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Can Syracuse Recapture the Magic of Last Year’s Final Four Run?

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Yes, the Orange has now lost four out of five games. Yes, losing to BC and GT at home are bad losses. But no, that doesn’t mean the season is over. Losing to Duke in Cameron by six is not bad, especially considering the game was even closer than the final score. Virginia is a bad loss, but really only because the Cavaliers couldn’t miss a shot in the final 15 minutes of the game. And this stretch is drawing comparisons to some struggles that the Orange encountered last season.

Last year, the Orange struggled around the same time. In February, the Orange dropped four out of five, including two ugly games against Georgetown and a blowout against Louisville.  In fact, as The Fizz examined earlier in the week, those statistics are quite similar to this year’s slide. And just look at what SU did after that awful stretch. Boeheim had the Orange ten minutes from a Big East Championship and made a run all the way to the Final Four. You could argue that the losses last year were a good thing for the Orange and fueled the run that followed.

Of course, this year isn’t last year. Gone are MCW, Triche and Southerland. But enter Tyler Ennis and Michael Gbinije, who have both been valuable assets to the team. Ennis of course is the standout freshman floor general and Gbinije brings versatility and the ability to play three or four positions off the bench. In fact, Boeheim even said after the Virginia game that Roberson would start for injured Jerami Grant because he didn’t want to lose Gbinije’s versatility off the bench. This team has its strengths and weaknesses and differences from last year.

Part of the problem this year of course has been finding another source of consistent scoring to go along with CJ Fair. It hasn’t been Trevor Cooney, or Rakeem Christmas, and Gbinije simply isn’t that kind of player off the bench. Bottom line, there is no Southerland on this team that will step off the bench and put 15-20 points on the stat sheet. Another difference from last year has been on defense. While the Orange has played well, the team is worse in every major defensive category than it was last year, including opponent’s points per game, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, steals and blocks. This is simply a different team.

Another difference is the injuries. It started with DaJuan Coleman going down for the season in late January. Yes, Coleman has largely been a disappointment since stepping on campus last year, but he was a big body who could defend down low. Then add Keita’s injury on top of that. Keita has simply not looked the same since he missed the NC State game with a leg injury.  Against Virginia, it looked like Keita, usually solid on defense and the boards, could do nothing right in any aspect of the game. And now add in Grant. All of a sudden, Boeheim is forced to play Roberson, who Boeheim said had “nothing to contribute” to the Orange after the loss to Georgia Tech.

So yes, maybe the Orange lost four out of five this year. And it lost four out of five last year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the outcome will be the same. There is still some time for the Orange to turn it around again. Both teams fell and now the Orange once again need to use the conference tournament to build momentum, and only time will tell if Boeheim has an encore run up his sleeve.

Posted by: Seth Goldberg

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