As bad as Wisconsin looked in its loss to Oklahoma, we'll soon know how well this young team is learning Bo Ryan's number one rule of "next." The Badgers (4-3) get another opportunity for a quality road win Wednesday when they travel to Syracuse for their Big Ten/ACC Challenge date.
Ryan and Jim Boeheim have met once before, in a 64-63 Sweet 16 thriller in 2012 which the Orange won. With Ryan's program in rebuilding mode and a looming nine-game suspension awaiting Boeheim to start ACC play, this contest might lack the same luster as the previous meeting, but it's a great pairing for both sides.
Undefeated Syracuse (6-0) is hot right now, thanks to deadly outside shooting. The Orange ascended from unranked to No. 14 in the country in this week's latest AP poll after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis in impressive fashion. Boeheim's vaunted 2-3 match-up zone will be a huge obstacle for the offensively-challenged Badgers, but it does provide a glimmer of hope on the offensive glass, where UW has shown unusual proficiency so far this year. That's one silver lining to missing a lot of shots.
Michael Burke is the basketball editor at the super Syracuse site Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician (mercifully abbreviated as TNIAAM). He allowed us to grill him on what the 'Cuse has been up to and how to squeeze the Big Orange, Michael Gbinije.
B5Q: This game pits the last two champions of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament against each other. Syracuse was finally tested in the Bahamas and came out on top. What did the Orange do well down there that surprised you?
TNIAAM (Michael): As you probably know, the Orange were pretty heavy underdogs in the tournament, given that teams like Connecticut, Gonzaga and Texas A&M were there. But Syracuse unexpectedly won the tournament by shooting lights out for three consecutive days. It doesn’t surprise me that the Orange won in that manner; to beat good teams, they’ll have to make 3s. What surprised me was that SU managed to shoot so well from deep, so consistently. We knew this team would take a lot of 3s, but we didn’t know it would be this efficient with them.
B5Q: I see that 6-7 forward Michael Gbinije, a former Duke recruit, has raised his game to a whole new level as a senior. He is leading the team with 19.7 points and 4.2 assists per game. Where is he most deadly offensively and how would you game plan to stop him?
TNIAAM: He does a lot of things really well, as he’s easily the team’s most complete player. But in terms of what makes him such a good offensive player, it’s his shooting. He actually shot really well from 3 last season (39.2%), but he’s on another level this season. Through six games, he’s making a remarkable 51.3% of his 3s.
As far as stopping Gbinije goes, you can start by limiting your turnovers. He’s shooting 60% from 3 in transition, but he doesn’t get most of those looks if the opposing team doesn’t turn the ball over. After that, you’ll need to have defenders who don’t easily get beat off the dribble. Gbinije and Syracuse's other 3-point shooters are getting most of their open looks on drive-and-kick plays. And because SU has several capable shooters, it doesn’t have much trouble creating driving lanes.
B5Q: Syracuse has a few highly-ranked freshmen that appear to be making an impact already for Jim Boeheim. In particular, ACC Rookie of the Week Tyler Lydon looks like a big problem for foes on both ends of the court. How have guys like Lydon and Malachi Richardson meshed with someone like Trevor Cooney, who I always perceived as a high-volume shooter?
TNIAAM: They’re meshing quite nicely, at least thus far. Both Richardson and Lydon are good 3-point shooters, and you’re right about Cooney being a high-volume shooter. He’s the least efficient of the Orange’s shooters, yet he’s taking more shots than anyone else. Still, though, Syracuse is taking anywhere between 20 and 30 3-pointers per night, so there have been enough shots to go around for Lydon and Richardson.
Richardson is a really solid shooter, and he’s also shown an ability to get to the rim, which has led to more open looks for guys like Cooney, Gbinije and Lydon. Lydon, meanwhile, might be SU’s most important player. While playing mostly power forward and center, he’s been able to get opposing big men out of the paint, which has done wonders for the Orange’s spacing.
B5Q: One thing I'm optimistic about from a Wisconsin perspective is how many offensive rebounds Syracuse has allowed thus far. The Badgers rank 14th in the nation, grabbing 41 percent of their misses; Syracuse gives up over 36 percent of its defensive rebounding opportunities. Some of that is to be expected when playing strictly zone defense -- is this an annual theme that you just get used to as a 'Cuse fan?
TNIAAM: Yeah, Syracuse has traditionally been pretty bad on the defensive glass, and the one constant is the zone. And since the Orange are typically pretty solid on the offensive glass, it becomes harder to point the finger at anything else. This season, though, might be a little different. Syracuse has been REALLY bad on the defensive boards, and a big reason for that is that this team is smaller than normal. As I mentioned, Lydon is playing quite a bit of center. He’s just 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds.
B5Q: Rakeem Christmas graduated from last year's team and Syracuse also said goodbye to Chris McCullough (NBA) and Ron Patterson (transfer). So where does DaJuan Coleman fit into this equation? Is he actually healthy? Do you expect him to make a significant impact for the Orange on a team that looks a little thin inside right now?
TNIAAM: I think he’s healthy, yes. But I also think there’s a difference between being healthy and being back up to speed, which he’s not. You can tell he’s been rusty, but he looked much better in the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did in Syracuse’s first three games. Particularly, he rebounded well in those games and played pretty solid defense in the middle of the 2-3 zone. If he can do those two things for 15-20 minutes per game this season, I’d call it a success.
B5Q: Kaleb Joseph is back, but not playing much at all, and Syracuse is turning the ball over like crazy. What's going on at the point guard position?
TNIAAM: It’s a weird situation. Joseph struggled badly last season, but he supposedly improved a great deal in the offseason. However, Boeheim had to move Gbinije to point guard to be able to start Richardson at small forward, where Gbinije played last season. That’s moved Joseph to the bench and, as you said, he’s not seeing a ton of time. When he has played, he hasn’t looked very good, which has also contributed to him staying on the bench.
In regard to the turnovers, Syracuse has generally been sloppy with the ball as a whole. It's not just Gbinije, who's averaging 2.8 turnovers per game.
B5Q: Is it true that Syracuse only has nine players on scholarship this season? Are they initiating the scholarship reductions from the NCAA sanctions immediately this season or deferring until next year? Has the revelation of pretty widespread misconduct in the athletic department tainted Boeheim's legacy in your mind?
TNIAAM: Well, Syracuse technically has 10 players on scholarship this season. But after transferring from Providence, center Paschal Chukwu is forced to sit out this season, so the Orange have only nine scholarship players available to play. And, yes, they are beginning to serve the scholarship reduction penalty this season, and they actually got one extra scholarship back per season through the appeal process. (Ed. note: See SU's statement here.)
For me, Boeheim’s legacy should be tainted, yes. It’s not that I necessarily think he’s lying when he says he didn’t know about the violations as they occurred. But if he really didn't know, that’s on him. And if he’s simply guilty of trusting the wrong people, as some have argued, then that too is on him. He’s the head coach. He’s the one in charge. Because of that, he can’t be absolved of blame.
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