Syracuse players walked onto the court for a Jan. 26 conference clash exuding confidence. The Orange were 18-1, unbeaten in the Big East and coming off consecutive wins over ranked opponents, including No. 1 Louisville.
A game versus struggling Villanova (three straight losses) seemed to represent just another stepping stone toward a dominant season.
Jim Boeheim's squad lost more than a matchup that Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center, home of the Wildcats and Philadelphia 76ers. Since suffering a 75-71 overtime defeat in Philly, Syracuse hasn't been the same team.
The Orange, then ranked No. 3 in the nation, are 4-5 in the last nine games. Monday night's loss at Marquette dropped them to 10-5 in conference play, two games back of first-place Georgetown in the loss column.
What's gone so wrong for the Orange? Let's attempt to uncover some of Syracuse's key concerns with an analysis of the recent slide.
Syracuse is shooting just 19-of-72 (26 percent) from three-point territory in the team's last three losses. The Orange are a middle of the pack three-point threat this season, but the efforts from outside have bottomed out this month.
Senior guard Brandon Triche is particularly struggling. The New York native has connected on just 8-of-43 three-point attempts in February.
His three-point shooting percentage has dipped considerably from last season—from 35 percent to 30 percent—the lowest mark of his four-year career in an Orange uniform.
Outside of junior C.J. Fair, who is hitting 42 percent from outside the arc, there is plenty of blame to go around. Syracuse isn't stout enough inside to survive March without quality perimeter point production.
Fab Melo anchored the Orange interior last season. The seven-footer provided Syracuse with a defensive foundation in the paint and, despite his offensive rawness, a scoring presence around the rim.
Melo is now suiting up for the Boston Celtics, while Syracuse is still struggling to fill the void left behind. Rakeem Christmas, a 6'9" sophomore, swipes away two shots per game but only pulls down five rebounds and averages less than five shot attempts.
C.J. Fair is 6'8", but better equipped to perform away from the paint. He's flourished in his role this season, so don't expect to see it change.
Freshman DaJuan Coleman is an intriguing prospect and could be the best hope for the Orange to develop an interior force. The 6'9" center is shooting just 44 percent from the floor but has shown signs of becoming a reliable, gritty post player.
Unfortunately for the Orange, he remains sidelined due to a knee procedure.
Carter-Williams soared to the top of the Conference Player of the Year candidate list with a strong start, but the sophomore point guard has cooled off considerably as Syracuse has slumped.
Don't kid yourself by thinking the two developments aren't directly correlated.
Carter-Williams still leads the Big East in assists, but a series of poor offensive shooting performances has lowered his field-goal efficiency to 38 percent. He was 4-of-17 in the loss at Villanova. He followed that game with a 3-of-12 effort at Connecticut.
The highly-regarded NBA prospect managed just seven points on 2-of-6 shooting in Saturday's disheartening loss to Georgetown. The Hoyas snapped Syracuse's nation-best home win streak in the process.
Those clunkers have contributed to team's descent from the Big East perch. Carter-Williams had an uncharacteristically clumsy performance against Marquette, nearly matching his assist (five) and turnover (four) totals.
The Orange are 1-4 away from home since taking down top-ranked Louisville on the road in a Jan. 19 thriller. Aside from a win at struggling Seton Hall (3-13 in Big East), Syracuse has dropped games in succession at Villanova, Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Marquette.
Boeheim's bunch was in sole possession of first place in the Big East before stumbling through the slate of road tests. The Orange are now tied for fourth in conference standings, just a game ahead of Villanova, Pittsburgh and UConn.
Syracuse closes out its final regular season game in the Big East with a trip to Georgetown. The Hoyas, who are currently alone atop the conference race, can deal a big blow to its longtime rival by holding home court.