20 Questions: How Will Syracuse Handle Depth at the Point Guard Position?Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 15th, 2013
As usual, there will be no shortage of talent at Syracuse this season, but that’s not to say Jim Boeheim won’t be facing challenges with his newest collection of talent. A dearth of capable ball-handlers looms as the biggest hole in this Orange roster, meaning freshman Tyler Ennis better be ready to handle point guard duties from the get-go. Still, even if Ennis is prepared to carry the load – and his prep resume would indicate that he is – the absence of a natural backup to the freshman is both puzzling and potentially problematic. One would think that finding a backup in the mold of a Spike Albrecht – a role player capable of playing five to 10 minutes a game at the point (dazzling title game shooting displays, optional) — wouldn’t be especially difficult for a program with as much reach as the Orange, and yet here we are in mid-October, with Duke transfer and natural wing Michael Gbinije resting second on the point guard depth chart. Mike Waters – a man quite familiar with the happenings around the Syracuse program – posited a few theories for why Boeheim is okay with that situation last week, but I’m not quite as eager to let Boeheim off the hook on this one.
Waters notes that Syracuse isn’t in the habit of recruiting backups, but in this era of the one-and-done superstar, we are seeing more elite programs stockpile talent throughout their rotations. Kentucky is the best example of this phenomenon, but top recruits across the country appear increasingly willing to bet on the stars starting above them to leave early for the NBA. So no, I don’t think tasking one of the best recruiters in the game with bringing in a well-regarded backup is an impossible challenge.
But hey, maybe Boeheim did attempt to bring in another point guard this season and failed. It happens. The bigger issue here is that the rest of the roster is incapable of filling the hole created by that possible failure. Take a glance back at Syracuse teams throughout the last decade, and you will find combo guards galore – wings capable of sliding over to the one in the case of unforeseen circumstances. Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche spent three years in the same backcourt, each equally capable of running the point if needed. Jonny Flynn had Eric Devendorf, Gerry McNamara had Josh Pace. Almost every Syracuse team of the last decade had a second starter capable of spending minutes spelling the starting point guard. Who knows if that luxury was a focus of recruiting efforts or simply a byproduct of bringing in talented backcourt players, but the absence of any such player on this Orange team could end up making a real difference.
Waters’ final point is one with which you can’t argue: Perhaps Boeheim is more comfortable with Gbinije as his backup point guard than we all know. While he may be a natural two/three, Gbinije was a highly regarded prospect before his one season at Durham, and the opportunity to redshirt has undoubtedly allowed for extra time spent on honing point guard abilities. If he develops into a competent backup to Ennis, this entire discussion becomes completely irrelevant. But if not — if we reach March and all the pieces are clicking as expected – the long, athletic front line terrorizing opponents; Ennis running the team with the poise of an upperclassmen; Trevor Cooney finding the three-point stroke that eluded him a season ago – then that backup point guard situation could really matter. Every NCAA Tournament run possesses a good amount of fragility, but when one injury or a little foul trouble means handing over the reins to an untested and unproven player, an elite team could be facing a far more delicate situation than necessary.