Syracuse Basketball: 5 Quick Fixes to Save Season
Times are tough for Syracuse fans. The Orange, five weeks removed from an 18-1 record, are reeling when it matters most.
With Saturday's loss to Louisville, Syracuse has stumbled to three straight losses, surrendering its grip on a regular season conference title and a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Orange are just 4-6 since Jan. 21 and suddenly have the look of a one-and-done tourney team.
Consecutive home losses serve as salt in the wound of Syracuse fans. A team that previously won 38 straight contests at the Carrier Dome can't seem to solve its problems and Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim is running out of time to right the ship.
The team rounds out its final Big East regular season with a pair of games this week (vs. DePaul, at Georgetown). Here are some issues Syracuse must address if it hopes to survive into late March.
Get Michael Carter-Williams Back on Track
The dynamic point guard appeared to have the makings of a conference player of the year favorite through the first half of the season. After a scintillating start, Syracuse has seen its star sophomore's performance taper off a bit.
Carter-Williams, the Big East leader in assists and steals, hasn't been able to sustain consistency on the offensive end. His shooting woes coincide with the Syracuse slide.
He shot 4-of-17 in a loss at Villanova and 3-of-12 in the following game, a loss at UConn. While Otto Porter was busy pouring in 33 points and leading Georgetown to a streak-snapping victory at Syracuse, Carter-Williams mustered seven points.
Against Louisville on Saturday, he shot 3-of-10 from the floor and limited to six assists, two below his season average. His overall shooting percentage has dipped to 38 percent, down five percent from last year.
Carter-Williams could have helped Syracuse salvage some momentum with a win at home, but it required a superstar performance. The talented guard was unable to deliver.
It's a troubling trend that's crippling Syracuse late in the season.
Improve Offensive Play in the Post
C.J. Fair was the most effective Orange player on the court against Louisville. The 6'8" junior tallied 19 points on 9-of-20 shooting.
Fair is a formidable mid-range shooter but won't be mistaken for an interior bruiser any time soon. That's the element this Syracuse squad is desperately lacking.
Senior James Southerland, who averages 14 points, provides another 6'8" body but is most comfortable facing the basket along the perimeter.
Rakeem Christmas is the one regular member of Boeheim's rotation that could be considered a true post presence content to remain near the rim. His defensive contributions are crucial, but Christmas is not an adept offensive player.
Since February rolled around, Christmas is averaging slightly better than three points per contest. He scored at least 10 points in six of the team's first 16 games but has done that just once in the past 13 games.
Without an offensive intimidator inside, it's hard for the rest of a game plan to fall into place.
Knock Down the Long-Distance Shots
Syracuse is struggling from beyond the arc and the inconsistency is killing this team in tight games. The Orange are hovering around 30 percent three-point shooting in the past four losses, which is bad news for a squad that needs to play exceptionally well along the outside.
Senior Brandon Triche had another rough outing against Louisville, hitting 2-of-11 shots and coming up empty on each of his three attempts from three-point range. The guard's three-point shooting efficiency has plummeted to 17 percent since the start of February.
Carter-Williams connects on 29 percent of his three-point shots, a 10 percent decrease from last season.
Find Early Season Swagger
Syracuse defeated No. 1 Louisville and No. 22 Cincinnati in consecutive games to improve to 18-1 on Jan. 21. The Orange were 6-0 in league play.
That memory must seem like an object fading in the rear-view mirror on a foggy night for Syracuse fans.
The Orange followed the wins with back-to-back road losses and haven't regained footing since. The Orange have lost three straight games to ranked opponents and are struggling to put together a complete 40-minute effort.
The team earned its last three victories against conference opponents with a combined 17-29 Big East record (Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall).
Syracuse surged out to first place early, playing with confidence and composure. Boeheim's coaching staff and players must regain some of that attitude or this team faces early postseason elimination.
The Orange are limping toward the postseason and grasping for positives at this point. It's a disappointing way to finish off Syracuse's final stretch of Big East play after decades of success in the conference.
Regroup on the Road
For years, Syracuse could count on coming back to its home court and collecting wins on a consistent basis. That scenario isn't looking so sure these days and the Orange have struggled to overcome poor play on the road.
The team is 1-4 in its last five road games and finished the regular season Saturday at conference front-runner Georgetown. A Wednesday matchup with lowly DePaul is the final home contest for Syracuse, which must find a way to fight through adversity and salvage a gutsy win on the road.
If the Orange go down hard at Georgetown, it will be almost impossible to trust the team in a postseason tournament that sends its participants a long way from campus. A battle with the Hoyas is this program's final regular season matchup as a Big East member.
How the Orange cap off the conference rivalry will set the tone for postseason expectations.