Timing is Everything: Boeheim’s Recruiting & Zone Gives SU a Golden Age

The 2-3 and Melo Center have revolutionized SU, and given the Orange a national dominance in this era.

After Syracuse’s dominating win over Marquette in the Elite 8, Jim Boeheim joked about how he goes to the Final Four once every decade. There was 1987, 1996, 2003 and now 2013. It’s an amazing testament to Boeheim’s longevity and ability to stay relevant and competitive for four decades. While these four peak years have spanned nearly 40, that he only has these four trips has been a source of frustration for SU fans over the years.

A coach of Boeheim’s stature really should have more. Mike Krzyzewski has an incredible 11 trips. Tom Izzo had a period starting in the late 90’s where he went to 6 in a dozen years. With Orange teams good enough for 920+ wins, it’s a fair criticism to point out. However as Boeheim’s career winds down, it’s pretty clear his program is trending up. Consider:

You can make an a really solid argument that Syracuse is Fab Melo being suspended away from being this back-to-back Final Fours. If you take it a step further, you could reasonably theorize Arinze Onuaku’s hurt quad in 2010 derailed another. Suddenly we’re talking about 3 nets in 4 years which is ultra rarified air, especially in the days of the one-and-done.

The only other time of Boeheim’s tenure as dominant as this is the mid-to-late ’80s, when SU was pulling in Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, Pearl Washington and Billy Owens. While many Orange fans may beat their chests because this proves how great SU has once again become, I had a different reaction: why is it happening now?

What has happened over the past 5-6 years that has turned a school that had ultra highs in the ’80s, but some lean times in the ’90s, into a perennial Final Four contender. There are two crystal clear answers.

The caliber of player Syracuse has recruited in recent years has skyrocketed. Andy Rautins wound up being a tremendous player for SU, but he’s not in the same class as Dion Waiters. If Michael Carter-Williams played for four years like Rautins did, he’d break records for assists, steals, and surge up the scoring list too.

The national championship in ’03 and the building of the Melo Center was the starting point. Having elite facilities matters and since Carmelo cut the check, snowy Central New York has become a location destination for the best high school players (and transfers: Wes Johnson and Michael Gbinije) around the country.

The other reason Syracuse is trending up was clear while watching Marquette brick shot after shot. The zone takes advantage of a modern college hoops landscape littered with bad offense. Many of us scream about the officiating, and that the game is way too physical. But a huge part of the problem is guys simply can’t shoot.

There’s a rhythm to a game where the ball is reversed to a shooter and he knocks down the shot. Often now that shot is missed, and we wind up with the 39 points Marquette put up in a regional semi-final or 39 that Syracuse put up on the same court against Georgetown to close the regular season.

Shooting is how you beat a zone. In the 2-3, the help is always there and you’ve got to make outside shots or it just packs in more. What happens when two super athletic 6’8” wings, and an equally long 6’9” center start to jam the lane? Ask Cody Zeller. Add 6’6” and 6’4” guards also crashing down. It’s enough to drive an offensive player insane.

Boeheim decided to stop practicing man-to-man a few years ago because if he went exclusively zone he could do more with it. The SU 2-3 has improved in recent years, and any defense becomes stronger with more talented players. Syracuse is getting more of them, but it’s impossible to watch four tourney teams shoot 14-91 against you from deep without them missing some open looks.

Syracuse has done an amazing job all tournament of challenging almost every shot, but elite players are supposed to make challenged shots. It’s all about timing. Boeheim’s best players are coming at in an era where the skill to beat his unique style isn’t available in great quantity. Even with the departures of Brandon Triche and James Southerland and maybe Carter-Williams, SU will be right back in position to contend next year. The question right now isn’t whether this is Boeheim’s final run. It’s whether Boeheim’s biggest success is just beginning.

Posted: Craig Hoffman


17 Comments on this Post

  1. KbballL

    Isn’t it crazy to think that if things went sus way the last 4 they could be going for the 3rd ncaa champ in that time. The main reason for this bar raising is the melo center. One reason ppl think boeheim is not a great coach is that he doesn’t produce good pros, but before the melo center he would usually have one star recruit and a lot of 4 year players that he molds into great college players. After the melo center every recruit they get is elite and combine that with the same great coaching and this is the result. And I am guessing the next few crops of pros to come out of su will be great nba players. 3 30 win seasons in 4 years, and without an injury and inelijiblty woul begging for 3rd ncaa champ in 4 years

  2. Brando

    Come on, Does anyone serious think CJ Fair is coming back? He’s been the most consistent player all year and seems like the only guy in Divison 1 basketball with a midrange game. He’s got to be the second guy drafted after McW. So they’re going to lose 4 guys which is fine because they have a big recruiting class coming in plus Mike G from Duke. But it is amazing that in his Twilight Boeheim is able to reload better than ever

  3. Boeheim is a great recruiter and learned the zone and perfected Nits concept with recruiting the kind of bodies that make his zone even more effective.TALL KIDS WITH LONG ARMS EXTENDS THEIR AREA OF INFLUENCE. IF YOU ARENT TALL YOU HAD BETTER HAVE ANOTHER QUALITY THAT DESERVES A SCHOLARSHIP. GMAC had the big three shot woking for him Sherman had that leadership and ballhandling ability and a decent enough offense to bring him into the program.The test coming up for him and this particular team might be an opportunity for Jim to display any coaching talent especially if he manages to play his old assistant Pitino who manages to embarrass Jim at least once a year.

