Of all the question marks surrounding Jim Boeheim's young Syracuse team heading into the 2013-14 season, defense was never really one of them.
Even though the Orange have been somewhat inconsistent on that side of the ball—50.8 effective field-goal percentage allowed, which is 214th in America, per kenpom.com (subscription)—to start the year, that's still the case.
When you mix Boeheim's famed 2-3 zone with a bunch of superior athletes, which Syracuse once again boasts, the defense will always be a strength—even if it takes some time to come together.
Scoring the ball, however, isn't nearly as simple.
With Brandon Triche, James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams, who combined for nearly 40.0 points per contest during the 2012-13 campaign, either graduated or in the NBA, many wondered where the scoring was going to come from.
The point guard, Tyler Ennis, is a true freshman. C.J. Fair, the team's leading scorer from a year ago, benefited from not being the No. 1 option, which he now is. Three of the four big men—DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita—are more defensive or rebounding specialists. Would Jerami Grant take the offensive leap that 99 percent of the population was expecting?
Through the first five games of the season, the offensive concerns weren't completely quelled.
According to Pomeroy (link above), the Orange entered Tuesday night 233rd in America in effective field-goal percentage and 37th in adjusted offensive efficiency—a relatively low number for a top-10 team. Moreover, per BBState.com, they were just 46th in points per possession.
But everything finally clicked into place on Tuesday.
In a 92-81 win over California in the Maui Invitational semifinal, the Orange hit a scorching 53.4 percent of their shots, 50 percent of their 14 three-point attempts and a tremendous 95.8 percent of their 24 free throws. The 59.5 effective field-goal percentage was their second-best performance of the season, and the 1.307 points per possession was easily their best.
And they did it with Fair going just 5-of-17 from the field.
Ennis looked like a seasoned veteran, dropping a ridiculously efficient 28 points on 12 shots to put his name in the 'Cuse record books:
Tyler Ennis' 28 points v. Cal were the 3rd-most for a Syracuse freshman ever. Carmelo Anthony (33) and Pearl Washington (30) only frosh...— Syracuse Basketball (@syrbasketball) November 27, 2013
Grant had his best game of the season, scoring 19 points, grabbing eight rebounds and throwing down an electric dunk that proved to be the turning point in the second half:
Trevor Cooney was red-hot from long range, knocking down 5-of-8 threes for 23 points.
On a night in which the Bears sliced and diced the 'Cuse zone and knocked down 51.9 percent of their shots, forcing the Orange into their worst defensive performance of the year, Syracuse pulled out a win on the laurels of its offense.
If that starts happening consistently, the Orange will be really difficult to beat.