Syracuse Basketball: Best and Worst Moments from Orange So Far

Justin NeumanContributor IIDecember 23, 2013

Syracuse Basketball: Best and Worst Moments from Orange So Far

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    After an 11-0 start, the Syracuse basketball team has begun to come together more quickly than some expected. There has been a lot to like about this team so far, but there have also been some minor bumps in the road.

    With no games for the Orange until this weekend's tough matchup with Villanova, let's take a look back at some of the highs and lows from the season so far. We'll start out by counting down the low points and then move on to what has made Orange fans smile most. 

No. 3 Worst: Jerami Grant's Injury

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    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    In the game against High Point, Jerami Grant went down with an ankle injury. On a drive to the basket, Grant stepped on someone's foot and slid to the floor.

    Grant was able to walk off the floor, but he went to the locker room and didn't return.

    After the game, Grant said he was "fine" and would "definitely be back against Villanova," per Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com.

    It's hard to find a lot of negatives during an 11-0 season when the team is ranked second in the country, and a seemingly minor injury is admittedly a bit of a reach.

    But Grant is the team's third-leading scorer. He provides an athletic change of pace off the bench and leads the team in rebounding. He even prompted Grantland's Ben Detrick to make this blog post about him.

    Even though his injury doesn't appear to be serious, it is still something to monitor should an issue crop up again.

No. 2 Worst: Free-Throw Shooting

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    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    As a team, the Orange shoot just 67.6 percent from the charity stripe. That number puts Syracuse in a tie for 232nd nationally in shooting from the line. Not exactly where you want to be if you fancy yourself an elite squad.

    In fact, if it weren't for the forgiving rims of Maui, where the Orange made 88.7 percent of their freebies in three games, the overall percentage could be even lower.

    In close games, whether you're trying to mount a comeback or protect a lead, making the free ones is imperative. With aspirations for a deep March run, Jim Boeheim's boys will have to be on point from the free-throw line lest they let an important game slip away.

    *Maui numbers calculated from the box scores of the three games

Worst: Nail-Biter with St. Francis

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Back in mid-November, Syracuse played a game in the Carrier Dome with St. Francis that had Orange fans all but chewing their nails clean off.

    Thanks to some key late defensive stops, Syracuse was able to escape with a 56-50 win. But to call it an ugly win would be an understatement.

    The Orange shot just 35.3 percent from the field. Jalen Cannon (only 6'6") got whatever he wanted inside among the bigger and stronger Syracuse forwards. And the Syracuse offense struggled to find any sort of rhythm against the pressure defense of St. Francis.

    Of course, a win is a win, so it's hard to complain too much. But if the Orange play like they did against the Terriers during ACC play, they could easily lose a game or two that they shouldn't.

No. 3 Best: Trevor Cooney's Shooting

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Trevor Cooney has silenced any critics he may have acquired after his poor shooting season in 2012-13. So far this year, Cooney has cashed 36 of his 73 attempts from deep, which computes to an astonishing 49.3 percent. If he hoisted one from the third row, 'Cuse fans would still be surprised if he missed.

    After shooting only 26.7 percent from long range last year, Cooney has shown marked improvement. As a starter and a major contributor this year, he has the ultimate green light and doesn't have to worry about getting yanked if he misses a shot or two.

    Cooney has made five or more threes in six of 11 games this year, and his 7-of-8 barrage in the season opener against Cornell helped Syracuse stave off an early upset. If he continues this torrid pace, opposing defenses will have trouble stopping the Orange.

No. 2 Best: The Maui Invitational Title

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    After beating Minnesota, California and Baylor, Syracuse earned its third Maui Invitational title in as many trips.

    The Orange played some of their best basketball of the season in Hawaii, and it came against the strongest competition the team has faced thus far. The Orange averaged about 80 points a game out at the beach, which is slightly higher than the season average of 77.

    The impressive performance against quality opponents should give Syracuse plenty of confidence as the season wears on.

Best: Tyler Ennis

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    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    Tyler Ennis has been better than Orange fans could have ever expected so far this season.

    The freshman point guard averages 12.1 points, 5.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 steals and only 1.2 turnovers per game. Once again, Ennis is a true freshman and the starting point guard on the No. 2 team in the country.

    Per Mike Waters of Syracuse.com, Boeheim has even been blown away by the kid's performance, saying the team could have three losses if Ennis played like a freshman.

    The speed of the college game hasn't been too much for Ennis, and he plays with the same calm demeanor despite the situation. He has even been one of the team's more reliable free-throw shooters, making 74.1 percent of his attempts.

    Needless to say, Orange fans can be plenty confident with Ennis running the show as long as he's in town.