The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team rescued itself from the clutches of an embarrassing defeat by going on a 10-0 run to outlast St. Francis Brooklyn on Monday, November 18.
The 56-50 win marked the fourth consecutive game that No. 9 Syracuse (4-0, 0-0 ACC) would struggle to put together two solid halves. Arguably, the Orange failed to put together one good half against St. Francis, but the defensive effort at the end of the game can serve to give Syracuse a pass.
In the Orange’s prior three games against Cornell, Fordham and Colgate, the average margin of victory was 14 points. For a team with the talent, length and strength of Syracuse, this is a bit concerning.
This is by no means a bad team. In fact, with time, it may prove to be an elite team, but several points of concern must be addressed by head coach Jim Boeheim and his staff. With a week off while the team travels to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, Syracuse fans can rest assured that the team’s issues will be addressed.
With the inexperience of the guards and increased playing time for everyone, save for C.J. Fair, there are growing pains that this team has endured.
Let’s take a look at these pains and what the Orange must do to improve.
Syracuse’s free-throw shooting has been hit or miss, with DaJuan Coleman, Michael Gbinije and Jerami Grant all shooting less than 50 percent.
C.J. Fair is the only starter shooting over 80 percent from the line (.847), with Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas also shooting just under 78 percent.
The Orange are shooting 61.7 percent from the line as a team, while their opponents are shooting 65 percent.
With rules such as the new hand checking rule, Syracuse should see a dramatic increase in its free throw attempts and dynamic players such as Grant and company have to get better from the charity stripe. The rule is designed to open up offenses, but this would have the opposite effect if Syracuse were to continue to struggle in this area.
Trevor Cooney started the season with a 27-point explosion, fueled by 7-of-8 three-point shooting against Cornell.
His effort earned him the season’s inaugural ACC player of the week honors, but since, he has only managed to hit three of his 14 attempts from beyond the arc.
He hit 2-of-5 three pointers against St. Francis, which is a respectable 40 percent, so his hiccups may just be off nights, but the jury is still out on his marksmanship in game situations.
Cooney may end up being the best three-point shooter in the country, but until he puts forth a consistent effort, Orange fans will keep their fingers crossed.
One of the strengths of the 2-3 zone is that it forces a multitude of bad shots, many of which are three-point shots due to opponents believing they can shoot over the zone.
The problem is that when teams actually hit those threes, they can beat any defensive scheme, which makes their assessment correct.
Syracuse prides itself as being one of the top teams in the country in three-point defense, but this season, opponents are burning up the nets on 37 percent shooting from beyond the arc and are averaging over nine three pointers made per game.
This is something that can be fixed through positioning and a better defensive understanding from the young guards. Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney may end up being one of the best guard tandems in the country, but for right now, they are trying to fill the shoes of Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, which is a tall order to ask of anyone.
This should clean up as the season goes on, but it is certainly worth noting.
In Syracuse’s first two games, the Orange allowed certain players to have their way with the Orange defense.
Cornell’s Nolan Cressler threw in 23 points, which was followed by Fordham’s Branden Frazier exploding for 33 points.
In the next two games against Colgate and St. Francis, the opponent’s leading scorer was 13 and 16 points respectively, but these are certainly inferior opponents to the Orange. Once they get into ACC play, the opponents will be much more talented and allowing any single player to dominate a game would be devastating.
Again, this will likely be fixed through time, if it hasn’t already, but we’ll keep our eyes on this as well.
In today’s college basketball, the gap between the haves and have-nots has closed significantly.
Teams such as St. Francis Brooklyn, which already beat ACC defending champ Miami in its first game this season, almost pulled off its first win over a top-ten team in its history.
Tough games will happen, and no team should be overlooked, but Syracuse is bigger, stronger and significantly more talented than any of the teams it has played so far this season.
What the Orange have had a problem with, besides putting together two good halves of basketball in the same game, is playing consistent defense all the way through the shot clock, giving up too many open shots and, at times, being way too sloppy with the ball.
For the Orange’s sake, they should look at the St. Francis game as a wake-up call. Otherwise, this could be a long, frustrating season.