The Syracuse Orange took one on the chin from the Temple Owls in the featured game of the Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon.
The self-proclaimed “New York’s College Team” was taught a lesson by a team that might not even be the best team in Philadelphia. Temple (9-2), coming off of a 10-point-loss at home to Canisius, looked to redeem itself against the third-ranked Orange and did so with smart play, work on the boards and a little help from a poor-shooting Syracuse.
Reading between the lines tells the story, or rather, behind the lines.
The three-point and free-throw lines.
Syracuse (10-1) shot a terrible 19-of-34 from the charity stripe and an even more abysmal 2-of-12 from behind the three-point line. These numbers by themselves were not the only factors in the 83-79 loss, but they could be a blueprint for teams to attack the Orange down the road.
If the Orange didn’t have Alcorn State on the schedule as its next opponent, then the excuse could have been that the players were looking ahead. The reality is that since the second half of the eked-out win against Detroit, Syracuse has played three sub-par halves of basketball. Now Syracuse is left to pick up the pieces and build off of this loss, but where to begin…
The Temple loss was a perfect storm of a well-coached game plan met by an uninspired effort. The Orange can build, but it needs to first figure out what went wrong before it can start the healing.
Well, it’s time to let the healing begin. Here are some key areas Syracuse will need to address to turn this loss into a positive.
Syracuse is one of the longest teams in the country and it is the fifth-highest rebounding team in the NCAA with 44.2 per game. What needs to be remembered is that Syracuse has been significantly taller than every team it has played this year. Length alone won’t give the Orange the edge as it has against inferior talent, or even not-so inferior talent, as Temple proved.
Syracuse only out-rebounded Temple 39-38. This happened because of positioning and aggression. Rebounding can be as mental as it is physical. If the tandem of Christmas, Coleman and Keita is going to prosper, some soul searching is going to have to happen over the break.
The frustrating thing is that sometimes they seem to have the tenacity needed to control the boards, but other times, like in the Temple game, the fire gets a little dimmer. Perhaps it’s hard to get up for games against teams they know their supposed to beat, but here’s a news flash: big men, you just got beat. No victory is assured and if you don’t toughen up on the boards, this could be a disappointing season.
Toughness isn't something a man can just learn, it has to be built. Syracuse needs to hold out hope that these young men are tougher than they appear to be at times.
We should know more after the break, but if I were Coach Boeheim, I’d have my bigs on a steady diet of raw beef and gunpowder, just to angry up the blood a little bit.
Making fun of Syracuse free-throw shooting has been going on for so long, it’s become cliché. Free-throw shooting at the end of the Detroit game is the only thing that stopped Syracuse from being 9-2 instead of 10-1. So it’s not all doom and gloom, but it needs to improve, especially from the bigs.
This can be cleaned up, but again, it’s a mental thing. Gerry McNamara, who is now on the Syracuse coaching staff, was an excellent free-throw shooter. Heck, coaches Boeheim, Adrian Autry and Mike Hopkins were all decent free-throw shooters in their respective days. Something is not translating from coach to student. Maybe the departure of Bernie Fine has affected the staff’s ability to get through to the front courters.
I'd be happy if someone could just get DaJuan Coleman's guide hand (pictured) on the side of the ball instead of on top of it. Could someone please make this happen?
Whatever it is, it needs some tweaking. Syracuse can overcome some guys shooting poorly from the line, but not all. It will be up to Michael Carter-Williams to get the ball into the hands of the shooters at opportune times. While he is the team’s ball handler, he was one of the worst offenders at the line, missing eight shots. Unacceptable for a player of his caliber.
Speaking of MCW…
Michael Carter-Williams has taken the opportunity he’s been given to run the point like few Syracuse point guards, save for Sherman Douglas and a few others.
He leads the nation in assists with 10.3 per game. And he’s third in the nation in steals with 3.4 per game. He’s an excellent passer with great court vision, but he does seem to suffer a little bit of Jay Cutler-itis.
He’s got such wonderful gifts as a passer that he believes he can get the ball exactly where it has to be, but his forcefulness has led to him being one of the leaders in turnovers in the nation with 3.7 per game.
During the Temple game, ESPN’s Doris Burke astutely pointed out that Syracuse fans can live with the high turnovers because the assist-to-turnover ratio is so high. I believe she’s right, but sloppy play finds a way into Carter-Williams’ hands at a much higher percentage of time than the coaching staff would like.
MCW is only a sophomore, but a highly regarded one with NBA aspirations. He’s a good ball-handler, but not a great one and he’s not a very good shooter. If he’s going to lead this Syracuse team deep in the tournament, he’s got to take better shots and he’s got to shave off some of those turnovers.
This is all nitpicking, but he’s got the talent to be one of the great ones. He’s just not there yet. This is what coach Fran Dunphy saw in his preparation for Syracuse. He committed his players to denying other Syracuse players the ball and forced Carter-Williams to shoot. Well, MCW obliged the Owls with an awful 3-of-17 shooting performance.
Had Carter-Williams made more of his shots, this coaching effort would have gone to waste, but it worked. Carter-Williams’ shots looked flat, he front-ended the rim and his tired legs had no pop in them to put a little more arc in the ball.
This should be a fluke, but it should also serve as a shot across the bow to Syracuse that teams will mimic this style. It’s up to Carter-Williams how he will rise to the occasion.
When Syracuse went to a press in the second half, it appeared that Temple was ready to receive. Long pass after long pass made its way over the outstretched Orange arms to an Owl on the other side of the half-court line. The problem is that Syracuse actually had a man back to defend those passes. He was just too far back.
These weren’t Hill to Laettner passes, they were lobs , easily pick-sixable. This can get fixed in practice, but more alarming was the positioning against the three-point shot.
Syracuse has prided itself as being an excellent defender against three-point shooting teams. Something in that 2-3 zone didn’t click and guys were out of position all afternoon. This wasn’t from the traditional inside-out passing that is the key to playing the zone, but from moving the ball around the horn and still catching guys off guard and getting off open looks at the three.
It’s been a long time since a criticism could be made in the execution of Coach Boeheim’s vaunted system. This is likely an anomaly. They know better and I can guarantee positioning will be addressed in practice.
Brandon Triche drives
Michael Carter-Williams may be the blue chipper on this squad, but Brandon Triche is the team leader. Orange fans would love to see him put this team on his back. The problem, at times, is that he seems OK with letting other players take that lead in the clutch.
He’s been on this team long enough to grab the bull by the horns and ball hog it a little bit. This isn’t last year’s team and there’s no Dion Waiters coming off the bench to bail the Orange out. Syracuse needs Brandon’s guidance.
He scored some points against Temple, but it should have been him driving the lane at the end of that game and getting to the free-throw line. In the entire game, he only had four attempts from the free-throw line. MCW had 15 looks from the charity stripe and his misses were a huge factor in stalling the Orange comeback.
It’s almost as if this team shared too much last year and no one wants to be the one to take the reins. I say it’s Brandon’s time. For anyone who has watched Triche’s career, there’s nary a soul who’s been yelled at more by Jim Boeheim on the sideline. He’s earned that leadership. He just needs to do it already.