Syracuse Basketball: Orange's 5 Keys to a Successful Postseason
With the inaugural ACC regular season in the rearview mirror, the Syracuse basketball team has its sights set on the postseason.
The Orange will next take the court Friday night in the ACC tournament and look to use that time to get into a rhythm for the NCAA tournament next week.
Syracuse looked like a legit national title contender for the first few months of the season. After encountering a few bumps in the road, the team is starting to get healthy and gain momentum.
So what are the ingredients needed for a successful postseason run? What do the Orange need to do to avoid an early exit from the Big Dance? What needs to happen to make a second consecutive Final Four?
Let's take a look at Syracuse's five keys to tournament success.
A Locked-in C.J. Fair
Bleacher Report's Rob Goldberg detailed some of the factors that are needed for a title run. The first one he discusses is having a go-to scorer.
Syracuse has that in spades with C.J. Fair.
Just about every time the team has needed a big basket, Jim Boeheim has called Fair's number. More often than not, he has answered the call.
For the Orange to make noise in the tournament, it all starts with Fair. When he gets going, everything else starts to fall into place.
Jerami Grant is able to do work inside. Tyler Ennis can get into the paint and create. Trevor Cooney can get an open look at a three.
When Fair struggles (which hasn't happened often), the team struggles. He had one of his worst games against Notre Dame in early February, shooting 2-of-13 from the field and scoring only six points. If not for Cooney going off in that game, the Orange's first loss would have come much earlier.
Offensively, everything begins with Fair. He's going to get the ball in the biggest spots. If he is on his game, the Orange are as good as anyone. If he can't get going, the team could stumble early.
A Healthy Jerami Grant
This is something we discussed earlier in the week, so we won't go into too much detail here. But since it is such an important factor, we'll go over the CliffsNotes version.
When Grant is healthy, the Orange are a different team. He gives the team another reliable scoring option behind Fair and Ennis and provides some muscle and athleticism inside.
There have been no indications that his health has regressed. If he remains healthy, Syracuse will be a tough out. If he tweaks his back along the way and has to sit, the Orange will have big problems.
Syracuse has been long known for its stifling 2-3 zone. It rode that defense to the Final Four last year and has the potential to do it again.
Early in the season, the Orange secured wins in close games with timely defensive stops. Games against St. Francis, St. John's and Miami come to mind.
But lately, the defense has seemed to regress. Grant being out might have had something to do with that, as the Orange allowed Virginia to shoot 50 percent and Georgia Tech to shoot 47 percent in his absence.
Syracuse is also having a harder time guarding the three-point line. Heading into the home stretch of the regular season, Syracuse was 13th in the ACC in three-point defense, per Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com.
Ditota detailed how last year's Orange team held opponents to 19 percent shooting from deep in the tournament. That allowed Syracuse to overcome scoring trouble and keep teams from running up the score.
If the Orange can get back to stifling teams on the perimeter like they do inside, it can also help the offense. Good defense can lead to...
Getting out and Running
The easiest shots can be found in transition.
When the Orange had somewhat of an offensive renaissance against Florida State, they scored 14 points off turnovers and six on the fast break.
They can be devastating in the open floor, with Ennis leading the break, Fair and Grant flanking him and Cooney spotting up on the wing.
Fair talked about how transition can help the team's offense, per Syracuse.com's Ditota: "I was saying when we were having our little tough stretch that we wasn't getting easy baskets. And today, we got easy buckets. I think that's a big key to having a good offensive night. See the ball go in and then you get in a little rhythm from there."
When the half-court offense starts to get bogged down, the transition game can help turn things around.
And how timely it would be this time of year.
Trevor Cooney was a big reason the Orange got off to such a strong start. In nonconference play, he shot 50 percent (43-of-86) from deep. In ACC play, he is down to 31 percent (42-of-136). Before ACC play, he had seven games where he made five or more threes.
In ACC play? One.
Maybe the last game can give him some confidence going forward. He only made two of his eight attempts against Florida State, but they came on back-to-back possessions after the 'Noles had cut the lead to one. The Orange went ahead by seven and never looked back.
There is no way around it: Cooney is Syracuse's only serious three-point threat. He has made about 60 more treys than anyone else on the team. Sixty! The Orange need him to stretch the floor to open things up inside.
If Cooney regains his early-season form, Syracuse could be hard to keep up with. Even if he puts the team on his back for one game (a la Notre Dame), Orange fans will take it. Either way, Syracuse needs him to start resembling the Cooney from earlier in the year.