Today begins the final real Big East Tournament, and we knew there’d be mixed emotions. For all the nostalgia and trips down memory lane we’ll take this week, the chief concern for Syracuse fans is what’s actually happening on the floor. The Orange hasn’t played well in a month and dropped 4 of the last 5. Any of those losses in a vacuum aren’t that alarming, but to to play the worst basketball of the season in the final two weeks leaves everyone wondering how short the March stay will be.
Saturday was abysmal in so many ways. It validated every concern anyone has about this team. The most optimistic way to view it is the regular season is over and theoretically none of it matters. Here are the biggest problems going into MSG:
- Someone must grow balls
This team is excellent as a front runner. When things are going well, they pounce and have the capability of making the big play as an exclamation point. However the mental fortitude of a Dion Waiters and even a Scoop Jardine doesn’t exist in this group.
Michael Carter-Williams can be a good leader but he just doesn’t have the clout of a guy like Scoop as a 5th year senior. MCW can be seen at times hanging his head and acting exactly like a guy playing his first full season as a starter. Jardine had been through the battles and nothing phased him even if at times it should have. Waiters just knew he was better than everyone else and had a “screw you” attitude that almost single handedly beat Cincinnati in the Big East semis last March.
The seniors on this team don’t have the same push. Brandon Triche should, but it’s just not his nature. He’s always been a second fiddle behind Rautins/Jardine and this year as MCW got all the attention there was no reason for him to change. James Southerland has always been a role player as well.
The best all-around player on the team is C.J. Fair, but he’s still the quiet type. If he comes back next year you’d expect him to show leadership qualities. A few weeks ago, Fair started to comment that Triche needs to be more aggressive then stopped abruptly as if he realized he may have overstepped his bounds. It’s in him. It will come out at some point. But don’t count on it this year.
If Carter-Williams plays better this month and quits making mistakes in key spots, he will be easier to follow. That might be enough to survive a few rounds in the tournament. However the leadership is more likely to come from the HOFer on the bench. Jim Boeheim has let his team play, but the approach hasn’t worked down the stretch. Maybe he’ll be more hands on in the tournament.
- Brandon Triche is on Trevor Cooney Island
This is the end of a frustrating four years with Triche. He’s a physical specimen with elite upper body strength for a guard. He’s got great instincts. He’s got all the skills. But he’s never been able to totally put it together. There certainly have been games and stretches of greatness, but the one thing that’s held him back is happening again: his own head.
You can see the uncertainty in his game. He doesn’t know when to assert himself and when he does he’s not entirely committed. His shot has been awful this year. He’s shooting less than 30% from the arc. Shooting is the most mental part of the game. It’s the same ailment for Trevor Cooney. It’s not for a lack of effort from either player. Both bust their asses. They may try too hard which could cause some of the problems.
Nonetheless, Brandon was deserving of his Third-Team All Big East selection. If he can get back to form during the tournaments – knocking down shots and getting to the rim – he could almost single-handedly solve Syracuse’s offensive problems as everything else would open up.
- Those offensive problems are absurd
The most staggering difference in Syracuse and Georgetown Saturday was how each team ran its offense. Yes, Georgetown’s pace is typically horrifyingly slow but in D.C. it was beautiful. It was as textbook in how to play against a zone. The ball never stopped moving. Players were in constant motion making them hard to track, causing confusing and creating wide open shots.
Syracuse’s offense has been the exact opposite, especially against a zone. If you want to die from a drinking game, chug when Carter-Williams or Triche is 20+ feet from the basket standing in place dribbling. Good luck making it to halftime.
When SU does start to move, everything is difficult. Why? There is no outside shooting threat outside of an ice cold Southerland. This allows defenses to clog the lane meaning more hands swiping at the guards, equaling more turnovers.
The only way to open this up is to hit shots. First they have to take them. SU is hoisting a lot of bad perimeter shots. Take the good ones. Pass up the bad ones. Easy concept. Much harder to do when your offense hasn’t been in rhythm in a month and you tally 4 assists for the game at G’Town. It’s almost impossible to do it’s so bad.
This team is playing like crap right now. They don’t rebound well. The offense is disastrous. But the talent ceiling is as high as any in the country during a down year in college hoops. The one positive Saturday was Rakeem Christmas’s activity. If he can play at the level he did last March after Fab went out, Triche finds his groove, Southerland starts shooting again and MCW’s game falls back into place Syracuse is capable of getting to Atlanta. So you’re saying there’s a chance? Yeah. A small one. But a chance.
Posted: Craig Hoffman