get significant minutes, not with Devendorf and Nichols ahead of him.

 

The primary area of concern is depth on the interior.  Only sophomore Arinze Onuaku has any experience, and he averaged 2.0 ppg in 8.4 mpg.  If Watkins and/or Roberts suffer an injury or get into foul trouble, Boeheim doesn’t have many options.

The Orange will be very, very tough on the boards, and they have a lot of potential firepower.  Defensively, Harris is far superior to McNamara, so Syracuse should be better than last year on that end of the court.  Harris' athleticism will create a few more turnovers, which should lead to more easy baskets in transition.

Syracuse also won't have the distractions caused by the tension last season between Boeheim and Louie McCroskey since the disgruntled wing player transferred at the end of the year.  Consequently, team chemistry should be better.

In a word, Syracuse, especially its starting five, is scary.  But due to so much inconsistency last year, the question must still be asked, “Which Syracuse team will show up on any given night - the one that was embarrassed by De Paul or the one that won the conference tournament?”

The latter option is more likely.  The Orange isn’t deep enough to win the regular season conference title, but they have three seniors and two very talented underclassmen.  That should be enough to finish third.


 

- Predicted Finish: 3 of 16

#1 Pittsburgh

#2 Georgetown

#3 Syracuse

#4 Louisville #5 Marquette #6 Villanova #7 Connecticut #8 St. John's

#9 DePaul

#10 Providence #11 Rutgers #12 Notre Dame #13 Cincinnati #14 Seton Hall #15 WVU #16 S. Florida

 

 

 

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