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What Went Wrong: Marquette Loss Was Microcosm of Syracuse’s Spotty Play

AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

The disappointing loss to Marquette was a culmination of a disappointing season in every way imaginable, including lack of an elite scorer as we discussed yesterday. Each issue that had reared its head throughout the year showed up Sunday night in Cleveland and a quick glance at the stat sheet does nothing but reinforce and even justify the frustration you probably still feel.

Listen to Team FizzCast Discuss Who’s to Blame

  • Too many fouls, not enough foul shots.

It’s no secret Syracuse struggled getting to the line this season. The Orange was tied for 193rd in the nation for free throw attempts per game with 20.5. By comparison Marquette was 19th with 25.4. Buzz Williams said at his epic press conference Saturday that he puts a focus on FT’s because it’s a chance to score with the clock stopped and to prevent the other team from getting into transition.

On top of this solid logic, as happened Sunday, getting a team in foul trouble can cause unexpected results (see James Southerland playing heavy minutes). A zone is designed to have the help defense built in, so rotations shouldn’t be late and fouls shouldn’t occur in large numbers. Whoops. Sunday Marquette went to the line 23 times, Syracuse just 7.

There were few plays more frustrating Sunday then Kris Joseph’s intentional foul. Syracuse led 29-26 when Brandon Triche turned over the rock and Kris inexplicably wrapped up Jimmy Butler. Since Joseph made no play on the ball and no one was in front of Butler, an intentional foul was properly called. Butler got two free throws, hit both, and then hit a jumper after Marquette retained possession. The Eagles had their first lead.

The foul could also be filed under the “plays that are way dumber than you first realized.” Butler was having an awful game pre-free throws. He was forcing shots and coming up empty. The last thing you wanna do with a guy who’s struggling is put him on the line. Butler finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists.

  • Turnovers.

There is no question Syracuse struggled with turnovers this year, often in big spots. There were endless examples of this from the first Marquette game to the meltdown against Louisville (thanks in part to the ill-advised Scoop Oop).

The Orange’s inability to hold onto the orange was rooted in their main decision-maker (Scoop) having a knack for questionable decisions. Sunday, SU turned the basketball over 18 times. Eight-freaking-teen.

Take your pick of miscues Sunday night. We’ve already discussed the Triche turnover where the ball was literally taken from him as he was dribbling in place. How about Scoop’s turnover on the baseline where he threw the ball to no one in particular? Or the controversial backcourt violation.

Regardless, they all hurt. That’s 18 empty possessions where SU didn’t get off a shot. You must shoot to score. You must score to win. This isn’t complicated. Here’s hoping Scoop puts in some serious film study and work on his body (a la Rick last offseason) in order to cut down on them. Brandon (who had 4 TO’s in his limited minutes Sunday) isn’t without fault either. He needs to master the speed of the college game. Kris needs to improve his handle as well. There’s also the wild-card of Michael Carter-Williams, who will certainly have the ball in his hands for extended periods next season.

  • Orange opponents controlling the pace.

It was no secret the Syracuse wanted to play an up-tempo pace. They were nearly unstoppable in transition with four guys (Jardine, Triche, Joseph, Waiters) capable of leading the break and plenty of finishers. Yet SU often got bogged down in a half-court game where the offense stalled with the ball in one player’s hands (and you wonder why the motion offense didn’t work). A lackluster offense doesn’t create the energy needed for an active defense (also a season-long problem) which is needed for creating turnovers – which are needed to get in transition.

Sunday, the Orange only put up 47 shots. SU shot a robust 55% on and lost. Remember the shoot to score process from above? When you only shoot 47 times and the other team shoots 51 (not counting shots where the Eagles were fouled) that’s a significant problem. For some context, in Syracuse’s early season blowout of St. Johns, they got off 54 shots. The enormous win against Connecticut to break the losing streak? 69 shots.

Shots can sometimes be a bad indicator, as it is for Marquette because they get to the free throw line so often. However for the Orange, it’s a solid representative in most games of how effective the offense is and how quick it’s playing. The verdict from Sunday: ineffective and too slow. Result: season over.

  • Boeheim’s use of the bench.

Jim Boeheim’s tournament resume is quite frankly awful. Despite three Final Fours, over 85% of the time his teams have lost in the Sweet 16 or before, and we’re not exactly working with a small sample size. His use of the bench has always been limited and minute distribution, specifically for the freshman, became an enormous issue Sunday night with Triche hurt and CJ Fair in foul trouble. Fair should have played way more than 14 minutes. When Fair gets 28+ minutes, his numbers are insane. Foul trouble or not, he sat for too long. Baye Moussa-Keita sat longer. Boeheim said he didn’t trust him. Sure he’s a freshman and probably too skinny for the Big East, but didn’t play horribly in his minutes and certainly would have been better in the middle than Fab Melo (who committed 3 fouls in 5 minutes with a whopping 1 rebound and 1 turnover). The Per’fessor never figured out his rotation, and in the final minutes of the final game still had no idea who he trusted.

  • Shoddy defense, especially late in games.

Boeheim noticed early this team couldn’t guard. Lack of defense was the dagger in so many games this year. In “winning time” can you lock down and get a stop? The answer regularly for the Orange was no. Marquette in January? Insert Butler. Georgetown in February? Hello, backdoor cuts in the crunch. UConn in Big East tourney? Kemba Walker diced them. Marquette in March? Darius Johnson-Odom for three. Individually Jackson is the only player on SU considered a good individual defender. The Orange have zero solid perimeter defenders. That’s a severe problem. Defense wins championships. It’s not just a saying, it’s a truth.

In the end, this game was a microcosm of the season. Nearly every problem was present from from Scoop-itis, crunch-time scoring, free throws, and Marquette exposed them all. Yet with all that going wrong, Syracuse still shot 55% and only lost by 4.

This is encouraging going into next year. Jackson is going to be an enormous loss, but one that’s capable of being filled if Melo pans out and Rakeem Christmas is as good as advertised. The rest of the talent is there. Joseph and Triche should have breakout years. Maybe Scoop figures it out in his last hurrah. There’s always “what-ifs” but even more after being bounced by an 11-seed on opening weekend. Take solace in the Three Amigos already locked in and the Orange being one of the deepest teams in the Big East next season.

Posted: Craig Hoffman

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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