"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, September 15, 2023

Tennessee/Syracuse Capsules, 2023-24

Tennessee Volunteers

November 22, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Rick Barnes (175-92 at Tennessee, 779-406 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 10.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 14.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 6

Projected Starters: PG Zakai Zeigler (5'9" Jr), SG Santiago Vescovi (6'3" 5th), SF Josiah-Jordan James (6'6" 5th), PF Dalton Knecht (6'6" 5th), C Jonas Aidoo (6'11" Jr)

Zakai Zeigler looks to spark some semblance of offense in Knoxville

Photo from Tennessee Athletics

The knock on Rick Barnes was his failure to escape the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament after just one Sweet 16 in the past 14 years. The team again reached the Sweet 16 in 2023, but some may be disappointed they fell to a lower seed in Florida Atlantic. Barnes has a ton of experience on this roster, though much of the defensive spine has moved on. Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi make up an experienced back court and are both capable of handling the ball. Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo know the system well but will need to step up from supporting cast roles. Dalton Knecht joins from Northern Colorado where he averaged 20.2 ppg/7.2 rpg. If the step up is too big for Knecht, Barnes has options in veteran guards Jahmai Mashack and transfer Jordan Gainey, as well as promising sophomore bruiser Tobe Awaka.

Offensively, Barnes likes to work inside-out. The guards feed a big that can create offense in the post or kick it back out to shooters and drivers into the lane. That's the theory. The problem is if he doesn't have dynamic offensive players, they tend to be pretty mediocre. When he has inside-out NBA talents like T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, and Grant Williams, it goes great. When he has bigs that are more offensive role-players and guards that are more wings out of position, their attack can stagnate and games turn into low-scoring slogfests. Defensively, Tennessee is always tough as nails. Despite the losses of Julian Phillips and Olivier Nkamhoua, they still have James, who is an excellent wing defender. Aidoo provides the rim protection and this team will be well-drilled on sticking in front of their men, grinding down the defensive pace, and punishing teams that try to score. The keys for this team to reach the next level will be Zeigler's health and team running ability along with Aidoo's ability to become an offensive hub in the post. If they want to go from SEC contender to champion, they need to be better on offense. Last year, the strategy was basically to keep opponents in the 50s. When their defense held opponents below 60 points, they were 22-0. When opponents scored 60 or more, they were 3-11. That's enough to earn a decent NCAA seed and make a little tourney run, but you need to be able to put points on the board to turn a little run into a Final Four appearance.




Syracuse Orange

November 22, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Adrian Autry (0-0)

Three-Year NET Average: 82.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 76.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 140

Projected Starters: PG Judah Mintz (6'3" So), SG J.J. Starling (6'4" So), SF Chris Bell (6'7" So), PF Benny Williams (6'9" Jr), C Naheem McLeod (7'4" Jr)

Adrian Autry replaces Syracuse legend Jim Boeheim

Photo from Syracuse Athletics

Jim Boeheim's coaching career ended not with a bang, but a whimper. The Orange went 17-15 and missed the postseason for the second consecutive year. Syracuse grad Adrian "Red" Autry takes over after 12 years as an assistant to Boeheim. This is a monumental change, as Boeheim was at the helm for 47 years and has been a part of all but one NCAA Tournament appearance in Syracuse history as a player, assistant, or head coach. The biggest change is the anticipated move to man-to-man after decades of Boeheim's adherence to playing zone defense. The Orange are young, with zero seniors on the roster and just three of the thirteen scholarship players being juniors. Their sophomore back court of Judah Mintz and Notre Dame transfer J.J. Starling were both double-digit scorers last season. Up front, they have the expected Syracuse length, as both Chris Bell and Benny Williams are long, athletic forwards. Naheem McLeod is a monster shot-blocker who was a top-10 JUCO prospect who joins the Orange by way of Florida State. Their bench is led by Auburn transfer Chance Westry, who was a top-50 wing that never quite settled in with the Tigers. In terms of raw talent and recruiting rankings, this team seems to have a lot of promise, but none of them have actually produced wins at this level.

Expect the Orange to look more modern under Autry. They can put four shooters on the floor around McLeod and will likely let it fly more than they did last year. Defensively, they will probably still mix in some zone, but man-to-man will be the primary defense. They have the length and athleticism at every position to be a capable defensive bunch. The biggest question might be if McLeod is ready to be a full-time center. He averaged just 12.3 mpg in two years at FSU, but put up 16 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes against Syracuse. The biggest question is if he can be that guy every night or if Syracuse just fell in love with a guy who was productive against them. Analytics are low on this team, but if Autry can get them together, the talent is there to earn an NCAA bid. The youth at every position may hurt them in November, but if they can pull off an upset or two in non-con, they could be good enough by ACC play to make some noise come March.

No comments: