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College basketball: From top to bottom, SU is solid

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As Syracuse heads into Saturday’s big showdown at No. 1 Louisville, it’s time for Professor Day to issue his mid-term grades for the Orange.

Standing 16-1 overall, and 4-0 in Big East Conference play, that’s about where I saw Jim Boeheim’s club at this point of the season.

I figured a loss at either Arkansas (in the Big East/SEC Challenge) or against Temple in the Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden. SU pulled out the win at Arkansas, but miserable foul shooting cost them a victory versus Temple.

And I didn’t think SU would lose any of its first four conference games against Rutgers, South Florida, Providence or Villanova. Even though the last three have been ugly and the Orange offense has been struggling mightily.

So here goes, category by category.

Shooting (B-minus): I hate to say I told you so, but I reported in my season preview that outside shooting would be one of this team’s weak links. And that has turned out to be true.

Overall, SU is shooting .456 from the floor and .319 on 3-pointers. That puts them in the middle of the pack in NCAA statistics in both categories. The stunning statistic, for me, is that the Orange have shot more than 50 percent as a team just four times, and all against weaker teams (Wagner, Monmouth, Canisius, Central Connecticut). That despite having one of the biggest front lines in the country.

In the Big East, however, SU is even worse. It has shot just 40 percent (99-for-242) from the floor, and a woeful 27 percent (20-for-74) on 3-pointers. Fortunately, the Orange have vastly improved their foul shooting, hitting nearly 79 percent in conference play as opposed to 63 percent in the nonconference schedule.

SU’s best outside shooter has been James Southerland at 37 percent on threes. But take away his brilliant 9-for-13 performance behind the arc at Arkansas and that is diminished. And, of course, he is still not available due to eligibility issues.

C.J. Fair has improved to 39 percent from long range, but the guards have not been good. Brandon Triche is tops at 31 percent, Michael Carter-Williams is at 27 percent and Trevor Cooney, who was forecast as a brilliant marksman, is hitting just 29 percent.

Forward Rakeem Christmas leads the starters at 57 percent shooting, but he has taken the least number of shots (89).

Ballhandling (A-minus): For the most part, the Orange have been solid with the rock, averaging 16.5 assists per game. Carter-Williams and Triche, the main ballhandlers, have a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (221-108) and Carter-Williams still leads the nation in assists per game at 9.4.

SU has averaged around nine turnovers in the four Big East games, and is second in the conference in converting turnovers into points.

Rebounding (A-minus): With its length and size, this figured to be a strong point. But that has not always been the case with some of Boeheim’s bigger squads.

Last year, for instance, SU was a minus-1.7 in rebound differential. This year, the Orange are a plus-8.8, which ranks among the top 20 in the country. And the best news is that the team ranks second in the conference in offensive rebounds, grabbing nearly 42 percent of their misses.

The big difference this season is that the backcourt of Triche and Carter-Williams average twice as many rebounds per game (8.3) as last year’s duo of Triche and Scoop Jardine (4.9).

Defense (A-minus): Overall, SU has been a bit better than last year, when it held opponents to 47 percent shooting and 39 percent on 3-pointers.

The 2-3 zone has been a little more active, limiting foes to only 45 percent from the floor, and just 28 percent from 3-point range.

The addition of the 6-foot-6, long-armed Carter-Williams to the top of the zone has been a big help. Christmas has been a lot more active in the middle than Fab Melo. And SU’s length has helped it already block 127 shots.

Syracuse’s overall mid-term grade is A-minus. But I’m worried about the slow starts of late, and the inability to put some of the weaker teams away sooner.

And the schedule gets much tougher the next three weeks. In addition to Louisville and then Cincinnati at home on Monday, SU also plays at Villanova, Pittsburgh and Connecticut, and has home dates with Notre Dame and St. John’s.

ANTHONY JERSEY TO BE RETIRED

It’s about time!

Syracuse announced Thursday that it will retire the jersey of All-American Carmelo Anthony on Feb. 23 when the Orange host Georgetown at the Carrier Dome.

Anthony helped lead the Orange to the 2003 NCAA Championship in his only season in an Orange uniform, and was a consensus All-American.

A large replica of Anthony’s jersey will be unveiled in the rafters of the Carrier Dome, alongside nine other previously retired basketball uniform tops, and he will be presented with a framed jersey during a halftime celebration.

Syracuse was 30-5 with Anthony on the squad. He led the Orange in scoring and rebounding, averaging 22.2 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Anthony was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player after leading the Orange past Texas in the NCAA semifinal and Kansas in the title game.

He was selected in the first round and third overall in the 2003 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets. During the 2010-11 NBA campaign, he was traded to the New York Knicks.

He has been a member of three U.S. Olympic teams, and was a key performer on U.S. squads that won gold medals in 2008 and 2012.

His interest in the Syracuse program has continued during Anthony’s time in the NBA. Anthony made the lead gift toward the construction of the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center, which opened in October 2009.

Anthony’s jersey will join those of Dave Bing, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Billy Gabor, Vic Hanson, Billy Owens, Wilmeth Sadat-Singh, Rony Seikaly, and Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, which have been previously honored.

And the final scheduled home game between longtime Big East rivals SU and Georgetown will probably attract a record crowd. More than 30,000 tickets have been sold.

And if you’re wondering, SU does not retire basketball numbers. The retirement ceremony is to honor the player’s jersey. Theoretically, Anthony’s No. 15 could be worn in the future, although no SU player has donned the No. 15 jersey since Anthony.

Sportswriter John Day covers Syracuse University basketball for the Times. He can reached at jday@wdt.net

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