Syracuse Basketball: Orange's 5 Biggest Concerns for the Postseason
After starting the season with a school record 25-straight wins, No. 7 Syracuse finds itself stumbling to the wire.
Syracuse (26-3, 13-3 ACC), with two games left in the regular season, is coming off of a road loss to then-No. 11 Virginia in which the Orange shot poorly, defended poorly and faded away as the game closed. The Orange managed a 28-27 halftime lead during Saturday’s contest but were outlasted 48-28 in the second half to end up on the wrong side of a 75-56 beatdown.
The loss to Virginia (25-5, 16-1) handed the Cavaliers their first outright regular-season ACC title in 33 years and only their second in school history. It was also the Orange’s third loss in their last four games.
Worth noting is that two of those losses were on the road to Duke, now No. 4 in the nation, and Virginia, now No. 5. The other was a head-scratching loss at home in overtime to Boston College.
What this means is that Syracuse is likely not the world beater it appeared to be when it took out the likes of Duke, Villanova and North Carolina, but the team is no bottom dweller either.
The most obvious reason the Orange are struggling is scoring. The team hasn’t scored more than 60 points since Feb. 3 against Notre Dame, which has resulted in very close games which gave Orange fans quite a thrill, but haven’t done much to please coach Jim Boeheim.
Luckily, the Orange defense has been rock solid, save for a few hiccups, which serves to keep Syracuse a formidable opponent.
If Syracuse wins its final home game of the season against Georgia Tech on Tuesday and then wins at Florida State on March 9, the Orange will be guaranteed the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament, which starts March 12 in Greensboro, N.C.
To succeed in the ACC tournament and beyond, the Orange have a little bit of work to do. Let’s take a look at what concerns Syracuse has going into the postseason.
Where's the Scoring?
Syracuse averages 68.3 points per game, which is No. 254 in Division I. That number is very misleading, however, when considering that the Orange only scored more than their average three times this calendar year.
The Orange scored 72 against Virginia Tech on Jan. 7. They scored 69 against Boston College on Jan. 13. Then, on Feb. 1, they put up 91 against Duke in overtime. That’s it.
Syracuse is a victim of its own success when it comes to scoring.
Every Orange starter has led the team in scoring in at least one game. That includes DaJuan Coleman, who Syracuse lost just 12 games into the season. What this meant for the Orange was that when one player wasn’t shooting well or was having a tough game, another player would take over the scoring.
Now, everyone thinks it's OK to shoot, which may be so, but sometimes the whole team goes cold.
This unselfish play is perfect for their style, but the Orange might be better served by giving C.J. Fair the green light to put the team on his back. The Orange are going to have to start scoring somewhere and Fair is the most versatile scorer on the team.
The Three-Point Defense
Teams love to shoot threes against Syracuse, which is how Syracuse likes it, but lately, teams have been hitting them at a high percentage.
Recently, in the Boston College loss, the Eagles went 11 of 22 from beyond the arc, and on Saturday, Virginia nailed 8 of 16 three-point shots. These teams helped themselves by creating positioning with passes instead of just gunning.
Syracuse is always one of the best defending teams on the perimeter, but if opposing teams are going to hit 50 percent of their attempts, a la BC and Virginia, the Orange could have a tough time ahead.
Can the Defense Hold It Together?
As poor as the Syracuse offense has been, the defense has been incredible.
Leading the way are Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney, who are Nos. 1 and 2 in the ACC in steals. Mixed with a good blend of length on the baseline and an understanding of Boeheim’s zone, the Orange are still riding the defensive high that carried them all the way to the Final Four last season.
That will be a daunting task this season, but even with the recent losses, the defense is still fantastic.
This calendar year, the Orange have only allowed 60 points or more in four games out of 16. Unfortunately for Syracuse, three of those four were in the past four games, and were all losses. The only win was when Duke put up 89 in a losing effort back on Feb. 1.
For the season, Syracuse gives up just 59.1 points per game, which makes them No. 9 in the country in points allowed. If the Orange offense continues to struggle, the 2-3 zone will be the most important tool for advancing in the postseason.
Will Jim Boeheim's Ejection Be Forgotten?
Jim Boeheim’s ejection against Duke was an admitted mistake by the coach, but referees are an interesting fraternity.
Referees hear from coaches every possession and someone is always going to be unhappy with a call. That’s part of the game. What’s not part of the game is being shown up, and Boeheim’s display might have rubbed a few refs the wrong way.
This isn’t to say that Syracuse will get a snow job by an officiating crew, but when a call can go either way, being on the wrong side of an official with a prejudice can be daunting.
Playing against five uniformed players is hard enough without adding three more uniformed men who are also against you.
This is pure speculation and coach Boeheim’s previous track record of never being thrown out of a regular-season game should speak for itself and give him a pass…but you never know.
Can the Orange Get Healthy?
The Orange lost DaJuan Coleman after 12 games. They lost Baye Keita for a few games due to a sprained knee, and now Jerami Grant is nursing a bad back.
Injuries are part of the game, but Syracuse’s frontcourt is starting to look like a M.A.S.H. unit.
With a bench that’s still very green, Michael Gbinije and Baye Keita are the only reliable bench players who have played significant minutes. A loss of Grant, or Keita again, or any other starter, would likely spell doom for the Orange.
Grant is currently day-to-day and may not see any playing time until tournament play starts, which would probably give freshman Tyler Roberson a few more minutes of playing time.
Make no mistake, however, Roberson is no Grant.
It wouldn’t be a Syracuse season if there wasn’t a worry of whether or not the frontcourt would be affected by injury or suspension. This year is no exception.