The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is in a tailspin.
After starting the season 18-1, the No. 12 Orange have lost five of their last nine, with No. 10 Louisville and No. 7 Georgetown looming.
Even DePaul (11-17, 2-13 Big East), which will play the last Big East game ever in the Carrier Dome on March 3, could be licking its chops.
That’s a far drop for a team that had, and may still have, Final Four aspirations.
Syracuse (22-6, 10-5), after leading the Big East standings for most of the season, finds itself two games behind Georgetown with three games to go and would need to beat Louisville and DePaul and hope for a loss out of Georgetown and Marquette just to have a shot at tying for the league title.
So what’s happened to this hyped squad of pre-NBA talent?
It starts with the zone defense that has been a trademark for Syracuse for the duration of coach Jim Boeheim’s tenure. Up to and including parts of this season, the zone has been an impregnable force, only exploited on occasion by coaches who studied it and were heady enough to exploit it, such as Connecticut’s former head coach, Jim Calhoun.
The biggest problem that arises in the zone is lapses in positioning. The zone is a cohesive unit and when one player is out of position, the whole unit breaks down. In the loss to Marquette on Monday night, Rakeem Christmas and James Southerland were both guilty of positioning problems, allowing for slashers to get running shots at will.
This is just one problem. Others have arisen that need to be fixed before the conference tournament or Syracuse, once a lock for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, could find itself with a No. 5 or No. 6 seed, making tournament play much more difficult.
Let’s take a look at what Syracuse has to prove it can accomplish before the Big East tournament.