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Tobias Harris May Leave Vols, What Might Have Been for Syracuse

Syracuse fans have spent the last 10 days asking “what could have been?” What happens if Brandon Triche doesn’t get hurt? How are things different if the “backcourt violation that wasn’t” isn’t called? What if Tobias Harris hadn’t picked that other shade of orange? Hadn’t thought of that? Let the Fizz explain.

Harris was Ishaq before Ishaq. A wildly talented prep star from the New York City region who had Syracuse on his final list. The hysteria surrounding Tobias’ recruitment reached a fever pitch, as we attempted to decipher his Tweets, Jayvaughn Pinkston’s destination, and a late trip to Knoxville. It culminated in a nationally televised announcement at the ESPN Zone in Manhattan just prior to Syracuse playing at Madison Square Garden.Tobias – a New York kid – couldn’t possibly choose the Vols in front of a restaurant full of SU fans, right? Wrong. The recruitment of Tobias ended with a serenade of ugly boos on what should’ve been his proudest day.

On the night of his decision Tobias told The Fizz he picked Tennessee in part because of Bruce Pearl. Pearl’s damaged goods right now, but he’s always had charisma. I’ve been in the room with him at a press conference. Even in that setting he’s electric. But he no longer has a job. That leaves Harris without his coach and likely headed for the NBA draft after a stellar freshman campaign in Knoxville.

His final decision came down to Tennessee and Syracuse – and what if he chose the Orange? Harris’ life likely doesn’t change much – he would still be facing the same decision of whether to go pro after the mandatory one year of college ball. Maybe losing his head coach makes the choice a little easier to leave Knoxville than if he enjoyed the stability of The Per’fesser’s staff. But if he had a solid freshman season and was a projected lottery pick, he’d likely be leaving CNY too.

But would this year have ended differently for the ‘Cuse had Tobias chosen SU? It could have unfolded two ways.

Option 1: Everything Works

Harris had a very good season wearing puke-colored Volunteer orange. In just under 30 minutes per, he averaged over 15 points and 7 boards. These numbers are very similar to the numbers Kris Joseph put up. The difference? Harris got his as the second option to Scotty Hopson (and Scotty’s throwback high-top fade), who averaged 17 per game and had the ball (rightfully) in his hands the majority of the time.

What would a presence like Tobias have done for the rest of the Orange? It would have given them a go-to scorer (something The Fizz has documented was clearly an issue). Harris is an incredibly polished offensive player who can shoot, take guys off the dribble, or post up. As long as Scoop would have fed him the ball, Tobias would have been Cuse’s go-to guy.

He also would have completely opened up the offense. Doubling Rick would have become infinitely harder since Harris would either be open on the weak side for dunks, or after a reversal would have finished (jumper, drive, etc) unlike awkward Fab or Baye – who were both lost with the ball in their hands.

Option 2: Absolutely Nothing Changes

How do you add one of the best freshman in the country and not improve? Part of Jackson’s success was Fab’s failure to grow and Baye’s general offensive ineptitude. Rick became the only low post option and hung huge numbers because he was able to maximize his talent. Defensively, Rick was far better as a block machine in the middle than he was on a wing, and with Harris there’s a chance Rick would have remained outside more. Harris would have likely played the wing over Rick, but considering Jackson was used to playing there coming into the year, Boeheim might have just kept him outside.

The best freshman Syracuse did land ended up being CJ Fair. Does he even see the floor with Harris here? As good as Fair may have been in practice there are only so many minutes to go around. For Fair to have played either Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson, or Harris would have been on the bench. It could’ve worked with a coach more generous in his bench philosophy, but with Boeheim it’s unlikely.

The reality lies somewhere in between. Rick would have been better off with Tobias as a teammate in the front court (as would everyone on the team). Syracuse would have been more balanced and had a go-to guy. Plus, the season-long concern over the vulnerability of the front line would have never been an issue.

But not landing Tobias may end up being a positive long-term for the Orange. Fair’s development would’ve been inhibited. Playing against him in practice would have been great for CJ, but there is no substitute for real game run (which he got plenty of this year). Since Fair is going to be a 4-year player, the long term investment might actually be the better move.

Losing on the first weekend sucked. Losing to a Big East rival made it worse. However Harris still wouldn’t have made this team Final Four-caliber. Would one or two more wins in March have been worth the sacrifice of a player who’s going to be around for three more years?

Up to you Orange fans.

Posted: Craig Hoffman

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