Improved versatility has benefited Syracuse

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Digna Strautmane edged her right sneaker to the foul line, bouncing the ball twice before coming up from her crouch. Syracuse was leading Virginia by three with 27 seconds left on Jan. 31 and it needed Strautmane’s second free throw to make it a two-possession game.Her shot was long, hitting the back rim and ricocheting toward the players surrounding the net. Had the Cavaliers corralled the rebound, they would’ve had a chance to tie the game. Instead, the ball landed in the hands of 5-foot-10 Gabrielle Cooper, who had fought her way through the swarm of UVA players and into the middle of the paint. Instead of tying it up, Virginia was again forced to foul Strautmane, who iced the game on her next shot.In addition to Cooper being a force on the boards and Strautmane being a key distributor, No. 17 Syracuse (20-7, 9-5 Atlantic Coast) features a number of players performing out-of-position roles. Along with Cooper, starting guards Miranda Drummond and Tiana Mangakahia serve as two of the team’s best rebounders. Besides Strautmane, Emily Engstler has led the improvement among SU’s frontcourt in playmaking and setting up teammates to score. It’s resulted in a significant jump, as Syracuse has vaulted into the top-10 in the nation in assists and risen 83 spots from its rebounding total a year prior.“With the post players, we try to work as hard as possible to be strong inside,” Strautmane said. “The guards are working on their own stuff. When we get together, they trust us that we were working on our positional (drills) … and we trust them that they’re gonna make shots.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAnna Henderson | Digital Design EditorTo improve their rebounding efforts, they use a drill called “world rebounder” where two teams of four players matchup in a half court setting. After a manager or coach shoots the ball, the defense’s job is to box out the outside players from getting an offensive rebound. Each time they successfully box out the offense, they earn a point. After rebounding the ball, they turn up court and make an outlet pass before the drill starts again.“We try to say, ‘you can’t get ‘em if you don’t go,’” Hillsman said. “The more you go, the more you’re gonna get.”Along with Strautmane, Syracuse’s most versatile player may be Engstler, who said “it’s more fun” to be able to handle the roles of multiple positions. The 6-foot-1 freshman plays power forward and usually checks into games for Strautmane, a starting forward. Despite her position, Engstler frequently handles the ball, a key to setting up Syracuse’s 3-point shooters on the perimeter.Fellow freshman Kadiatou Sissoko has also shown flashes of her playmaking ability, though not to the same extent as Engstler. The two of them have followed in the footsteps of Strautmane, who was second on the team in both rebounds and assists as a freshman last year.The Latvian handles her offensive duties differently than the rest of the squad, often making passes out of the post. She credits it to positional drills with assistant coach Adeniyi Amadou, who has worked with the SU forwards on their ability to make plays from the block.“Any time you have fours (power forwards) that are versatile, you have a chance to be good in the high-low game,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “Our four player needs to be very skilled, has to shoot it, pass it, dribble it and right now, we have a good group of players that can play that position.”By facilitating the offense, SU’s forwards have taken some of the offensive load off of Mangakahia, who led the country in assists last season. While her average assists are down almost 1.5 per game, her team has improved their total by nearly three since last year.It’s allowed Mangakahia to help her frontcourt with its rebounding, totaling 12 more boards this year in five fewer games. Along with Cooper and Drummond, Mangakahia and her fellow guards serve as three of the top four rebounders on the team.Syracuse is 3-5 in games in which it has been outrebounded and when its opponent has had more assists. Due to its improvement in both areas from players across the board, though, SU has rarely had to worry about being bested in either category.After finishing last season unranked, SU’s development has earned it a place in the top-25 all season. An emphasis on well-rounded players has marked a change in Syracuse’s philosophy as a whole, and so far, it’s been successful.“If you look at the top teams in the country, they’re all gonna have that kind of program,” Engstler said on Feb. 6. “I think when Syracuse started to develop that program is when they started to become one of the best teams in the country … it really puts this team into the rankings.” Published on February 27, 2019 at 10:11 pm Contact Eric: [email protected] | @esblack34center_img Commentslast_img