Dr. Syracuse and Mr. Orange
What is Syracuse? Who knows anymore. This is a team that was 25-0 and the #1 team in the country without much debate. In February. It had a senior in CJ Fair who was great against Duke in the Carrier Dome and against Pittsburgh down the stretch. It had a sophomore duo in Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney that were offensive threats. It had a freshman in Tyler Ennis that seemed to be more Benjamin Button than a teenager. Dr. Syracuse looked like a national championship contender capable of beating anyone and everyone. And then it turned into Mr. Orange–a team capable of losing to anyone and then proving it by losing at home to Boston College and Georgia Tech. These losses–rather than the other three–are what will keep Syracuse from being a #1 seed. The bigger question for Syracuse fans is not #1 seed, but whether it will win one game in the Big Dance.
There are lots of reasons for the Dr. Syracuse and Mr. Orange issue. Trevor Cooney is a sophomore and a shooter–he is supposed to be erratic. That’s what sophomores do. Same with Jerami Grant. And Tyler Ennis is still just a freshman. This leaves Fair, a senior to be the leader.
Unfortunately, there is only one conclusion as Syracuse heads into the sudden-death portion of the schedule: CJ Fair has regressed in 2013-2014. The sample size is there. As a Syracuse fan, this author has watched almost every minute of Syracuse basketball this year, and CJ Fair the offensive threat is not as good as CJ Fair the complimentary player.
We’ll get to the statistics in a moment. But the eye test is relevant here too. Even before looking at the numbers, watching the games was seeing a different player. The old CJ Fair scrapped for points near the rim. The current CJ Fair roams outside looking for a shot. Most recently, it has gotten worse as Fair has passed up opportunities to drive to settle for jumpers. While taking a jumper can be good, choosing a jumper over driving to the rim is worse. Of course, driving to the rim when closely guarded is not good either, leading to dribbling off the leg–something that seems to happen every game. Too many three point shots. In March, it often comes down to care for the ball–a combination of turnovers, defensive intensity, rebounding, and shot selection.
The mental part of the game has regressed, likely because he is trying to be something he is not–an offensive threat. The Confidential thinks CJ Fair has an immense amount of talent. He is just not suited to being the focal point of any offense. He is supposed to get 15 quiet points, not 17 effort-laden points. That may not impress the NBA from a lottery pick standpoint, but it should impress an NBA contender that is looking for a piece to add to an already-good roster. He should be better in the NBA than in college because he is athletic, versatile, and will not be anyone’s focus.
Want statistics regarding the regression? Fine. Fair has had 9 games this season where he has shot less than 33%–all with at least 13 shots:
- St. Francis. Narrow win. 2 for 13, 15.4%
- California. Win. 5 for 17, 29.4%
- Boston College I. Narrow win. 4 for 13, 30.8%
- Wake Forest. Win. 4 for 14, 28.6%
- Notre Dame. Narrow win. 2 for 13, 15.4%
- NC State. Narrow win. 5 for 16, 31.3%
- Boston College. Loss. 7 for 23, 30.4%
- Virginia. Loss. 4 for 13, 30.8%
- NC State. Loss. 3 for 16, 18.8%
Only two games was Syracuse able to comfortably win despite a bad Fair shooting night. Fair, whom Jim Boeheim inexplicably thinks was the best player in the ACC, had nine games this season where he missed 2/3 of his shots. This is not the stuff of a legitimate offensive threat. TJ Warren had but one. Jabari Parker had five. By the way, Fair had five in 2012-2013 and put up very similar scoring numbers.
Are they all bad shots in those games? Certainly not. But there is again the issue of whether the shot is the best shot Fair can even be taking at that moment. In 2012-2013, Fair shot 47% from the field last year. This year, he sits at 43.2%. He has scored 28 points twice this year. In those games, he took a combined 47 shots. Last year, he scored 25 points against Temple on 12 shots from the floor. 23 against Providence on 13 shots from the floor. And so on. It’s not impossible to score 20 points on 12 GOOD shots. And that is better than scoring 28 points on 24 shots.
Actually, nearly every other stat is inferior. He has gone to the free throw line less this year. He has taken approximately one more 3-point shot per game this year, but has made 6 less. His rebounds are down, his turnovers are up. His free throw percentage is down. He has played 250 more minutes than two years ago, but has one less rebound.
Dr. Syracuse may have masked what was a lurking problem. All that 25-0 winning was fool’s gold. CJ Fair is a great talent–but that talent is not in being an outside shooter or offensive threat. Fair needs to do what Grant currently does–get to the rim. Not by driving from 18 feet away when closely guarded by a good defender. But by picking his spots. With Fair and Grant, there are two threats. Right now, it seems like Fair and Grant are taking turns. They need to work together and put the pressure on other teams. Don’t watch the other guy. Cut without the ball. Don’t try to do it all by driving through a defender–pass to each other. Rebound. Get some easy baskets. This author thinks that Fair could score the same points on fewer shots–meaning fewer missed offensive opportunities. It only takes a few more per game to make a difference.
And that difference likely means something other than Dr. Syracuse and Mr. Orange… it means a long March for the Syracuse Orange. Is it too late? We’ll see. What is guaranteed is that a deep run in the Big Dance will be the last thing any Syracuse fan will remember about CJ Fair and this team.