Any road win in the ACC is a good one, especially for a team that picked up an uncharacteristic four non-conference losses. After Syracuse pulled out a convincing 72-62 victory at Notre Dame on Saturday, there were signs that an identity was starting to be established. But these entail both positive and negative factors moving forward.
Elijah Hughes is the Team’s Best Scorer
After getting called out by Jim Boeheim for his poor performance against Cornell, Hughes has been Mr. Consistency. The East Carolina transfer hasn’t scored fewer than 15 points in the seven games since. Don’t get me wrong, Tyus Battle is still the team’s best player because of his leadership, clutch factor and overall game. But for a squad that was so inept offensively last year, Hughes is starting to feel like the Orange’s most important player. He scores with style and ease and always seems to come up with a clutch three to counterpunch an opponent run or start one for SU. He showcased all of that against Notre Dame en route to a career high 22 points on 6-for-13 shooting from deep. Hughes can score from any spot on the floor and the Orange will need that for the remainder of the year to be a top four team in the ACC.
Believe it or not, Syracuse is now 2-0 in true road games. Ironically, both of those games were 72-62 wins for the Orange. Road wins are extremely difficult and carry a lot of weight come March. With Syracuse potentially on the bubble for the fourth straight season, the committee will certainly look at SU’s impressive performances against Ohio State and Notre Dame. Syracuse has shot astronomically better from three in both games, shooting a combined 23-for-53 (43 percent). While that seems unsustainable for a team that entered South Bend shooting 29.9 percent from distance, it’s certainly encouraging to see this team has the talent and can catch fire when needed. That just simply wasn’t the case last year. Syracuse has a gauntlet on the road this year with Duke, Virginia Tech, NC State and North Carolina on the road slate. Those make up the top four scoring offenses in the conference. Translation: the Orange is going to need points when it travels south.
Still No Big Man
While there was more good than bad in the win over Notre Dame, the Orange proved there is still a gaping hole at center. The trio of Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe all bring three different skill sets to the table. Dolezaj is the most polished offensively, Chukwu is the superior on defense and Sidibe owns the best post game. But the one thing they all have in common that surely drives Jim Boeheim up a wall are their knacks for fouling. Against Notre Dame, the three played a combined 44 minutes and racked up 13 fouls with both Dolezaj and Chukwu fouling out. Aside from this problem, Syracuse just finds ways to get exploited regardless of who’s on the floor. If it’s Dolezaj, prepare for lobs over the top. Chukwu? Four on five offense. All while Sidibe finds himself somewhere in the middle. Dolezaj brings the most to the table, despite his size deficiencies. He needs to channel his play from the ACC and NCAA Tournaments from last year, or else the five will be targeted all season long.