Syracuse Basketball: 5-Step Plan to Peaking Before the NCAA Tournament
On January 26 the No. 3-ranked Syracuse Orange were 18-1 and preparing to play the unranked Villanova Wildcats.
Since then the Orange are 4-5 and, after losing tonight to Marquette, will drop in the rankings again. It's been a rough month.
The good news, however, is you don't have to play your best in January and February since it's called "March" Madness. It's how you play that month that determines how far you go in the tournament. If you can win five in a row, then you get the chance to play on a Monday in April for the chance to have "One Shining Moment."
So don't worry about January and February.
Can Syracuse do well in March? Is it possible for them to be playing Monday, April 8 in Atlanta for the championship?
Yes. And here's the sure-fire 5-step plan for getting there.
Step 1. Get Brandon Triche Back on Track
Triche has picture-perfect shooting form. Just look at it... go ahead, I'll wait.
So, why can't he make a basket lately?
In the last nine games... Orange are 4-5... Brandon is 11-of-51 from three-point range. That's a paltry 21.5 percent. In his first three seasons he hit 124-of-350 three-point attempts for 35.4 percent.
Shooting is a funny, frustrating and fickle thing. A few misses can lead to a few more misses. Brandon's form is still perfect. It's his head that's messing him up.
Triche is extremely hard on himself. When he struggles it gets in his head and he struggles some more.That's why he's shooting so poorly the last nine games. He wants so badly to make shots that he puts more pressure on himself with each miss. It takes a minor glitch in that picture-perfect form to throw it off a millimeter and the ball clanks off the rim.
In the past, he would simply let others shoot. That was fine when he had Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, Kris Joseph, Fab Melo and Dion Waiters to defer to.
This year Brandon realizes he needs to score in order for the Orange to be successful. He's done a good job of continuing to be aggressive and look for his shot, but he hasn't done a better job lately of making shots.
How does he get back on track?
Triche needs to keep shooting, first of all. He does need to be selective taking three's. Brandon needs to continue to be aggressive in putting the ball on the floor and try to get easier looks or end up on the free-throw line.
If he fights through it, he can turn it around.
Step 2. Steady Michael Carter-Williams
Teams that go far in March do it on the strength of good point guard play.
Michael Carter-Williams has spent the majority of this season considered the top point guard in the country and a certain Top-10 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Now? Not so much.
While Michael has averaged 2.3 assists for every turnover this season, that has dropped to 1.8 assists for every turnover during the Orange's 4-5 streak the last month. There's no question that he has struggled with his decision making which has led him to turn the ball over more.
Syracuse's struggles shooting the ball have been well documented. Carter-Williams' inefficiency at the point has contributed to those struggles in the half court offense. He has to orchestrate the flow of the offense and make sure there's good ball movement. That hasn't been happening.
In an effort to help the recent shooting woes, Michael has also demonstrated some questionable shot selection. While he clearly took far fewer shots last year, he did hit 39 percent of his 3-point attempts compared to only 28 percent this season.
So how does Jim Boeheim and the staff steady Carter-Williams?
He needs to slow down a little and make good decisions. Rather than settle for 3-point shots, he needs to penetrate and either take it to the rim, find someone on the block for a lay-up or kick it out to give the shooters more room.
Step 3. Make Shots
It sounds so simple.
If only it were so simple. Perhaps the Orange should spend more time practicing against its own zone. After seeing how much trouble Syracuse had with the Georgetown 2-3 zone, the Orange can expect to see it played against them the rest of the season.
We talked earlier about how important it is for Brandon Triche to make shots. He has to make enough to keep defenses honest, which will allow James Southerland more room to shoot. Those two are the team's shooters and have to keep shooting, although they do have to be aware of shooting too early in the shot clock from four to five feet behind the 3-point line.
That would be directed mostly at James. A couple times he's pulled the trigger from just barely over half court.
Trevor Cooney made a three tonight against Marquette, but hasn't hit enough of them to give Southerland and Triche the help they need. He needs to let the game slow down and let it come to him.
It will help the outside shooting if Carter-Williams and Triche do a better job of penetrating and then kicking the ball out.
Step 4. Increase the Inside Scoring
One of the reasons the Orange has struggled with their outside shooting is because they aren't getting enough inside scoring. The defense extends and contests everything outside because Syracuse just hasn't shown they can do much damage inside.
C.J. Fair has been outstanding and has shown an uncanny ability to find spots on the floor and make some shots, but he needs help underneath.
Rakeem Christmas just hasn't produced the statistics one would expect from a player with his pedigree and physical skills. He's hitting 55.7 percent of his shot attempts but only averaging 5.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
He has to play tougher and with more intensity. Christmas just hasn't demonstrated the tenacity expected of a McDonald's All-American. I don't have the answer, it'll be up to Coach Boeheim and assistant Adrian Autry to find it.
DaJuan Coleman has been cleared to play and hopefully will see some action Saturday against Louisville. Coleman is also a McDonald's All-American who won three state championships in high school and needs to do better than five points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Coleman just needs minutes and time to adjust to the college game. He has a huge body and a nice shooting touch and should combine with Christmas to form a productive center tandem.
Jerami Grant has shown flashes of excellence this season but is struggling a bit with fewer minutes since the return of James Southerland. He has to somehow find that confidence he had with more minutes.
Baye Moussa Keita shocked everyone with seven points tonight. He averages only 3.1 points per game and is a defensive, rebounding center.
Step 5. Establish the Rotation
The rotation has been disrupted for a good portion of this season. First Southerland's suspension and then Coleman's injury.
Southerland is back and Coleman should be back against Louisville this Saturday. With all the pieces back, it will be important to re-establish a rotation so everyone knows their role.
Jerami Grant is still starting but seeing very few minutes, a sharp contrast to when he played all 40 minutes in back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. He has to find that confidence and production that he had when he played more minutes. In a sense, he can play harder and looser since he doesn't have to worry about getting into foul trouble.
Coleman has to get back into game shape and get his feel for the game back before the tournament. The only way for him to do that is to get game action. Then he needs to let the game come to him and remember how much bigger he is than most of the guys he plays against and dominate like he did at Jamesville-DeWitt.