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Defense is the Key to Syracuse’s Success

After a disappointing start to the season, Syracuse was back on track and then slipped again. They won four straight, but now the Orange have lost three in a row. Can they find their groove on both offense and defense again?

Losing to Virginia wasn’t ideal, but they still managed to hold the Cavaliers to just 48 points. That is the fewest points the Cavaliers have scored, tying their offensive production against Arizona State on November 24th. We are well aware that Virginia’s offense isn’t exactly the most dominant force in the NCAA, but they’re still defending champ and to hold one of the top teams in the nation to under 50 is solid.

Under Jim Boeheim, we all know about the vanuted 2-3 zone. The Orange have statistically been one of the most defensively sound teams in the NCAA over the last four decades. Defense often wins championships and Syracuse’s signature brand is built on a specific type of D.

But what kind of team is Syracuse on defense? While it’s early in the season, we have seen the highs and the lows defensively. Oklahoma State and Penn State both put up 85+ points. Getting up in the face of the opposition and smothering their breathing room has worked for the Orange. Why didn’t it happen there? Through the first 5 games this season, Syracuse was ranked 9th in the NCAA in points against per game. Allowing just 53.6 points, that defensive formula is the backbone of winning.

But that was against Seattle, Cornell, Bucknell and Colgate. Those are not the type of teams that you’ll face in the ACC. Elijah Hughes playing alongside Joseph Girard were averaging two turnovers each per game.

The Orange were also one of the most disciplined teams in the NCAA early on. In that 4-1 start the Orange were ranked 20th in fouls. But their defensive efficiency fell dramatically over the last three games, and now the question is will there be time to get it straightened out before league play? Vegas certainly isn’t confident.

According to betting site Betway the Orange are listed at +6600 to win the NCAA Championship. They have the same odds as teams like LSU, Texas and Baylor (not exactly traditional basketball powers).

Syracuse has a long road to get better before March, but the ACC slate is brutal again. What will the D look like against Virginia, Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina later on? Those games will once again decide the outlook of Syracuse’s season.

The Orange didn’t receive recognition in the AP preseason polls, either. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. During the 2009-2010 season, the Orange were not listed on the AP preseason polls. They would top out at #1 and reach the Regional Semifinals. Of course, this team doesn’t seem to have the depth of that ’10 squad.

The Orange were left off the AP preseason polls in ’03 as well. Alas, there’s no Carmelo on this roster. But preseason expectations have proven to be insignificant when it comes to Syracuse.

The Orange have something in their “Big Three” that will continue to grow through the program. This season, Syracuse has five freshmen on their roster and four sophomores. This team is again built for the future.

The road to March is a long one. Syracuse has a young, scrappy group that needs to use every inch of the floor. But the defense will tell us the potential. It feels like another bubble season, but it’s all about getting into the dance, and take it from there.

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The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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