Front-Runners: Syracuse Lacks Leadership & Mental Toughness Needed for March

The Orange need to find an emotional leader or else this ship could sink quickly in the tourney.

We’ve seen it at various points throughout the season, and especially the last couple times out. Something isn’t quite there for Syracuse late in ballgames.

You could feel it during the Marquette game. The Orange led most of the second half before ceding control to the Golden Eagles after the under-8:00 official timeout. Marquette went on a 10-2 run capped by a Davante Gardner bucket that gave them the lead, and Jim Boeheim called time.

Teams go on runs. Specifically, top-tier Big East teams playing on their home courts go on runs. That’s okay. Not okay was Syracuse’s response to Marquette’s run. What you may have sensed heading into Boeheim’s timeout at the 4:58 mark was the distinct feeling that Syracuse was going to lose.

I had that feeling because I’ve seen other similar scenarios lead to the same end result – a Syracuse loss – previously this season. Syracuse is 22-6, and near the top of the Big East standings. Kudos to the Orange. But SU isn’t a championship-caliber squad, at least not right now. And that’s because Syracuse is a front-running team.

Unfortunately, that’s not an opinion. It’s fact so far with this year’s group.

  • Syracuse has won only 4 games after trailing at any point in the 2nd half
  • SU has won just twice after trailing with less that 12 minutes left (Louisville, Cincinnati)
  • The Orange has trailed 7 times by multiple possessions with less than 4 minutes left
  • Syracuse has won just once in that scenario (Cincinnati)
  • SU is just 1-6 when down by multiple possessions inside 4 minutes.

If the record weren’t as extreme it could be made to sound like a John Madden “the team that scores more points wins the game” statement, but the 1-6 mark is telling for Syracuse.

It’s clear that when facing adversity, this year’s Orange isn’t typically up to the challenge. SU doesn’t have the composure to consistently make baskets in pressure-packed situations. When it’s go time: a time-running-out, down-by-multiple-baskets, must-score possession, Syracuse looks panicked.

Part of that is personnel. The Fizz has documented why Syracuse is flawed offensively. But this problem is more than the lack of a low post presence, or limited (to one person) three-point shooting options. It’s not even really about lacking a go-to scorer (though it kind of goes hand-in-hand with that).

What has prevented SU from late-game success? The absence of a true emotional leader.

When Marquette made that run to jump ahead, the Orange’s body language when Boeheim called timeout was disturbing. Shoulders were slumped, heads were pointed toward the ground. Even worse, there was no one to rally the troops. No one to clap their hands firmly together, lightly shove a couple people, lift some heads up, and yell “We can do this, guys! Get your heads back in it!”

Brandon Triche has made strides as a leader this season, but he’s still a very quiet guy. James Southerland loves to smile and wave his hands after hitting a three, but he’s silent when things aren’t going well. Those are your seniors.

C.J. Fair is the most consistent scorer for Syracuse, but he’s also consistently a quiet personality. Baye Moussa Keita gives superb effort, but doesn’t play a big enough role to be a true leader. Rakeem Christmas looks like he’s asleep half the time out there. DaJuan Coleman might be the most enthusiastic and emotional guy on the roster, but he’s been a non-factor most of the season, and isn’t currently in the mix for playing time.

Michael Carter-Williams, though he’s just a sophomore, could potentially fit the bill. He’s a passionate player, but he’s just extremely immature. He tends to tense up and make worse decisions late in games, and easily loses composure after he makes a mistake, or if an official makes a bad call.

Despite Boeheim’s ridiculous display following the Marquette loss in which he suggested otherwise, the Syracuse roster may not contain enough leadership.

The solution to the problem? It’s not about finding the magic person to be a leader. It’s about using these last few regular season games to build a collective team confidence. It sounds absurdly cliché, but the Syracuse players need to believe in themselves and each other when times get tough.

Because right now, if you look at their faces during the final minutes of games, they don’t think they can win. And it’s a shame, because with the right mindset, this team still has championship potential in a college basketball season devoid of a true, shall we say, “front-runner” ahead of the pack.

Posted: Andrew Kanell

25 Comments on this Post

  1. I accept all that you say, but having watched this team closely throughout the year, if the past is prologue, and by this time of the year it probably is, then we will not go very far. Why? A soft center of big guys, no 3-point shooter and a undeveloped PG. And, as you indicate, no leadership.

  2. Triche isn’t wired to be a leader. MCW is too young to be that guy. Christmas definitely isn’t the guy, way to subdued. Grant and Coleman are just freshman. The two guys that need to step up in the leadership department are Fair and Southerland. Realistically, those two are our best hope at finding a leader.

