Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins knew what amounted to a nine-game interim coaching stint awaited him this season while Jim Boeheim sat out with an NCAA-mandated suspension.
He also is designated as Boeheim’s eventual successor, so there figures to be plenty of time to prowl the Orange’s sideline in the years to come.
Still, the appeal of Boeheim’s suspension last week only moved up his ban, and Hopkins learned just two days before Syracuse renewed its rivalry with Georgetown after a two-season hiatus that he – and not the Hall of Famer in his 40th season as a head coach – would coach the Orange for the next month.
“I’ve been preparing myself to be a head coach for 20 years, and that’s always what I wanted to be,” Hopkins said after Saturday’s 79-72 loss to the Hoyas. “I always visualize myself doing it. I was excited – I was really excited. To go out there first game ever [in] one of the greatest rivalries in college basketball and been part of so many games, it was kind of surreal.”
While the opening game probably wasn’t an ideal one for Hopkins, it might be best for Syracuse (6-2) to dispense with the suspension as quickly as possible. Boeheim was originally supposed to sit out the first nine ACC games, including games against Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia. Instead, he misses games against the likes of Colgate, Cornell, Montana State and Texas Southern.
But whether it is Hopkins (who played at Syracuse and spent the last two decades as a Boeheim assistant) or Boeheim running the team, the Orange deals with the same issues. Even moreso than its first two years in the ACC, Syracuse faces considerable depth questions and proved susceptible to foul problems against an especially aggressive Georgetown.
The Orange boasts a tested backcourt in Michael Gbinije (one of the early ACC player of the year contenders) and Trevor Cooney. Junior forward Tyler Roberson is an able rebounder and freshmen Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson have contributed early on. But the Orange rebound out of its 2-3 zone worse than its subpar historical norms, and is heavily reliant on outside shooting to keep it in games.
Syracuse’s perimeter shooting was fine in last month’s Battle 4 Atlantis, and it won the tournament. It shot 7 for 27 from 3-point range against Georgetown and struggled accordingly.
Boeheim will be back Jan. 9 when the Orange welcomes North Carolina to the Carrier Dome. Syracuse’s deficiencies aren’t easily resolved, but Boeheim’s absence provides something for his team to rally around in the interim.
“I don’t know if you saw, we had his seat empty next to us,” Hopkins said. “He’s always with us at the end of the day. He built us, built the program.”
Georgia Tech senior forward Charles Mitchell is averaging 14.5 points and an ACC-best 13.0 rebounds. Who are the only two Yellow Jackets to average a double-double for a full season during the program’s ACC era (1979-80 to present)?
BC adds insult to illness
Eight Boston College players developed a gastrointestinal illness this week, including starting center Dennis Clifford and freshman guard (and Raleigh native) Jerome Robinson. Making matters worse, the Eagles dropped their fifth in a row Sunday with a 68-66 loss to UMass Lowell.
Clifford did not play in that game, nor did Florida graduate transfer Eli Carter (ankle). A 3-0 start is a distant memory for Boston College, which must visit Providence (and its star point guard, Kris Dunn) on Wednesday and appears to have another bumpy year in store for it.
Sunday’s loss is just the latest random stumble for the Eagles since they last made the NCAA tournament in 2009. Over the last seven seasons they are 23-20 in games against New England schools, including losses to Harvard (five), Boston University, Bryant, Holy Cross, Maine, UMass Lowell and Yale.
The only two Georgia Tech players to average a double-double for a full seasons since the Yellow Jackets joined the ACC are Malcolm Mackey (15.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in 1990-91 and 15.6 points and 10.2 rebounds in 1992-93) and Alvin Jones (13.4 points and 10.4 rebounds in 2000-01).