  4. BigDipWisdom

    1. Syracuse had no Melo center b4 Carmelo & the 2003 ncaa championship… his popularity is a main driving force for alot!

    2. If the recruiting is so good… why no McDAAs in ’13? Because the recruits suck! Ennis will be the starting Pg… after that they suck! No McDAAs wanna come sit on the bench their frosh yr? Mike G didnt at Duke? I thought this class was rushed, and they settled for 3 of 5 recruits anyway.

    3. Our best players the last 10 yrs, post Carmelo.. havent gotten past Elite8 .. please “Tell me how this is the Golden Era of su hoops?” Jonny Flynn & Donte Greene went to the NIT, and they were the most talented duo, outside of Fab/Dion

    4. Every good recruit…Dion, Jonny, Donte, Paul Harris,etc complained about the zone! HCJB has been to three prior F4s, in 35 years.. thats almost 12% of his coaching seasons, coach k is closer to 40%, or so… how can these be “golden years?” … fans want rings! Or nets!

    5. The zone has lost SU numerous chances at an NCAA titles… Richmond loss, kentucky title game… d anderson/epps/delk/mccarty… how could you play zone? Kieth smart jumper? Sullinger killed it last season… stop crying about fab’s absence, suspensions like injuries are part of the game..

    * melo center & zone are not the main catalysts for increased recruiting, numbnuts! And if it is ..? Why hasnt that equated to TITLES/BANNERS/RINGS….
    * Su won the title w/o the damn renovated practice facility, & because of a young bballer, named Carmelo!

    * Stop trying to attribute everything to HCJBs johnson! He’s been here damn near 40 years w/ 1 NCAA title… that sux! 40 years… Brad Stevens at Butler took 5 years to lose his first 2 title games? Sorry, but HCJB can get 2000 wins, if he finishes with 1 title.. he UNDERACHIEVED, VERY BADLY! Calhoun…more rings, coach k…more rings, roy williams…more rings, billy donovan..more rings, izzo…more, ben howland..3 str8 F4s…bill self, gary williams, pitino, calipari can all match 1 ncaa title?

    * golden years = titles, not 30 win seasons that end with loses. Raise the bar?

  5. ^ Dude has a point

  6. He has a point but he’s missing mine. I’m talking specifically the last four years when the post-Melo Center classes have come in. Maybe a golden age is a stretch but there’s certainly a chance for one. There is zero arguing the program is trending up though. Better recruits. Deeper tournament runs the past two years. A ring would be amazing but a Final Four is nothing to sneeze at.

    Also comparisons to Coach K aren’t allowed. That’s like comparing someone to Jordan and saying he’s not that good. What are you actually saying? Cause he’s not the best (non-Wooden category) that he stinks? C’mon. DA wrote an article on Boeheim vs Calhoun after the Kemba run. If you search the archive you can find it. Really good read and admits Calhoun is better.

  7. ^ the dudes points were terrible. I too credit the melo center for our recruiting of late. plus jim being in the hall of fame doesn’t hurt. not many recruits can say they played for a current hall of fame coach

  8. Carlton

    I feel like the guys coming in are pretty good. Ennis an Robertson are both playing in the Jordan brand game an Robertson just shut down Karl towns the top guy in the 14 or 15 class that is committed to UK in NJ HS basketball championship game. Looking back the only kid that I’m disappointed in not getting is Vonleeh. I don’t understand how we lost out on him. Another would be Wayne Sheldon. He seems to be a waiters clone. I dont know what his interest level really was bc he never took a visit. Dakari was never going to come here. We have 3 bigs that will be on the roster next season. I think the other guys in the class will come along. I don’t know if anyone caught what Ron Patterson had to say about IU screwing him over before the sweet 16 game but it sounds like he has a chip on his shoulder an ill take a 4star kid /w a chip on his shoulder any day b/c that means he has skills an is hunger to improve an get better.

    Anyways I was not a big fan of this class at one time as well but if u included the duke transfer /w Roberson an Ennis that’s 3 guys that are ranked in the top 30 in country coming in next season. That is not bad at all.

  9. The creditare for thethe success of the last ten years should fall mostly on Mike Hopkins. When Boeheim took Bernie Fine off recruiting duties and put Hopkins as the lead recruiter, the talent level rose. Thank God the LA schools did not take Hopkins because he is the future of the program

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  1. By Beat Chaser on April 13, 2013 at 7:02 am

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