Syracuse Basketball: 5 Biggest Questions Orange Face as March Heats Up
When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.
When life hands you the Orange, you make room for some postgame festivities.
After dropping three games in a row, No. 16 Syracuse is giving opponents no reason to think otherwise.
Syracuse (22-7, 10-6 Big East) has not won a game since February 20, when it routed Providence, 84-59. In the 10 days following that win, the Orange were taken out by Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville.
With Georgetown (23-4, 13-3) three games ahead in the conference standings and only two games left on the schedule, the Orange are out of contention for the Big East regular-season title. Consequently, Syracuse's focus is now preparing for the postseason.
Syracuse has DePaul (11-18, 2-14) and No. 5 Georgetown left before the Big East Tournament starts. While Syracuse should win the DePaul game, a win is only part of what Syracuse needs to right its ship.
From poor shot selection to costly turnovers, the Orange have given their fans much to complain about. The Orange started the season 18-1, highlighted by a road win against then-No. 1 Louisville, but have gone 4-6 since. Each loss has given a glimpse into the different woes of the Orange, with many questions unanswered.
Let’s take a look at the biggest questions Syracuse has presented as March barrels forward.
Where Has the Scoring Gone?
In its six losses over the last 10 games, Syracuse lost by an average score of 65-59.
In its four wins over that same span, Syracuse won by an average score of 75-57.
For the season, Syracuse averages 73.2 points per game. Save for the 83-79 loss against Temple on December 22 at Madison Square Garden, the Orange have not lost a game when achieving their average point total this season.
So where has the scoring gone?
Brandon Triche, who scored 29 against Seton Hall on February 16, has only averaged 10 points per game in his last four, including eight-point efforts in his last two.
In those four games, Triche has gone 2-of-16 from beyond the arc and also has 16 turnovers during that span.
Triche has been the team’s leader in scoring the entire season, but has now dropped to second, behind C.J. Fair, with 14.2 points per game. Not only are those precious points hurting Syracuse, which has lost by an average of 6.8 points in its last six losses, but Triche’s poor shooting has led to short possessions that have turned into easy baskets for opponents in transition.
Triche is not the only reason the Orange have had problems scoring, but it’s about time he is looked at as the biggest contributor to those woes. He has shown through his career that he can turn it around.
He just needs to figure out what’s holding him back.
Where Have the Free Throws Gone?
Syracuse’s three-game slide has seen the Orange lose by a total of 19 points, or just over six points per game.
In those games, Syracuse’s opponents have attempted 73 free throws.
The Orange have only attempted 31 free throws over that same span.
This is a tell-tale sign that the Orange are not aggressive enough. Just as in football, where teams set up the pass by running the ball, the Orange need to set up their outside game by going inside. Even if they miss their shots, they can set a game pace and hopefully get their opponents in foul trouble.
Unless Syracuse has a plan to force an amazing amount of offensive fouls, it needs to either figure out a way to get to the line more or get its opponents to the line less.
The former is a much easier solution than the latter.
Can Syracuse Still Win Against Quality Opponents?
Syracuse achieved a few high-profile wins against No. 1 Louisville, No. 21 Cincinnati and No. 25 Notre Dame.
Each of Syracuse’s last three games, all losses, came against ranked opponents. The Orange also have four losses against unranked opponents, but in conference play, this happens. What is glaring is that when faced with must-win games against ranked opponents, Syracuse has wilted.
In each of the last three games, the Orange have led or been close enough to steal away a win, but have had untimely turnovers, such as Brandon Triche’s late-game miscues against Louisville.
Poor shooting, poor rebounding and poor decision-making in late-game situations have all spelled destruction for Syracuse in close games. Syracuse has shown that it can win big games, but recent lapses have raised the question of which team is the real Syracuse.
What Is Rakeem Christmas' Role on This Team?
Rakeem Christmas has virtually disappeared from the Syracuse lineup.
His minutes have been fairly consistent, but his lack of production, save for a few rebounding appearances and some matador-style defense, has made Christmas a non-factor since his 12-point performance against Notre Dame on February 4.
In Syracuse’s seven games since Notre Dame, Christmas has scored just two points five times and scored three and six in the two other games. During that span, he has only attempted 2.5 shots per game.
More glaring is that out of those seven games, Christmas has only attempted free throws in two games, going a combined 3-of-6 from the charity stripe.
At 6’9” and 242 pounds, Christmas is too big a body to not be a factor on this team. Syracuse needs to figure out what Christmas’ role will be going forward because at this point, he’s hurting more than helping.
What Will DaJuan Coleman Contribute?
Freshman forward DaJuan Coleman was used sparingly this season but averaged about five points and four rebounds per game.
He missed eight games due to knee surgery but returned for Syracuse’s most recent game against Louisville, in which he only played three minutes.
Coleman is 6’9” and 280 pounds. He is a physical presence but has not seemed to work himself into game shape. His injury and subsequent surgery have only hindered his maturation and it remains to be seen how Coleman will contribute to this team.
When Syracuse is cold from the outside, the Orange have to find a way to manipulate their size on the inside. If it’s not going to be Christmas, then it has to be Coleman. Neither seems to be ready for prime time.
Syracuse must ask itself, if not now, when?