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Syracuse’s Offensive Achilles Heel

After the program’s second straight 0-2 flop in New York City, there aren’t a whole lot of positive thoughts surrounding Syracuse basketball. The Orange are off to their worst start since the 1996-1997 season and have still yet to beat a Power 5 opponent.

Neither game at Barclays Center this past week was particularly close and SU put up one of the worst rebounding performances we’ve seen in quite some time in the loss to Penn State. Because of that abysmal showing on the boards against the Nittany Lions, a lot of the negative focus has been centered on the center position and the bigs in general.

While they deserve a decent amount of the blame, the problems aren’t entirely limited to their efforts. Keep in mind, in that game, SU still shot just 18-54 (33.3%) from the floor with the worst offenders all being wings or guards. Joe Girard (1-9), Elijah Hughes (3-11) and Buddy Boeheim (5-16) went a combined 9-36 (25%) from the floor and 5-19 (26%) from the three-point line. Naturally guard and wing shooting percentages are going to be lower based on the sheer volume and difficulty of shots they take in comparison to bigs, but those numbers are really, really bad.  

Last year, the numbers were terrible because of stagnancy and a lack of ball movement in the offense along with a distinct lack of three-point shooting ability.

The latter certainly isn’t a problem this year and the movement has been much better at many junctures this year. So with relative improvements in both categories, it begs the question, what the heck is wrong with the offense? At least part of the answer: Syracuse is completely unable to score off the dribble.  

In seasons past, when the offense just couldn’t get anything going like the Orange against Oklahoma State, Penn State and Virginia, they’d turn to a guy like Tyus Battle. Because Tyus was such an explosive athlete with a quality handle and excellent quickness and acceleration, he could get to the cup in the blink of an eye and at least draw a foul if not make the shot.

He consistently made something out of nothing and created high-quality scoring opportunities for himself and others as a result. In some instances, this made SU one-dimensional because all the opponent had to do was shut down Tyus off the dribble drive knowing that nobody else had the ability to knock down a perimeter shot. On this year’s team, however, with all the improved shooting, somebody who can create off the bounce would be astronomically helpful.

Elijah Hughes has shown flashes of the ability at times but it’s been far from consistent. This leads to the offense becoming stagnant and ineffective in a way that’s different from last year but equally as frustrating. It limits the Orange’s ability to work inside-out and means that the entirety of the offense is based around the three-point line.

That means that when shots aren’t falling which can happen even for high-level shooting teams, SU has no other form of offense to turn to. It gives the opposing defense the ability to simply guard against the three-ball and hound ball handlers and shooters on the perimeter, forcing either contested shots or quick and easy takeaways that lead to transition buckets the other way. That’s exactly what both Oklahoma State and Penn State did to Syracuse on the defensive end and it completely exposed one of the Orange’s biggest offensive flaws.

It’s something that the Orange simply must figure out. Against inferior competition and athletes, SU has had and will continue to have no problems beating defenders off the dribble, getting to the bucket and facilitating the offense. But as the competition stiffens and defenders get longer, quicker and more athletic, settling for contested jumpers (three-point or otherwise) because you can’t get to the hole is going to become a serious issue.

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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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