  3. @Andrew Kanell;

    When you and all of the sports writers started to write about MCW as being the best point guard in the nation,he read all of those articles and started to think maybe you guy’s were right. Well to me all of that early attention just made his head swell. You guys keep on reporting about the big’s not producing in a game.Why is that? Neither MCW or Brandon Triche gets the ball into them at all. Brandon Triche has been stroked by Boeheim trying to build his confidence up for 4 years. His self esteem is so low that I really don’t understand why he’s even on the court. They both play out of control,their passes are disgusting.

    We have a team that has a point guard playing with a swollen head and with an attitude that effects the rest of the team and a shooting guard with a self esteem problem.

    I will admit though when Brandon shows up to play and believes in himself the kid is good really good. Only problem is that he doesn’t do it enough.

    I hope that MCW does go pro. I don’t think the kid is helping this team at all and wish him well in the future.

  4. Ron,

    You got it! Everyone rags on our big guys but the fact is 95% of the time when rak or DC post up MCW or BT look them off an rotate the ball back to Southerland or the other guard around the top of the key. Rak seems disinterested due to the fact most of the time he’s kept out of the offensive flow. I’d be pissed to if i was working to get position on the block to just watch BT MCW or J-south jack a 3.

  5. Johnny Flynn was a leader as a sophomore it’s all about being a natural born leader and have the level headed was when you’re down in a game.

  6. @Carlton;

    I had to work and haven’t seen the Georgetown game yet. When listening to it on the radio it seemed like everyone was shooting the three from anywhere between the half court line to the three point arc and wasn’t getting it into the bigs at all.

    I agree with you that if I’m down low fighting for position all of the time then get me the damn ball. I deserve it. Can anyone out there tell me why C.J.Fair isn’t getting the ball more? I see him as the leader of the team not MCW or Brandon Triche.

  7. Ron- I suspect MCW has better things to think about than what sports writers are saying about him. His declining performance has more to do with better competition and teams figuring out how to defend him than anything else.

    Also, hoping that MCW goes pro is insanity. Be careful what you wish for, because wishing for him to go pro means your wishing for a roster with only 3 scholarship guards – Tyler Ennis, Ron Patterson, and Trevor Cooney. (We’ll see if Michael Gbinije plays atop the zone but at 6-7 he’s seemingly more of a forward.) That’s a roster with only one ball handler (Ennis), because both Patterson and Cooney are below average in that area for guards.

    Carter-Williams will probably go pro, but I think it a helps both him and the team if he stays. He needs another year in school to mature and develop.

  8. @Andrew Kanell;

    first let me say thank you for responding to my comments. Can any of the other three guards that you mention play any worse than what MCW is playing now? I don’t think so. I agree that he needs more time to develop his skill set,but when I do watch a game and it seems to me that he intentionally ignores the bigs, well that just irritates me. I’m not backing off of my comments either he should go pro and maybe one the the guards coming in will show us all on how a point guard should play the game and distribute the ball to the bigs. As I see it now MCW is not that person.

  9. Felix DeMott

    Felix says:

    I totally agree with Ron. Admit MCW played lesser competition, but he looked great against Ark. Temple played the perfect game against him, let him shoot and cover the other four guys on his drives and send him to the foul line and you beat Syracuse. All teams since have played that same template along with a zone since they realized the only true three point shooter is Southerland and we have no inside presence.
    If Triche doesn’t make his first couple shots you can almost forget him and MCW doesn’t seem to be the team player like he was in the beginning of the year. I would also invite Grant’s Dad to all the future games, including the NCAA, Jerami hasn’t played a good game since N.D. in front of his folks!!

  10. AnaheimOrange

    I know folks on here are bashing on MCW and BT for not passing into the bigs in the offensive set, but allow me to ask you a question: how many times have you watched them do just that only to watch BMK, Rak, or DC fumble the ball that leads to a turnover?

    The answer is: too many times.

    The bigs are not skilled on the offensive end. None of them.

  11. @Anaheim Orange

    It is too bad that DC had not been able to showcase what he can do offensively. He is a GREAT back to the basket player that has not been able to show it in limited time. He will be better than Onuaku, just give him time.

    As for this year, DC wont get his minutes so we are stuck with Rak and BMK making up a terrible tandem of offensive inefficiency. Better hope the Guards, Southerland and CJ step up, cause we are playing 4 on 5.

  12. I don’t disagree with anything in this… but I do feel some context is necessary if these facts are going to be used to support an argument of a team being a “front-runner”

    The Orange has trailed 7 times by multiple possessions with less than 4 minutes left
    Syracuse has won just once in that scenario (Cincinnati)

    What was ’03, ’10, ’12 Syracuse in those situations? What are the top-10 teams this year?

