“I still think we can reach our full potential. It’s a huge blow to our team. We just have to find another way to make up for the points he would usually score, and I think we are on the right track.” -CJ Fair on the loss of James Southerland following the Villanova win.
James Southerland. Senior. Explosive sixth man. Streaky Shooter. Team Leader. Complete player.
When the news circulated around Syracuse Saturday morning, I had the same reaction that a lot of you all probably had. I was shocked and in complete disbelief. How can a player who kept all of his affairs in order for three previous seasons be ineligible now, during his senior year where his role on this team couldn’t be bigger? How can you let something as simple as going to class and doing homework get in the way of your senior season on a top 10 Syracuse team?
But are we sure that the eligibility issues are academic? With the timing of it all (classes at Syracuse University for the spring semester begin today), I would tentatively say yes. If it were an NCAA issue, it doesn’t seem to me that it would have come down last weekend. I think that the timing absolutely indicates an academic or university issue of some kind, and in terms of ineligibility that is the most promising kind. Issues with the University can be resolved. Issues with the NCAA take months if not years.
But this raises a bigger question. If this issue is University related, regardless of what it is, what are the assistant coaches and managers doing? Granted, the players are responsible for themselves at the end of the day, but where are the people on the team that serve the sole purpose of helping out the players? I can’t really call them out yet without knowing anything about this issue, but academics should never be a reason why a player is ineligible.
With Fab Melo last year, the word is it was as simple as Fab didn’t go to multiple classes, therefore failing. That should absolutely never happen. There are managers assigned to go to class with these players, so it seems impossible for a player to skip class and not have someone within the team know about it. Is this a similar scenario? Who knows. But whether it is an attendance problem or a problem with his work, these players have unbelievable resources not available to the average student, so there is no excuse for academic problems.
So where does Syracuse go from here? I think we saw a taste of it on Saturday. Jerami Grant played an increased role in the Orange’s win over Villanova, and he stepped up to the plate and performed well. Grant has a great basketball IQ, and I really have never felt uncomfortable seeing him out there. Grant is aggressive and does all the little things tremendously. He reminds me of CJ Fair when he was a freshman, where he contributes all the little things and fills up the stat sheet without anyone noticing until after the game is over.
Trevor Cooney played increased minutes as well, and Syracuse desperately need to get him shooting more consistently from three with the absence of Southerland. It was promising seeing him hit a couple late in the Villanova game, and the fact that his teammates continue to find him the ball even when he struggles tells me he’s more than capable of having a huge day from three.
These two players along with DaJuan Coleman are essential in Syracuse’s success going forward without James Southerland. These guys really stepped up in the second half when Brandon Triche was in foul trouble, and will give Jim Boeheim a lot of options for different lineups if these three guys continue to play well.
Syracuse has a full week of practice heading in to Louisville this weekend. Lets hope that this time off from games will either get James eligible or get the young guys ready for a big three day stretch against the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bearcats.