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