The Orange and Jim Boeheim are flying high off of an improbable tournament run in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving weekend. And while the few days off are a great time for the players and coaching staff to revel in success, any good program will head right back to work.
Syracuse is the only team in the country to have beaten two ranked teams and now sits at 6-0 heading into a very pivotal week in the non-conference schedule. On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Badgers travel to the Dome as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and then on Saturday SU renews its longtime rivalry with hated foe Georgetown on the road.
While Syracuse certainly looked good in Atlantis when knocking off two very athletic, talented teams, it cannot take its foot off of the pedal. There are a handful of things that SU needs to work on before conference play starts, and these two emotional games against reasonable squads are a perfect time to do so.
First, Boeheim needs to work on stretching his bench. Having just nine scholarship players available for the entire season seemed like a huge obstacle heading into the year. Yet, the head coach has already shortened his rotation to six players, with sparing minutes being handed out to Kaleb Joseph and Franklin Howard. Trevor Cooney (38.3 minutes per game) and Michael Gbinije (35.3) are logging an absurd number of minutes, and come March, the two will be flat-out exhausted if the trend continues.
Second, the Orange has to continuously work on getting Coleman back into game shape. Returning from an 18-month layoff is tough, but Coleman has looked better and better every time he has seen the court. Before Atlantis, he had tallied just seven rebounds in 37 minutes. However, Coleman enjoyed paradise, collecting 21 boards in 52 minutes. The more minutes the Coleman contributes; the more flexibility in the rotation, but it starts with avoiding foul trouble.
Third, the Orange has to work on driving the ball into the paint. SU was able to stay in games because of the bonus, and getting opponents into early foul trouble will be a key to success down the road. While chucking up three pointers is fun, Syracuse has no chance of winning games if it does not work inside. Malachi Richardson and Cooney did this very well in Atlantis, and it showed, as the team averaged over 24 free throw attempts per game.
Finally, the team needs to work on its zone defense. It was too easy for back-cutters to get the ball directly from the top of the key. The back line needs to be active with its hands and stop those passes from getting to the baseline because it just led to easy scoring chances. SU is 52nd in the country in defensive efficiency.
What do you think the Orange needs to work on heading into these two pivotal games? Remember to follow @OrangeFizz on Twitter for all SU basketball updates.