While there may be room for encouragement, no one can be completely satisfied with consecutive losses. Syracuse wasn’t expected to beat No. 2 Duke or No. 5 North Carolina, but the Orange put up a fight in both contests.
However, in spite of the silver lining, one frustrating trend remains clear. Syracuse – now more than ever – lives and dies by the three-pointer, and it’s not only against its toughest opponents like the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.
The Orange has attempted 43 percent of its field goals this season from beyond the arc – quite the leap from last year’s total, at 32.8 percent. One reason for the jump could be attributed to a lack of big man production.
Over Syracuse’s 15 conference games, the Orange has received a rather underwhelming 8.6 points and 11.75 rebounds per game between Paschal Chukwu, Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj, combined (although Dolezaj is not truly part of the problem). And while Oshae Brissett has shouldered plenty of the slack, not even the Toronto native – with a team-leading 7.6 rebounds per game – can prevent Syracuse’s inside play from reaching dangerous territory.
The Orange posts a -1.68 rebound margin ratio per game against opponents this year, a not too impressive feat, but it only gets worse from there. Since ACC play began back in early January, Syracuse’s rebound margin ratio per contest in conference games sits at -3.67 – a figure worse than the one posted in conference play by the disappointing 2016-2017 squad. Further making this season’s struggles all the more frustrating, the Orange ranked third in the ACC in rebound margin ratio per game just last year (3.6).
Obviously, Syracuse’s defensive play from its bigs has been far from perfect, but on an even clearer note, defensive struggles have nothing to do with offense – or do they?
What happens to be consistent – whether it be on offense or defense – is the inability of the big men to get involved. It’s an issue that has continuously plagued the Orange, and most recently reared its head during SU’s loss in Chapel Hill.
The Orange received double-digit contributions from four of its five starters on Tuesday. The only one to miss out was center Paschal Chukwu, who failed to really get involved despite not missing a field goal all night (4 points on just 2-of-2 shooting). Dolezaj made a nice impact off the bench, but he only attempted a mere three shots – further stressing the group’s lack of involvement.
What makes demonstrations like Tuesday’s so frustrating is that when Syracuse is getting 29 from Tyus Battle and double-digit outings from Elijah Hughes, Frank Howard and Brissett, the Orange still can’t snatch what would have been a tremendous statement win over one of the hottest teams in the country. On the defensive side, it’s no secret that Syracuse was beat badly on the boards at UNC.
Perhaps another reason behind SU’s dependence on the three-ball is the Orange’s reliance on its isolation offense. However, one can argue that Syracuse’s typically stagnant offense might actually be the result of a lack of confidence in its big men.
With that, is it fair to ask – is the play of SU’s bigs what’s limiting the team the most? If it’s not problem No. 1, it can’t be incredibly far off.