    It’s HARD to win games vs decent teams when down 4+ with less than 4 minutes left. 1-6 I’d guess is downright close to average.

  13. @AnaheimOrange,

    Really don’t know what games you have been watching this season but at least rak has at times this season showed flashes that he had a little low post game. Even DC started to show some flashes before he got hurt and BMK’s hands have got better this season. Most of the time when they fumble the ball away its a poor alley-oop pass from BT or a forced pass by MCW after he leaves his feet.

  14. Carlton,I just want to add to your comment,DC and BMK along with RAK fumble when the guard drives the lane gets 7-8 feet away from the basket and decides to pass them the ball instead of shooting it towards the basket. The bigs just don’t expect it when the guards get that close,they expect them to shoot the ball. When the bigs get the ball and lowers it to floor it’s a hugh disadvantage, even a person standing all of 3’4″ tall can get the ball away from them.

  15. @AnaheimOrange;
    “I know folks on here are bashing on MCW and BT for not passing into the bigs”.

    AnaheimOrange,I think we are doing exactly what this web site was intended. For the fans to have a GOOD HEALTHY DEBATE about one of the programs that we all love. I don’t see it as bashing anyone,I see it as people stating facts that unfold on a per game basis.

  16. Ron,

    Yes b/c MCW has found out he can’t finish through contact and instead looks for someone to bail him out. I wouldn’t waste the time watching the Gtown game. SU blew a big early lead by taken half-court 3’s.

  17. Lets not beat around the orange peels here. Jim Boeheim is not the coach he thinks he is. He has plenty of arrogance and will question anything said about him or even if its implied. His go to response is that a person knows nothing about the game or has coached a game.We all know thats BS but he has gotten away with this garbage for a lot of decades. This year’s coaching by him may be his absolute worse in his career. Some of these guys are playing undisciplined and repeating their mistakers game after game. i’m really not expecting much different this Saturday. Are you?

  18. AnaheimOrange


    I agree that with time DC will prove to be a great post player for us.


    What games have I…. how about every one of them! Showing flashes or making a good play or two a game does not inspire confidence in the guards to get the ball to them more. If they showed any offensive consistency down low, different story. BMK’s hands are better this year, but still far from what most would call good hands.


    I don’t mean bashing literally… but you know that! I agree with you. My point is that perhaps some of the criticism of the guard play when it comes to not getting the bigs the ball enough is due to the fact that the bigs, time and again, have not demonstrated the ability to 1) catch and 2) finish.

    That said, I’m not cutting the guards any slack either.

  19. @AnaheimOrange;honest dialog/debates between the fans of any team is always a good thing. I haven’t read/seen anything where one of us has condemned the other for their points of view during this discussion.

    My God,what am I saying here? I believe that we were being civil to each other. It’s refreshing when something like this happens. Isn’t it?

  20. You can literally watch air come out of Rak when he does not get early touches. He becomes increasingly tentative as game progresses. DC gets yanked so fast he never gets to relax and just play (to his credit, he always hustles and doesn’t hang his head). BMK shows effect of lost redshirt year with defection of Riley. Because ball doesn’t go into post, there at no inside out (generally higher quality) 3s. Big men come out high and make unenthusiastic picks because when was the last time any of them ever got it back on he roll? No production from post and inability of JSouth to score off dribble makes perimeter easier to defend. With Grant in their along with MCW there is no perimeter to have to defend. Successful SU teams in recent past went inside first. We have a very short time to find some type of offense that goes to the paint first or with a bad matchup we wont make sweet 16.

  21. AnaheimOrange

    “Successful SU teams in recent past went inside first.”

    Excellent observation by Al.

    @Ron – refreshing indeed!

  22. AnaheimOrange


    NBA/NFL/NCAAB/NHL… name the sport and every head coach, at some point, will be questioned about his coaching decisions. In the interest of fairness, I find myself in support of Coach B more times than not. IMO, JB is a HOF Coach and rightfully so.

    However, I do not agree with his position that since he’s been doing his job for 37 years, that no one can question him about it. Quite rare is the job that one can get away with not being questioned about one’s job performance. With his snarky responses to the media, he sounds like the folks who always fall back on the same old, tired excuse when they defend everything he does: “How many Division 1 wins do you have, Anaheim Orange?” Hmmm… maybe JB himself is a forum member on with that type of response.

    Bottom line: like a skilled politician, he avoids answering the underlying questions, doesn’t he?

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