Being a Syracuse fan this season has been a struggle. The Orange has had its ups and downs, and they has never given the supporters in Central New York reason to feel comfortable. Was the Clemson victory the “big win,” the one that sparks the hope in fans that the season isn’t over?
Entering the ACC tournament, SU finished just 8-10 in conference this year, playing the kind of offense that makes fans’ blood boil. Their shooting has been poor, and their lack of offensive movement has been a glaring problem from the start. In fact, this might be Jim Boeheim’s worst offense in his 42 seasons.
But hope lies in the impossible becoming possible, like the Cinderella Final Four team a few years ago. The Clemson win shows they can still beat good teams on their day, which is why basketball fans who regularly bet with Stakers on the NCAA find them a tempting proposition. However, they can just as easily lose bad games to bad teams, like the 15-point shellacking at Boston College. Home losses to St. Bonaventure, Notre Dame, and North Carolina State, along with road losses at Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, are hard to get past and they’ve left the Orange in a hole.
While things are looking pretty bleak, the Orange are not done yet. The foundation of a push deep into the NCAAs will be the defense. Their 2-3 zone defense has been tough all season and has kept them involved in pretty much every game. In fact, seven of their 11 losses have been single-digit defeats. In the ACC, only #1 Virginia has fewer points allowed. That will encourage Orange fans who remember ’13, when a misfiring offense was rescued by a rock-solid defense, holding opponents to 46 points per game and propelled the team into the Final Four.
Of course, first they have to get to the NCAAs. That, admittedly, is the hard part. So far, the only wins that stand out are those over Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Louisville. Beating the best teams in the ACC was the achilles heel this season, losing to North Carolina and Duke. Now it’s time to get a pair of wins in Brooklyn, hoping that’s enough as the ACC is one of the toughests conferences.
Then there’s Tyus Battle. Just a sophomore on what is one of the youngest teams in the country, Battle is one of the stars of the ACC, and at his best can carry the Orange almost single-handedly. He is the go-to player when the Orange need a basket, and at 6′ 6″ he is a dangerous presence in the zone. If he stays engaged, gets help offensively, and maybe pushes his limits, Syracuse may be able to recover their season.
The continuing improvement of Frank Howard could also help. He struggled earlier in the season to work out his role, but since Howard Washington picked up his season-ending injury, Howard has begun to look the part. If his confidence continues to grow, his partnership with Battle could blossom into something really special.
The final part of the puzzle that could turn the Orange’s season around could be Oshae Brissett. If the team is going to get a few wins in Brooklyn, they can’t rely on Battle and Howard alone, and freshman Brissett is the likeliest candidate to make that extra contribution. A great rebounder and solid shooter, Brissett has big potential in March, and if he steps up in the next two games and beyond, then things could look up for the Orange.
Can SU find its way off the bubble and into the NCAAs? They’re doing it the hard way, but they still have a chance. Two wins at Barclays and it might be hard for the selection committee to ignore their resume. After that, things will only get harder, but Syracuse fans have seen a shocker (good and bad) over the years, so maybe there’s still basketball to be played past this week.