With an uninspiring win over perennial bottom-feeder DePaul followed up by an embarrassing rout at the hands of the Georgetown Hoyas, Syracuse stumbled across the finish line in its final Big East regular season games. Despite splitting the two games last week, the victory against the Blue Demons rang hollow when compared to the debacle that was the Georgetown game.
The Orange have lost four of their last five contests and are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Hardly the sign of a team poised to make a postseason run.
Syracuse is quickly running out of time to regain any semblance of the team that started the season 18-1 and 6-0 in Big East play, beat then-ranked No. 1 Louisville on the road and survived without senior sharp shooter James Southerland for six games due to an eligibility issue.
Syracuse (23-8, 11-7 Big East) is in a much different spot as it enters the Big East Tournament this year as opposed to last year when it knew a No. 1 seed was all but guaranteed in the NCAA Tournament.
Let’s take a look back at the week that was.
Rakeem Christmas: The man in the middle of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone scored 14 points in the two games last week on 6-of-10 shooting. Averaging 7.0 PPG over two contests won’t land him on any All-America lists, but considering the sophomore scored a total of 15 points in his previous five games, the increased offensive production, albeit slight, is a positive. Christmas is the fifth scoring option when he’s on the floor, but being more assertive on the offensive end only benefits his team.
More importantly, Christmas grabbed six rebounds in both games while blocking a total of six shots (five against DePaul). The most important contributions Christmas can make are to be more aggressive on the rebounding front and provide protection around the rim.
Syracuse's offense: With the exception of the Marquette game when Syracuse scored 71 points, the Orange’s offense has come to a grinding halt in their last five losses, averaging a paltry 53.4 PPG. In both Georgetown losses they scored 46 and 39 points respectively.
Brandon Triche’s shooting percentage: Examine why Syracuse is only 5-5 in its 10 games and one of the most glaring statistical signs has been Triche’s struggle to shoot the ball.
The senior guard made only 24 percent (14-of-58) of his shots in the five defeats. Even worse was his three-point shooting percentage. Triche sank only one of 22 attempts from beyond the arc for an astonishingly poor 4.5 percent.
James Southerland’s three-point stroke: Southerland is the best three-point shooter Syracuse has. Although his 37 percent conversion rate is second to C.J. Fair at 43 percent, Southerland has attempted over three times as many (154-44) triples as Fair has.
The senior struggled mightily last week from beyond the arc knocking down only one of his 13 attempts including a 1-of-10 showing against DePaul. Syracuse won’t get far in either the Big East or NCAA Tournaments if Southerland doesn’t rediscover his three-point stroke.
End of an Era
With Syracuse off to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year, this year marked the final season that the Orange and the Hoyas would clash as conference foes.
How will Syracuse perform in the Big East Tournament?
Unfortunately for Syracuse fans, Georgetown swept both games this year in convincing fashion by holding the Orange to 46 and 39 points. Ironically enough, in both games the Hoyas employed a stifling 2-3 zone defense that suffocated Syracuse’s offensive flow.
If the chips fall just right, these two long-time foes could square off again in the Big East Tournament. Given the Orange’s inability to muster any type of consistent offense against the Hoyas, it is hard to imagine Syracuse would have the last laugh.
Syracuse enters its final Big East Tournament as the No. 5 seed. The next time it takes the court at Madison Square Garden will be in the second game of the day on Thursday afternoon.
The Orange will play the winner between No. 12 Seton Hall and No. 13 South Florida. Syracuse played each team once this year winning at South Florida, 55-44, and by a 76-65 score at Seton Hall.