Open season: Three things to work on in first three games
After nearly four weeks of preseason practice and two exhibition games, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim still sees the need for improvement during the non-conference slate.
The regular season starts tonight against St. Francis (N.Y.) at 8 p.m. in the Carrier Dome-the first of three games in three nights as a part of the Black Coaches Association Invitational. The Orange will also play Texas El-Paso and Pennsylvania Saturday and Sunday.
‘I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do,’ Boeheim said. ‘I think this group has worked hard. We still got to get better really at every area.’
With that in mind, here are three areas the Orange must address during its non-conference schedule.
‘It takes time.’
That’s been Jim Boeheim’s mantra since the smaller Bryant lineup out rebounded SU, 58-53, last week. SU’s head coach singled out that lack of effort and he mentioned it again before practice on Wednesday.
‘We played a little bit better defensively, but we weren’t that much better,’ Boeheim said, in reference to Sunday’s exhibition, when the Orange held a 24 rebound advantage over Cal State-Los Angeles.
More significantly, it was the manner in which Syracuse rebounded the ball. Along with typical rebound contributions from center Darryl Watkins and forward Terrence Roberts, freshman Paul Harris led the team in boards with 13. Matt Gorman had six rebounds and Andy Rautins added five.
Roberts knows the rebounding capability of the entire Orange roster, but the results aren’t where he thinks they can be.
‘I think we have the talent to be a force defensively and on the rebounding as far as the guys we got and the mentality those guys have got,’ Roberts said. ‘I think we just need to work on being consistent and doing it every game and coming out and being aware that we should beat every team we play by 30 boards. Just that killer instinct.’
2. Free-throw shooting
Syracuse was dead last in the Big East in free-throw shooting percentage last season-and that was with Gerry McNamara, who shot 90.2 percent from the charity stripe.
In its two exhibition contests, SU shot 62.3 percent (38-61) from the free throw line-even worse than last season’s numbers. Overall in 2005-06, the Orange shot a paltry 64.3 percent.
‘I really don’t worry about things I can’t control,’ Boeheim said.
The main culprits are Roberts (42.1 percent in 2005-06) and Watkins (53.8 percent). In the preseason, Roberts was 5-of-13 from the line.
‘I think at certain positions it’s more of a major concern,’ Roberts said. ‘I know at my position it’s bigger concern. I made so much effort to work on my game. Like we had a day off yesterday and I was here in the gym from 7 to 10 shooting free throws with one of the managers and just getting better any way that I could.’
Roberts said it’s a concentration issue with the guards. Harris, a decent free-throw shooter who should improve the team’s percentage, said the team is conscious of its free-throw woes.
‘It’s always going to be a concern,’ Harris said.
3. Ball handler
Boeheim went with junior Josh Wright as his starter at the Orange’s most discussed position in the two exhibition games, but Wright struggled.
‘Josh has not played well,’ Boeheim said. ‘He’s practiced much better than he’s played, which is good he’s got at least one. He’s not playing bad in both, which is a good thing.’
Harris played the point for the first time in a game situation against Cal State-Los Angeles. He said he needs to be more patient when he runs the offense, but it is a difficult adjustment for him.
‘I’m not exactly a point, but I’m like a combo guard,’ Harris said. ‘So I run the point a little bit, but I’m not a real point guard. I’d say I’m better at the two (shooting guard).’
Instead of Harris, Boeheim looked more at sophomore Eric Devendorf as a candidate. Devendorf, a shooting guard, who likes to take his share of shots, ran into the same problems Wright and Harris did: a lack of patience.
‘Eric’s got to learn,’ Boeheim said. ‘Last game he got on the point and tried to play like a two guard. He’s got to learn how to play the point, it’s a different position.’
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