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Unpopular Opinion: Jim Boeheim was Excellent in 2020

A couple of disclaimers to note before I make an argument that will immediately raise some eyebrows.

  • When Jim Boeheim became the head coach of Syracuse Basketball 44 years ago, nobody cared. He built the expectations himself. It’s important perspective for columns like this.
  • By the current standards, the 2019-20 season was a failure. Syracuse was NIT bound before COVID-19 canceled the post-season.
  • This is NOT an article about recruiting. There are plenty of reasons to worry about the level of talent coming to the Hill compared to the past. I’m strictly evaluating how Boehiem has coached and developed the players he has to work with. Recruiting will be IGNORED.

An effective head coach does two things. They develop individual players, and they get the team playing in a way that best utilizes the roster for overall results. In other words: player development and schematics. It might be hard to see after Syracuse went 18-14, but Boeheim passed with flying colors in both categories.

Player Development

Buddy Boeheim went from a pure catch-and-shoot player into someone with a strong mid-range pull-up game. It made him nearly impossible to close out on. Turns out he was the most efficient player in the country on free throw line jumpers.

Elijah Hughes excelled in his new role as primary ball-handler. What was most impressive was his playmaking distributing. Everyone will remember Hughes for leading the ACC in scoring this year, but he also finished top-15 in assists. Darn impressive.

Marek Dolezaj was way more aggressive this season. It was much needed. He got to the free-throw line at an incredible clip and got crafty with his finishing. He was a total non-factor on offense a season ago.

There’s not much good you could’ve said about Bourama Sidibe until the final six games. He stopped fouling, started rebounding (double-digits in six straight) and even scored inside. Was it too late? Yeah! But he certainly figured it out eventually.

Quincy Guerrier looked like he had never played basketball in his life through the opening months of the season. Sorry to exaggerate, but he basically fouled on every other defensive possession. He wasn’t driving and he was bricking 90% of his threes. He ended the season as an awesome energy player in rebounding and slashing.

Joe Girard didn’t transform himself mid-season like Guerrier or Sidibe and didn’t play D-1 basketball last season, so it’s tough to make a case for his development. All I’ll say is that a 113:60 assist to turnover ratio for a freshman two-guard converted point guard is ridiculously impressive.

Schematics

Before the season began, I wrote that this was “Jim Boeheim’s year.” In my eyes, he failed two seasons ago. Particularly on the offensive end, SU was doing all the wrong things. There was too much ineffective pick & roll, without a big man who could catch and score. And there was way too much stagnating isolation basketball with Frank Howard and Tyus Battle.

While we’re on the topic, Boeheim was not good in the player development category in 2018-19 either. Battle, Howard, Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj all regressed or side-stepped coming off the Sweet 16 year.

This season, Syracuse came out with a fresh playstyle. Nobody on this roster could create their own shots, so Syracuse ran more set offense and motion to get players open for catch-and-shoot threes. As a result, the Orange were one of the top assisting teams in the nation and also ranked high in three-point frequency. The transition game was more present for Syracuse compared to years past. The Orange embraced the modern game by stretching the floor with threes off of fast break opportunities.

As ACC play came around and teams began to run SU off the three-point arc, Hughes, Boeheim and Girard seemed to add dribble-drive dimensions into their games. Dolezaj was well-utilized as a distributor from the high post. The pick & roll game started clicking. Guerrier and Sidibe started putting back offensive rebounds as well.

Everyone was put in the right position to succeed. Syracuse was playing the best brand of basketball possible for their pieces. Some will take issue with Brycen Goodine and Howard Washington’s lack of minutes. You can’t convince me that made much of a difference, given their underwhelming performance when given a chance.

Why didn’t Syracuse have a good season? Because they were too young. Because Hughes and Buddy had untimely prolonged shooting slumps. Because Sidibe was getting dominated for most of the season, and Syracuse had no alternative (NOT A RECRUITING ARTICLE!). Jim Boeheim could not have done much else as the head coach of this basketball team. He had the players improving and the team playing the right way.

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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