Syracuse Basketball: 10 Things We Learned from the Loss to UConn
The Syracuse Orange may be glad that their yearly matchups with the Connecticut Huskies are over for now. In the final meeting between the two teams as members of the Big East, UConn shocked 'Cuse in a 66-58 upset victory.
Syracuse never rebounded from a poor first half and watched the Huskies pull away at the end of the game to secure the victory. The Orange played an overall poor game, but they especially struggled from behind the arc, where they shot a miserable 17.4 percent.
UConn was led by its backcourt of Omar Calhoun, Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. The trio combined for 42 total points.
'Cuse falls 20-4 on the season and drops into a three-way tie with Marquette and Georgetown for first place in the Big East with a conference record of 8-3.
This is not the way that head coach Jim Boeheim and his team hoped to head into the stretch run to close out the year. Moving on, there are several things that must be fixed in order for this team to have a shot at a national title.
Though many things in the game against Connecticut were negative for the Orange, there did happen to be a few positives as well.
Let's take a look at 10 things we learned about Syracuse in the defeat at UConn.
1. Poor Shooting is Still a Problem
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Syracuse has been plagued by poor shooting all season. Entering the game at UConn, the Orange ranked 85th in the nation, shooting just 45.3 percent from the floor for the season. That trend reared its ugly head on Wednesday night.
The Orange shot just 33.3 percent in the first half and finished shooting just 35.4 percent for the game.
Senior guard Brandon Triche, the team's leading scorer heading into the game, shot just one of six from the floor in the first half and finished 3-of-15, including 0-of-7 from behind the arc.
C.J. Fair, the second-leading scorer on the team, shot five of 12 from the floor and had 10 points.
Syracuse has been able to overcome poor shooting performances this season, however, that wasn't the case in Connecticut. The Orange have to begin to shoot the ball better from the floor as the regular season winds down.
2. 'Cuse is too "Three-Happy"
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It's no secret that Syracuse has not been good from three-point land this season. Entering the game against the Huskies, the Orange were tied for 219th in the country in three-point percentage, shooting just 32.8 percent on the year.
Though the numbers are not good, that didn't stop Syracuse from firing up shot after shot from long range at Connecticut. The Orange started the game going 2-of-10 from behind the arc in the first half, and things didn't get much better after that.
For the game, they fired up 23 three-pointers, connecting on just four of them. It's easy to get greedy and think the shots will start falling, but sometimes, that's just not the case.
Syracuse wasted many possessions against the Huskies by just putting it up from long distance, instead of taking advantage of the height advantage down low and driving the lane.
3. A Size Advantage Doesn't Translate into Rebounds
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Despite having a big advantage down low and being one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, the Orange struggled and were outworked on the glass. All three Orange frontcourt starters stand at 6'8" and Baye Keita comes off the bench at 6'10".
Instead of dominating the boards as expected, Syracuse really struggled and got outrebounded 35-34 by the Huskies. Sure, it was only by one, but looking at pure numbers, this one should have been a big advantage for 'Cuse.
Freshman Jerami Grant, who now starts due to an injury to DaJuan Coleman, led the Orange with nine rebounds. Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair each added five boards apiece.
Syracuse was ranked 12th, averaging 40.3 rebounds a game. UConn, on the other hand, entered the matchup ranked 268th in rebounding.
4. The Middle of the Zone is Soft
UConn's small lineup exposed a weakness in the middle of Syracuse's zone. While the length of the Orange created a mismatch for Connecticut's bigs, the Huskies found a way around that.
The quickness of the three guards of UConn, especially Shabazz Napier, caused trouble for the Orange. The Huskies were able to drive past the top of the zone and then pass to find a hole in the middle. That strategy led to several wide-open opportunities down low.
There were also a few instances where the 'Cuse frontcourt allowed someone to get behind it for an easy alley-oop. Watch Ryan Boatright sneak behind the Orange defense in the video above for an easy dunk.
This could set a blueprint for teams who play Syracuse in the tournament. So much is made about the length of the Orange, especially down low. However, head coach Jim Boeheim needs to find a way to shore up the center of his zone, especially when matched up with a small, quick team like Connecticut.
5. A Slow Start Once Again Doomed the Orange
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This one can't be blamed on start time. Syracuse got off to poor starts in its previous two losses at Villanova and Pittsburgh. Both of those games were early afternoon games. Wednesday's matchup at Connecticut tipped in prime time, meaning the Orange should have been ready to play.
