The defeat was also frustrating for Orange fans because it represented yet another example of the late-game problems plaguing SU in losses this season (for that matter over the last several seasons). The Orange was outrebounded and outhustled by a smaller, less-talented opponent. And more importantly, Syracuse still hasn’t solved its crunch time offensive issue.
Luckily for the Orange, James Southerland’s return helps big time. SU scores upwards of 10 more points game with Southerland in the lineup. Big Game James specifically makes Michael Carter-Williams a much better offensive player. Forgetting about assist totals for a minute, Southerland’s presence actually helps MCW become a more efficient scorer.
Carter-Williams’ shooting numbers in the 6 games Southerland missed: 21-67 FG (31%); 7-25 3-pt (28%)
Carter-Williams’ shooting numbers in the 5 Big East games with Southerland in the lineup: 24-58 FG (41%); 8-22 3-pt (36%)
During the sharpshooter’s absence, Southerland’s teammates admitted his ability to space the floor was missed. He draws defenders away from the paint, opening up space for MCW to break down smaller guards off the dribble and make plays without as much resistance from help defenders. When he’s comfortable, Carter-Williams hits layups and floaters a high percentage of the time. When forced to make decisions under duress, he’s out of rhythm and frustrates himself.
Putting Southerland aside, Carter-Williams’ numbers during Big East play are concerning. During the team’s 13 non-conference games, MCW averaged north of 10 assists per contest, logged 8 double-digit assist games, and shot 39% from the field.
In 11 Big East games, MCW has averaged less than 6 assists per game, recorded only 1 double-digit assist game, and shot 36 percent from the field.
And then there’s this stat: During non-conference play, Carter-Williams attempted 10+ shots in 6 of 13 games. In conference competition, he has hoisted up 10+ shots in 9 of 11 games.
It’s fair to expect some performance drop-off against better competition in the Big East. But the bottom line is, MCW isn’t close to the same player he was earlier in the season. He’s setting up his teammates less, and shooting the basketball too much.
Against UConn, Carter-Williams attempted 13 field goals, and collected a season-low 1 assist. With Southerland back in the fold, Carter-Williams must find a way to return to non-conference form, or at least arc in that direction.
MCW drives the Orange offensive attack. Advanced metrics still show he’s one of the most valuable players in the nation. However, he’s no longer the nation’s leader in assists, a distinction he’s held most of the season. And that speaks to the recent trend of his game.
Defensively, Syracuse is about as good as it gets, despite some late breakdowns against Connecticut. But the Orange better find answers on offense if it plans on making a deep NCAA Tournament run. And that starts with Carter-Williams.
Posted: Andrew Kanell