If you’re a glass half-empty Syracuse fan, a faithful Orange supporter who’s convinced the bottom drops out at some point, this is all making too much sense. A torrid 25-0 start to the season has given way to three losses in the last four games, and the only victory being a nail-biter over a very mediocre Maryland team.
Syracuse had a chance to stop the bleeding and prevent Virginia from winning the ACC regular season, while probably locking down a no. 1 seed and got beat up 75-56. Had the Orange knocked off the no. 12 Cavs on the road, that likely would’ve sewn up a top seed. Instead, there’s serious questions staring Syracuse in the face right now.
After all the late-game magic through the first 25 games, SU has looked tentative and out of sync in the final minutes since. This was a tied game, 42-42 with 11:00 to play. Virginia then went on a 33-14 run to close out, creating turnovers, getting stops and finishing on its end.
Tyler Ennis who has looked so calm, so complete in pressure situations, was harried and off the mark in the second half (although he came out of the gates like lightning to begin the game). C.J. Fair’s offensive game was ugly when it mattered most as well. He connected on two free throws that made it 42-all. He scored only one point in the final 11 minutes.
But the biggest concern is clearly Jerami Grant. His back is tweaking on him, and he was unable to play in the second half. Without Grant, the Orange just doesn’t have enough firepower (or big bodies) to get deep into March. A healthy and effective Grant takes scoring pressure off Fair and Ennis, adds vital rebounding, and creates plenty of second-chance points off misses. He allows Rak Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita to merely be role players, instead of depended on for crucial defense and glass work.
It’s probably best for Jim Boeheim to rest Grant the final two games. You don’t want to take on any more water, but Syracuse has to be able to beat a bad Georgia Tech team at home without him. Going to FSU and winning minus Grant will be tougher, but SU’s most important work will come in the ACC tourney and NCAA tourney. And as long as the Orange are placed in the Buffalo and New York City pods, whatever happens in the regular season is forgiven and forgotten. A healthy Grant for the tournament is a necessity.
A cynical Syracuse fan has seen this story unfold before. Hot start, weak finish, disappointing exit in March. And those Orange fans will be watching through their fingers until SU gets sorted out.