Syracuse struggled out of the gate, looking lethargic and making careless mistakes. The Orange scored just 24 points in first half and shot a measly 33 percent from the floor. They found themselves down five heading to the break.
James Southerland led the Orange in scoring during the first half with six points.
Starting slow on the road, especially in the Big East is always a recipe for disaster. Wednesday night was no different. The XL Center crowd was rocking, especially when the Huskies made the final five points of the first half, including a three by Ryan Boatright in the final seconds.
The Orange need to learn from this loss and come out ready to play at the start of every game if they hope to have any success come tournament time.
6. James Southerland Still Needs Time to Regain his Touch
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James Southerland played in just his second game back after missing six due to an academic issue. Against the Huskies, he finished with 14 points, two steals and two rebounds. While the points are right with his season average, he still didn't seem like the player he was before the suspension.
Southerland did provide 25 solid minutes off the bench, something that will be key for the Orange moving forward. While he was out, Syracuse was forced to play a few games with just seven guys in the rotation.
On Wednesday night, the senior forward had some bright spots, but also showed he has some room for improvement.
Southerland fired up nine attempts from behind the three-point line, hitting on four of them. He made just one other basket from the field and was a non-factor in the rebounding department.
There's no question that Syracuse is a better team when Southerland is in the lineup. However, Wednesday's game proved that he still has some rust that needs to be shaken off before returning to his true form.
7. Michael Carter- Williams Needs to Play Less Sloppy
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Despite scoring 15 points, Michael Carter-Williams did not have a solid game. The nation's assist leader had just one against the Huskies and also committed four turnovers.
Carter-Williams, arguably the best player and the Orange's leader on offense, really struggled on Wednesday night. He didn't look comfortable and never found his shot. He finished the game shooting just 46 percent from the floor.
The big concern for the Orange in this one was why their playmaker was unable to make anything happen on offense. Usually the best passer in the nation, and perhaps, the best point guard, Carter-Williams seemed to be unfocused in this one.
Hopefully for 'Cuse, this was just an all-around bad game for everyone, and Carter-Williams and his teammates will bounce back in the upcoming games.
8. The Three Ball Beats a Lazy Zone
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Syracuse just looked lazy at times in this one. Guys seemed to lack energy and were caught walking back to the defensive side. Connecticut took full advantage of this, especially with the game on the line in the second half.
While the 2-3 zone is a great way to disrupt the flow of an offense, it also has its flaws—namely, covering the outside shot. It works if the guys covering the perimeter are able to get out and put a hand in the face of the shooter.
That didn't happen against the Huskies.
With the Orange leading 40-39 midway through the second half, the Huskies got hot from behind the arc. Niels Giffey and Omar Calhoun hit back-to-back threes to give UConn the lead. Just four minutes later, Calhoun connected on back-to-back threes that all but put the game away.
9. Syracuse's Ability to Create Turnovers Is a Positive
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Wednesday's loss to the Huskies wasn't all bad for the Orange. Though the entire Syracuse team really struggled, the game was still rather close at the end. That can be attributed to the team forcing 18 UConn turnovers.
Despite mental lapses on defenses that allowed shooter to get open all night, the 2-3 zone did present several challenges to the Connecticut offense. Eleven of the 18 UConn turnovers came on steals. Michael Carter-Williams led in that department with four for the Orange.
Syracuse was able to force several bad passes as well as create traps that led to turnovers.
Though there's not much good that can be taken from a loss like this, Jim Boeheim has to be pleased with how his team got after the ball on defense and tried to stay in the game by creating the turnovers.
10. Foul Shooting is Still a Problem
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In what has been a common theme throughout the season, the Syracuse Orange struggled from the foul line in this game. Things seemed to be looking up in their last game, a 77-58 victory over St. John's, when Syracuse shot 70 percent from the line.
However, the positive feelings didn't last long.
Against the Huskies, the Orange shot 57.1 percent from the charity stripe. When the game was hanging in the balance,Syracuse converted on just four out of eight free-throw attempts in the final seven minutes.
Brandon Triche took the most attempts from the line for the Orange, but made only three out of the six shots he took.
Foul shooting is something that really needs to be addressed with this team moving forward. It's not crazy to think that a closely contested tournament game could come down to free throws.