Syracuse Basketball: Why James Southerland Is Orange's Key to Postseason Success

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Syracuse Basketball: Why James Southerland Is Orange's Key to Postseason Success
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team finally figured out the recipe for success in its win over Seton Hall in the second round of the Big East Tournament.

Get James Southerland the ball.

James Southerland, the predominant outside weapon for the No. 19 Orange, scored 20 points on 7-of-11 from the field, including six three-pointers.

Having the ball in his hands hasn’t been the problem, as he’s averaged over 12 attempts from the field in his last 13 games. Having the ball in has hands at the right time, however, has been an issue.

With Michael Carter-Williams dishing out 14 assists, which tied the Big East Tournament record for most in a game, the Syracuse offense was able to thrive in ways that it has struggled to do in the past month and a half.

Only having one turnover also helped the cause, but Southerland’s sharpshooting helped open up the recently-stagnant Orange scoring system.

As far as the Orange shooters have been concerned, only C.J. Fair has been a better three-point shooter than Southerland, but he only averages a little more than one three-point attempt per game, so he’s not a threat, per se.

Elsa/Getty Images
Southerland's shooting can open up the lanes for other players to drive, such as Brandon Triche

This is important because when Southerland misses his shots, as he had in the previous two games going 1-of-13 from beyond the arc, the rest of his teammates have been very unsuccessful trying to pick up the slack, as their combined 2-of-16 from the three-point line illustrates.

The reality of Syracuse is that it is not a three-point-shooting team. Its players play as if they are three-point specialists, but Fair and Southerland are the only Orange players who play more than five minutes per game and average over 30 percent from long range.

Southerland is essentially a perpetual-motion machine for the Orange. When he makes his shots, he puts himself in the position to make more shots because the offense opens up. Sinking threes brings out the defense, which allows Syracuse’s slashers to penetrate the lane, which brings in the defense, which allows Southerland to be open, and so on.

It all starts with making his early shots.

Sometimes, such as the Syracuse loss against Marquette on February 25, Southerland will make an early three, but from beyond NBA range and will believe he can get hot from anywhere, leading to poor shot selection.

Southerland has NBA range, but in that Marquette game he spotted up from areas of the court that were more about ego and less about quality shots. This is not the norm with Southerland, but it can be an issue.

This Syracuse team has had a dual identity. For their first 19 games, the Orange were a fast-breaking, opportunistic team that could turn opponents’ mistakes into crippling point swings.

Since their 18-1 start, the Orange have gone 6-7 and look like a shell of their former selves, with only flashes of the will that they started the season with.

The Seton Hall game was the recipe for success for Syracuse, but chef Jim Boeheim will need his main ingredient, James Southerland, to be the feature of his dish if he doesn’t want an early fishing trip in March.

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