This is the third in a five-part recap of the 2009-10 Tiger basketball season.
• BACKUP PLAN?
The 2008-09 Tigers featured nine players who played at least 400 minutes for the season (averaging at least 12 a game), with five players logging as many as 700 minutes. This year, the Tigers had only seven players on the floor for 400 minutes, but six of them passed the 700-minute threshold. This was a thin, at times overworked roster that relied on exactly seven scholarship players (essentially trading Angel Garcia for the dismissed Pierre Henderson-Niles in February).
The short bench added an ironic twist to Josh Pastner’s first season as head coach. In some respects, his job was made easier by the lack of impact players available to substitute. When you’re down to seven scholarship players, there’s little head-scratching left to do when it comes to managing your rotation. Pierre Henderson-Niles picks up two fouls? In goes Will Coleman. Doneal Mack having an off night? Try Roburt Sallie. And that was about it. D.J. Stephens was a fun player to watch, every one of his 261 minutes on the floor. But “energy guys” are labeled such for a reason. Garcia returned ahead of schedule and proved to be a boon to the Tiger offense, but his minutes simply replaced those previously given to Henderson-Niles.
The biggest “What if?” of the 2009-10 season will be “What if Garcia had been healthy all season?” His size defensively and his long-range shooting touch would have been assets. Imagine Garcia getting hot from beyond the reach of Syracuse’s zone.
If Elliot Williams returns along with Sallie, Garcia, Witherspoon, and Coleman, the challenge for Pastner next season won’t be a lack of depth, but a lack of minutes to distribute. Presuming members of next year’s freshman class all qualify academically, there will be at least 11 players vying for extended playing time, fighting to be the kind of impact player — whether starting or off the bench — that D.J. Stephens is unlikely to become.
One man’s (somewhat premature) look at a starting lineup and rotation for next November:
Joe Jackson, Will Barton, and Elliot Williams starting in the backcourt, with Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman down low. Off the bench: Jelan Kendrick (could play the wing, in place of Barton, Williams, or Witherspoon), Tarik Black, Garcia, and Sallie. That’s nine players without a mention of Chris Crawford, yet another top-100 recruit on the way. That’s depth.