At 20-6, an outsider would look at the Orange and say that Boeheim's boys are a good, respectable team. Dig a little further and you see that they have lost six conference games to tournament level teams. Still respectable in a conference that could very well send eight to eleven teams to March's big dance. Go even deeper into the stat sheet and see that Syracuse has lost six of their last eight, and haven't won at the Carrier Dome since Janurary 15. Ouch. The Orange hold a lot of potential but it is time for Jim Boeheim to hit that panic button. Here are five reasons why Jim can feel justified doing so and why it may work.
The Syracuse offense this year has been inconsistent at best all year. It seems so long ago since they dropped over 100 points on Colgate. A perfect representation was their game against Georgetown when they failed to score the final minutes and subsequently gave up their lead and lost the game.
Syracuse's half court game has struggled with outside shooting woes due to poor shot selection by everyone not named Kris Joseph and thus the offense has run through Rick Jackson.
This is not a bad idea, except that in the Big East, teams have players who can match up against Jackson and limit his production (Ex. Gary McGhee at Pitt). While Jackson still produces double-doubles like a machine, he cannot be expected to score 20-25 points a game (he is averaging 13.1 so far).
This leaves transition basketball as the best option for Syracuse points, except this area has been atrocious. Over this last eight game span, they are only averaging 9 points a game in transition. Yikes. This area must be improved to help Syracuse's offensive rhythm so that way, the half court will have less pressure placed on the unit, hopefully resulting in better shot selection.
At Syracuse, the 2-3 zone has become just as much a staple of the University as the communications school has become. At the start of the season, the zone was working flawlessly.
Unfortunately, teams have found out the secret of the zone and each team has found a way to defeat the zone. Villanova and Seton Hall shot the lights out from behind the arc. Georgetown and Marquette used big men to get in the paint then passed the ball outside for open looks. Pitt and Louisville used superior play in transition and big men to simply take away the zone or overpower the players executing the zone.
The zone worked earlier because the players executed it to perfection. They held players to handle the ball behind the arc, and when they tried to pass the ball inside, Syracuse forced turnovers and swarmed the ball handler into bad decisions.
Right now, the players are not executing the zone as they had earlier, and as a result teams have been able to establish an inside presence. Teams who can shoot from outside force Syracuse to stop playing their style of play and thus the zone crumbles.
Boeheim must take his players back to school and reteach the basics of the zone or else do the unthinkable: leave the zone for man to man defense.
Coming into this year, the Orange looked like a team that had eight-ten players who could give the team quality minutes. At this point in the year, that number has since considerably dropped. Rick Jackson, Kris Joseph, and Scoop Jardine aside, the Orange have had to play musical chairs with their bench players to find out who will actually produce from game to game.
Fab Melo has been one of the biggest disappointments in the entire NCAA. He needs a lot more work in the offseason before Orange fans see production from him. Baye Moussa Keita has shown potential but three big men on the court would severely limit that transition offense Syracuse needs to improve. Dion Waiters is far too aggressive with his shot selection and costs the Orange scoring chances. C.J. Fair looks promising for a freshman and scores great "garbage points" but has not to do it in the close moments. Brandon Triche has not handled the ball well and that game at Seton Hall when his shooting was electric is starting to look more and more like a fluke.
The Orange needs their players to play considerably better if they want to win against quality opponents. Problem is, they don't have much more time to figure out their roles.
I'd never thought the day would come when Syracuse's famous Carrier Dome looked more like a curse than an advantage.
The Orange started off the year playing almost every game at home or MSG and many believed Syracuse would struggle on the road but dominate at home. Since Big East play began, however, 'Cuse is 3-3 at home losing to Villanova, Seton Hall and Georgetown. They have not won at home since January 15 against Cincy. I'm not saying Syracuse could break their bad luck against the Wildcats, but Seton Hall and Georgetown were very winable games in the Dome.
And for Syracuse, it is not for lack of talent. On the road they were able to defeat a Seton Hall, a St. Johns team that man handled Duke, and UConn while shutting down Kemba Walker. There is no reason that the Dome's large crowds should be intimidating this young Orange team. West Virginia should be a win in the Dome if the Orange are a contender in the Big East. If the Mountaineers win and the Dome's magic can't help the Orange, nothing will.
UConn has Kemba. Pitt has Brad Wanamaker or Ashton Gibbs. The list goes on of teams players who can very realistically take over a game when the rest of the team is struggling.
For Syracuse, many people look to Kris Joseph as the guy who will be able to make any shot when the Orange are having issues. The problem is, looking at this current streak, when Joseph has played, he has averaged 15, which is respectable but his production has slowly declined from 23 points against 'Nova to 9 against Louisville. He has been struggling just as much as the rest of the team.
Rick Jackson is great interior player but his ability to just dominate like the way Blake Griffen did as a big man is more than likely just not there. No disrespect to a player who has been more consistent and played better than any other Orange player.
This leaves Scoop Jardine to be the guy to make the final shot or take over the game. Scoop has been improving steadily all year, but over this streak, points have been streaky. The most recent game against Louisville showed that Jardine can be a great point guard. If both Joseph and Jardine can play at a high level, the Orange can win games again. If they can't, one of these players must take their game to the next level.
The Orange are a young, talented team that have made strides all year. They were able to defeat Michigan State, a top ranked Notre Dame team, UConn team on the road as well as valiant efforts and close games against Georgetown and Louisville.
They played hard and did not give up against Villanova, and were able to overcome huge deficits against Pitt in order to stay close. Freshman Waiters, Fair, Keita, and Southerland all have tremendous potential and can contribute this year if they are able to play consistently off the bench.
Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson are the solid rocks on the team who Jim Boeheim can rely on. And perhaps more importantly, Scoop Jardine is starting to make smart shot selections and become the point guard who everyone expected him to be.
The Orange have a second shot at Villanova, Georgetown, and have Rutgers, DePaul and West Virginia at home to hopefully build momentum going into the Big East tournament. If the right coaching adjustments are made, Syracuse can be a solid team with a shot at least the elite eight if not more.