Saturday's 71-75 loss in Philadelphia against Villanova showed some of the weaknesses that the Syracuse Orange need to address. Syracuse had trouble making open shots and seriously struggled on the boards. Villanova was able to pull down 47 rebounds, 17 of which were offensive boards.
Throughout the matchup Villanova was able to get numerous second chance opportunities, none more important than Mouphtaou Yarou's offensive rebound and kick out to Ryan Arcidiacono for the game-tying three to force overtime.
Syracuse (18-2) has shown signs of brilliance this year with stingy defense and some big road wins. However, even in some of their victories, Cuse has shown some flaws that are pulling them back from greatness.
If the Orange want to make a run come tournament time, there are some areas of their game which will need to be improved and some things that need to happen. Here are some things that will help Syracuse:
Michael Carter-Williams is the key to this Orange squad. As one of the best passers in the country, he can make some huge plays for Syracuse. However, Carter-Williams has really struggled with turning the ball over thus far.
To this point Carter-Williams is dishing out 8.9 assists per game, the most in the NCAA. At the same time however, he is No. 14 in the country in turnovers, giving up the rock 77 times so far. This leaves the sophomore guard with an assist to turnover ratio of 2.31.
For Syracuse to improve there is no question that "MCW" must take better care of the ball. In their 70-68 marquee road win over the Louisville Cardinals, who were No. 1 at the time, Carter-Williams had one of his worst games of the year handling the ball. He had eight turnovers in the game, including five in the first half alone.
Luckily for the Orange, the young floor general redeemed himself late in the second half against the Cardinals. He finished with an emphatic dunk after stealing the ball from Louisville's Peyton Siva, which would end up being the game-winning bucket.
Carter-Williams also had a tough game in Syracuse's recent loss at Villanova. He turned the ball over five times and finished with just four assists.
He will need to be much more careful handling the point for the Orange from here on out. It is important for Carter-Williams to continue making brilliant passes, but even more important for him to handle the ball with care.
Many Syracuse fans were thrilled when the Orange signed DaJuan Coleman, a five-star center from Jamesville-DeWitt High School, in the off-season. He was ranked at No. 14 on ESPN 100, the sixth highest rated center. Unfortunately, Coleman is having a difficult time contributing at all in Big East play.
In conference play Coleman is averaging just 1.7 points and 0.9 rebounds while only playing 7.9 minutes per game, despite starting every game for Syracuse this season. It seems as though Jim Boeheim is taking a similar approach with him as he did with Fab Melo—limiting his playing time.
Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas have received more playing time than Coleman, but offensively have not made much of an impact. Keita is not known for his offense, but has managed to make over 68 percent of his shots despite scoring just 3.7 points per contest. He also is averaging 1.2 blocks in just 14.4 minutes per game.
Another big recruit for Syracuse was Christmas back in 2011. He too was a five-star center and was a part of both the McDonald's High School All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic Game. Christmas was the next best rated center in the 2011 class after Andre Drummond, according to ESPN.
Christmas is blocking two shots a game for the Orange, but is not touching the ball often enough on offense. On the offensive end, Syracuse should try to feed Christmas more often. Defensively the big men for Cuse are getting the job done, but for the Orange to be more effective they need to incorporate Christmas, Coleman and Keita into the offense more.
One of the biggest weaknesses for Syracuse this season has been free-throw shooting. As a team Syracuse is No. 239 in the entire country in free-throw percentage, making over 66 percent of their attempts. That is just a horrific figure for Syracuse and their missed foul shots have played a huge role in the two losses on the season for the Orange.
In their 79-83 loss to the Temple Owls, Syracuse made just 19 of their 34 foul shots. Again this past weekend the Orange struggled from the line, missing 11 of their free-throw attempts in their road loss to Villanova. It is clear that free-throw shooting is one thing that is holding the Orange back.
Surprisingly, forward C.J. Fair leads the team with an 82.7 free-throw percentage. On the other hand, guards Brandon Triche and Carter-Williams have struggled from the line. Triche is making 72.8 percent of his foul shots, while "MCW" is hitting just 70.7 percent of his attempts.
As the senior leader of this team, Triche needs to start hitting his foul shots. He has not shot this poorly from the line since his freshman season. Even more important is that Carter-Williams makes more of his free-throw attempts. Carter-Williams is the primary ball handler on this team and has attempted more free-throws (99) than any other Orange player. He must improve his shooting from the stripe to close out games for Syracuse.
There is no question that the absence of James Southerland hurts Syracuse. Southerland not only gives the Orange senior leadership, but he is also one of the deadliest outside shooters in the country. He also filled the role of sixth-man for the Orange, something that Dion Waiters did effectively for them last season.
Southerland was suspended indefinitely due to academic issues on January 12. This coming the season after former Syracuse big man Fab Melo was also academically ineligible, missing the NCAA tournament. Saturday's loss to Villanova was their first loss without Southerland in the lineup this season.
Before his suspension, Southerland was doing it all for the Orange. He is averaging 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals and one block per game coming off the bench. In their 91-82 win over Arkansas earlier this season, Southerland dropped 35 points, including nine three-pointers.
Freshman Jerami Grant has done a great job filling in for the senior sharp shooter. His playing time has increased heavily since Southerland's suspension and he has scored in double figures three out of those four games. However, it is difficult to replace a deadly weapon like Southerland.
In an interview with Mike Waters of the Post-Standard, Boeheim hinted that he believed Southerland could be back with the team before the end of the season. For Syracuse, the addition of James Southerland could be the difference to a deep tournament run.
Syracuse has not been shooting the ball at their best this season. They currently are sitting at No. 88 in field goal percentage in the NCAA, making just over 45 percent of their shots. Though it is not a horrible number, it is something Syracuse can improve on.
On numerous occasions this season, the Orange have had possessions where they simply are taking ugly, forced shots. Syracuse is at its best when they can run the floor for the easy finish. They are also much more effective finding the open man and moving the ball, rather than forcing a quick, contested shot.
The Orange should attack the paint as much as they can. C.J. Fair is having a fantastic year for the Orange. He is averaging 13.4 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds, while shooting over 47 percent. As mentioned earlier, he is also hitting his foul shots. Syracuse should look Fair's way early and often to get good, clean shots.
While Carter-Williams has been fascinating to watch as one of the nation's elite guards, he must improve his shooting. He is shooting 36.5 percent from the floor and just 28 percent from three-point land. Trevor Cooney must also improve his shot, as he is hitting just under 34 percent of his attempts, including only slightly over 29 percent from outside.
For Syracuse to grow stronger and make a run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, they must take better shots. It starts with Carter-Williams learning when to shoot and when not to.
They also should feed their big men, especially Fair, much more to get high quality shots. If the Orange can make some adjustments and improve these certain aspects of their game, they have a chance to go deep in the tournament.