With Syracuse in the midst of Big East play—and struggling—there are some questions facing this team. They are 5-3 within the conference, which is enough for sixth place, but have dropped major games against Georgetown, Louisville, and Pittsburgh.
Can this team contend for the Big East title? What will it take to turn this streak around?
So I asked myself, what 10 things must be addressed if this team wants to make a deep run, not only in the Big East, but in the NCAA tournament as well?
Here is my list of what I think will help turn this team around:
Can the Orange out-rebound other teams, especially offensively?
Louisville was not overly dominating in their win, but their offensive boards were enough to help make a difference.
Can Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku be as dominant against other Big East teams as they were against Notre Dame?
They combined for 33 points, 18 rebounds, and seven blocks, and their play was so dominant that Luke Harangody only went 9-for-28. The Big East is full of physical big men, and Jackson and AO will have to be just as good and physical as they were then.
Does Jonny Flynn have to dominate the game for Syracuse to win?
I say no, but he does have to announce his presence with authority. At his best, he is one of the top point guards in the country, but a great point guard is about more than scoring; it’s about being the leader on the court.
Flynn has had a bad game or two, but he is still talented enough to carry this team in many ways when possible.
Can Andy Rautins, when healthy, continue to be a three-point machine?
It was revealed that Rautins suffered a severely sprained ankle in the Louisville game and will miss the Providence matchup Wednesday night. Hopefully he can continue to be the outside spark plug this team needs in the long haul and remain healthy.
Can Syracuse play better defense—especially when the baskets aren't falling?
They shot 35 percent from the field against Louisville and will need to do better than that because the only thing that prevented this from being a worse blowout was that Louisville only hit for 38 percent.
Like I pointed out with Jackson and AO, when they have a defensive presence, this team is in more games than they are out.
Can Paul Harris be better than a couple technical fouls and Coach Jim Boeheim’s whipping boy?
Paul has tremendous talent, but he has to be mentally better on the court and avoid hanging on the rim after dunks to get back in his coach’s favor.
Can Syracuse win on the road and also dominate more at home?
They have two road losses and two home losses—and definitely have to play better at home. Maybe the Orange-Out planned for the Feb. 14 game against Georgetown will be the support they need to win.
Do the referees hate Syracuse University?
If you ask the fanbase, they sure do—especially a couple who will remain nameless for this piece. There were some really bad calls—like Eric Devendorf’s offensive foul late in the game against Louisville when the game could still go either way. Every team gets bad calls, but that’s why you can’t make it come down to one or two deciding plays.
Will Arinze Onuaku start hitting free throws?
AO has one of the best field goal percentages in the league, but it’s hard to rely on him if you know defenders will look to foul him and make him go to the line, where he is not one of the best.
He has got to improve or teams will look more to “hack” him and make him earn his points. He is too good of a player for them to look away from him, so he has got to figure out what is going on and fix it soon.
How deep can this team go in the Big East regular season, conference tournament, and the NCAA tournament?
If this team wants to be more than one game and gone, they will have to address those issues now and avoid a downfall that could hurt this team’s morale.
This team is at its best when it has a little swagger and all of the above are functioning.
We will see how they do when they face Providence, West Virginia, Villanova, and Connecticut before the redemption game against Georgetown. It’s not too late, but these issues must be addressed now.