Syracuse Basketball: Grading The Out-Of-Conference Performance

Dec 21, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange forward Tyler Lydon (20) grabs a rebound in front of St. John

The Syracuse basketball team is behind the eight-ball because of their poor play in the out-of-conference slate. But how bad were they? We evaluate.

The Syracuse basketball squad has (thankfully) wrapped up the non-conference portion of its 2016-17 campaign.

To put it bluntly, the Orange’s 8-5 record has proven a wide-spread disappointment. It represents the most losses ever for head coach Jim Boeheim in his 41 years at the helm. We’re all hoping that SU can regain its mojo and put together a strong run in ACC competition.

In the meantime, we dole out individual and team report cards for the ‘Cuse’s season to date.

Dec 21, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Tyus Battle (25) shoots the ball against the St. John

Tyus Battle: The much-heralded freshman is averaging about 23 minutes a game, as well as 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal. He is shooting 42 percent from the field, 80 percent from the charity stripe and 44 percent from 3-point land. Like many other guys, Battle has some kinks to iron out in his defense within the 2-3 zone. However, he’s amounted to a durable offensive contributor and seen his minutes increase, particularly since Boeheim recently thrust Battle into the starting line-up. I expect a vital role from him moving forward.

Grade: B+

Frank Howard: The starting point guard worked tirelessly on his jump shot in the off-season, and Boeheim applauded his effort, saying he anticipated a stellar sophomore stint. Sure, Howard is among the ACC leaders in assists, yet he can’t get anything going against the tougher outfits. On the year, he’s logging 23 minutes a game, 7 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Yet, he’s shooting 37 percent overall, 59 percent from the free-throw line and 36 percent from downtown. Not totally awful, but not anything to ride home about, either. Boeheim has lambasted his point-guard play; Gillon and Howard must fare better, or Syracuse is NIT-bound for sure.

Grade: C

John Gillon: A graduate transfer from Colorado State, Gillon has experienced some significant ups and downs, similar to fellow point guard Frank Howard. Gillon is one of the speediest guys in the country, pushing the ball out in transition and boosting the tempo. But, often he is caught dribbling too much, gets into the lane and doesn’t know whether to pass or shoot, and seems to make careless turnovers, especially against stiffer competition. He’s nabbing about 23 minutes each night out, along with 9 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, while shooting 44 percent from the field, 75 percent from the charity stripe and 43 percent from 3-point range. Respectable. Gillon is a key cog. I’d like to see him ramp things up when facing marquee programs.

Grade: B

Andrew White III: The graduate transfer from Nebraska is a high-volume shooter and effective scorer. Currently, he tops the Orange with 15 points per game, along with 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. He shoots 40 percent from the field, 72 percent from the charity stripe and 38 percent from downtown. Solid numbers. I don’t think he excels on defense, but I also don’t believe he’s a huge liability. White’s shooting has proven a bit subpar in recent outings, however, he does seem to aggressively take the ball to the rim more, which is resulting in easy points at the free-throw line. Either White or Lydon will likely end the season as Syracuse’s leading scorer. They both need to remain consistent on offense, and step things up on defense. For White, the key is to get to the paint more, and not merely settle for jump-shots.

Grade: B+

Dec 10, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Boston University Terriers forward Nick Havener (1) shoots the ball against the defense of Syracuse Orange center Paschal Chukwu (13) during the first half at the Carrier Dome. The Orange won 99-77. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Paschal Chukwu: The sophomore big-man, unfortunately, had eye surgery on Dec. 17 and is out indefinitely. I don’t think we’ll see him suit up again this year, which is a shame. Prior to that, Chukwu saw about 15 minutes per game of action, averaging 2 points, 4 boards and a team-high 2 blocks, while generating a 67 percent field-goal percentage (note that all his shots, unsurprisingly, are around the rim). We all knew he would amount to a work-in-progress, after transferring from Providence and sitting out last year. Whenever he comes back, I pray he’s physically okay, as Chukwu could provide a sizeable anchor in our “vaunted” zone.

