Syracuse Basketball: Orange's Biggest Goals for Nonconference Play
The Syracuse basketball team said aloha to the beaches of Maui as the champion of the Maui Invitational.
However, the Orange still have a ways to go. The tour in Maui was their best stretch of basketball, but there are still tough nonconference games to come against Indiana, Villanova and others.
Let's take a look at a few objectives Boeheim still has as his team rolls toward conference play.
Get C.J. Fair on Track
After his performance on Wednesday against Baylor, C.J. Fair seems poised to become the go-to guy that Syracuse needs. Fair notched 24 points in the Maui finale and was named the tournament MVP.
Every time Baylor trimmed the lead to two possessions late in the second half, Fair would appear and bury a patented mid-range jumper to keep the Bears at bay.
Early in the season, Fair seemed to be struggling adjusting to his role as the team's leader. He forced it on the offensive end too much, and that led to turnover issues (four per game).
In Maui, Fair took what the defense was giving him and averaged 18 points per game on about 45 percent shooting.
As the season wears on, Fair will unquestionably be the focal point of the offense. Boeheim will look to Fair to score when the team needs a bucket. It will be important for Fair to remain calm in those pressure moments and get himself, or one of his teammates, a good look.
A late turnover in a close game, of which there will be many in the ACC, could be the difference between a win and a loss.
More often than not, Fair will be the man with the ball in his hands in those pressure situations. The remaining nonconference contests will be the best time for Fair to settle in as the Orange closer.
Solidify the Defense
The 20 turnovers Syracuse forced against Baylor give the impression of a dominating defensive performance. However, the Bears also shot 55.3 percent from the floor and were hanging around 70 percent for the second half until late in the game.
The defense is what will carry this team in the long run. Hanging 92 on Cal was nice, but Syracuse will play most of its games in the 60s and 70s. Allowing 55 percent shooting is not a recipe for success over a whole season.
We have covered the issues that come up when Syracuse focuses too much on shutting down the three, and there were a few instances on Wednesday night when that problem cropped up again.
With games on the docket against teams with good inside-out tandems (Noah Vonleh and Will Sheehey of Indiana, Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston of Villanova), it will be important to strike a balance between shutting down the paint and perimeter.
If Syracuse uses this time to work out its defensive issues, it can turn its very good defense into a weapon it can rely on even when the shots aren't falling.
Teams like Duke and North Carolina love the slash-and-kick game, so being able to defend the paint and three-point line simultaneously will be valuable if the Orange want to hang with the fixtures of the ACC.
Crash the Glass
Syracuse was unquestionably dominated by Baylor in the rebounding department. Baylor outmuscled the Orange 33-22 on the boards.
You can play lockdown defense all day, but if you can't clear a missed shot, the opponent will capitalize with second-chance layups or open threes.
One of the main reasons Syracuse is prone to problems with rebounding is because they challenge every shot aggressively. When the ball gets close to the basket, the forwards do all they can to try to put the shot in the fifth row. Such vigorous rotations leave the weak side open for offensive rebounds.
With all the length and athleticism Syracuse trots out, there is no reason this team should get beat up on the glass.
Upcoming games against Binghamton, High Point and Eastern Michigan will give the Orange opportunity to focus on rebounding. The active defense is difficult to prepare for, and if it limits opponents to one shot per possession, even the best teams will find it difficult to score.
Don't Overlook Anyone
If the St. Francis game taught us anything, it's that no team is to be taken lightly.
Playing in the Carrier Dome will be one of the highlights of the season for the High Points and Eastern Michigans of the world, so they will come in ready to play.
Yes, Syracuse will be favorites against these teams. However, going into the High Point game on December 20 expecting to cruise to a win and looking ahead to the holidays could be disastrous.
Every game is an opportunity to learn and get better, and dropping one to a lesser opponent can destroy a team's confidence.
With the gauntlet that is the ACC just around the corner, it's important to concentrate on one game at a time and get better each night.
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