Syracuse is in the middle of arguably the toughest five game stretch any team in the country will face all season. Already through three games, the Orange has four ranked teams in five games, three of which sit in the top five in the nation.
Through the first three, Syracuse has registered just one win: a dominant 20 point victory over No. 18 Louisville. But what the Orange has also provided is their absolute best basketball of the season. It’s rare where a tournament-caliber team plays its best basketball over a three game period and the product is a 1-2 record. However, Syracuse has led at the half in all three games.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been blemishes in the Orange’s play. The rebounding has been shotty in crucial moments and there have still been long offensive dry spells. But the difference between the last two losses and the ones earlier in the season were that they gave fans a sense of optimism after the final horns. Syracuse hung with two of the hottest teams in the country.
While the success has come in inverse ways, we’ve now seen the Orange show that it can play effectively at any tempo. Against Duke, Syracuse really slowed things down and was effective defensively. Even thought R.J. Barrett had 30 points, the Orange still played really good defense on him. The top recruit in the class proved why he’ll be a top three pick this summer by making tough, contested shots all night long.
Meanwhile with UNC, Syracuse ran out of the gate. Quick trigger threes were falling en route to tying a season high with 14 made deep balls. A few defensive blunders and some poor officiating certainly played major roles in the outcome. It’s also unlikely Syracuse will face a team that takes 37 free throws. It’s even more unlikely that the opponent will make 92 percent of those attempts.
But the total team effort came against Louisville in the team’s best win when you take into account the opponent and dominance. Through this stretch, Syracuse has absolutely locked down teams from distance. While it may not seem like it, opponents are shooting 27.9 percent from three against SU over the last three games. And it’s all coming at a consistent sample size. Louisville had 28 attempts, while both Duke and UNC had 29. In fact, if you take away UNC’s Coby White (6-for-11) and Duke’s Alex O’Connell (5-8), those three teams have shot 19.4 percent from three. The last two games have been soiled by giving open looks and not closing out on two players. That alone is the difference between Syracuse being 1-2 and potentially 3-0 during this stretch of hell.
The importance of this all boils down to the fact that Syracuse can be dangerous, but is still figuring out how to close games. There’s veterans on this team and we’ve seen them take over in the past. With one big game remaining in the regular season, the Orange has a chance to pick up its biggest win of the season against what should be a top three ranked Virginia team. SU is playing its best ball of the year, but they can’t let the 1-2 record as the product of their labor play a factor for the rest of the season.