Grade: Incomplete

Dajuan Coleman: The senior, beset by injuries throughout his career, is finally healthy. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, despite a several-game stretch where he looked like a double-double machine, I foresee Coleman’s minutes continuing to decline, with the pleasant emergence of Taurean Thompson. Coleman is a load down-low, however, his offensive game is limited. He’s playing roughly 17 minutes per contest, averaging 7 points and 6 rebounds, while shooting 55 percent from the field, but only 58 percent from the free-throw line. Coleman is solid. And I love his energy.

Grade: B-

Tyler Lydon: The sophomore stand-out received plenty of pre-season accolades heading into this season, although he got off to a somewhat rocky beginning. However, he’s found a groove of late, and I believe he’s our premier player, even if Andrew White III presently leads the team in scoring. Lydon averages 31 minutes per match-up, along with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. His field-goal percentage is 47, his free-throw percentage, 72, and his 3-point shooting percentage, 44. All in all, nice numbers. Keep it up, Lydon.

Grade: A-

Tyler Roberson: It pains me to write about this senior. He’s one of my favorite Orange guys over the past few years, because he’s humble and doesn’t talk trash. Roberson had some monster performances during last season’s remarkable Final Four journey, and I wanted to see him shine in the 2016-17 stanza. It just hasn’t happened. I don’t know why. He lost his starting role a while ago, and now he’s basically the final man on Boeheim’s bench. Roberson’s getting 18 minutes a game, contributing 6 points and 5 rebounds, while shooting 47 percent from the field and 57 percent from the charity stripe. I honestly thought he would chip in at least 12 points and 10 rebounds per contest. There’s still time for him to turn his season around. I sincerely hope he does.

Grade: C- (reluctantly)

Taurean Thompson: As his minutes have climbed, this freshman has taken advantage of every opportunity afforded to him. Thompson looks lost on defense most of the time, but, then again, so does every Syracuse player. He’ll improve within the zone. Offensively, he’s gifted, as Boeheim has noted. Thompson’s mid-range jumper is silky-smooth, and he usually finishes well inside. I’m interested to see how he performs versus low-post guys on squads like Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia. Thompson is getting 17 minutes per contest, though that number is surely to shoot up, while averaging 9 points, 4 boards, 1 dime and 1 block. His field-goal percentage is 57, free-throw percentage, 69, and 3-point percentage, 25. A bright future awaits him.

Grade: A-

Apr 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim reacts during the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2016 NCAA Men

Apr 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim reacts during the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2016 NCAA Men

Jim Boeheim: We have to grade JB? Jeez. Okay. This is tough. I’m not sure I have sufficient knowledge to accurately critique a Hall of Famer who has done this for 41 years, won a national championship, and reached five Final Fours.

Here’s what I will say. Boeheim honestly speaks about his squads. When they perform admirably, in reaching the 2016 Final Four against humongous odds, for example, he gives them praise. Usually, however, he refrains from bragging about his teams, and is quicker to lambast them, whether fairly or unfairly. So when Boeheim said before this season that this might amount to his deepest, best roster in years, that elevated expectations through the roof. We lost our top-three scorers from a year ago, but brought in two seemingly strong grad transfers, as well as a high-level recruiting class. And what has transpired?

Boeheim’s poorest out-of-conference performance in more than four decades, highlighted by his largest home defeat – ever – to a pathetic St. John’s group. Is Boeheim to blame? I really have no idea. He isn’t on the court. He doesn’t miss shots, commit turnovers, or fail to block out opponents for rebounds. Boeheim has so many new pieces: four of the eight primary scholarship players didn’t wear an Orange uniform a year ago. Clearly, this team has a lot of work to do. It’s a long-shot to make the NCAA Tournament. But the season isn’t over. We’re not even half-way home. Let’s see how things pan out before totally crushing the players, or their head coach. Grade: C+

A few other superlatives …

MVP: Lydon, with Thompson and White the runner-ups, in that order.

Most Surprising: Thompson, in a landslide.

Most Disappointing: Roberson, with Howard not far behind him.

Overall Orange Assessment: No signature victories and several mind-blowing defeats. A relatively porous defense and an inconsistent offense – at best. Hmmm. I sound like such a downer. I don’t mean to; I love my boys. But, this season, so far, is a disaster. I truly hope conference play, and a new year, equate to a fresh start. With rosier results. Grade: D+

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