Syracuse basketball lives and dies by how well Buddy Boeheim plays on a particular night. He will clearly be the “go-to guy” next season if Elijah Hughes declares for the draft, and at times Boeheim is the one his teammates look to for a bucket. He’s shown his ability to go on double-digit runs by himself.
Recently Boeheim has also added a pull-up jumper from midrange to his repertoire. While this move wasn’t very successful against Duke, he’s had repeated success against weaker ACC teams when guarded by smaller defenders. This area of his game must absolutely improve. It’s promising to see Boeheim do something besides shoot from distance, but he must become more consistent in this area. He also needs to get better at finding separation, whether that’s from a ball-screen, or improving his vertical to rise up over defenders.
But the offensive skill set that Boeheim must improve the most is getting to the free throw line. So far this season Boeheim has taken just 32 shots from the charity stripe. Joe Girard has taken 63, and Hughes has shot 108. Marek Dolezaj leads the team with a couple more than Hughes. Even Quincy Guerrier, who is averaging almost half the playing time of Boeheim has taken nearly double the shots.
Of course, Boeheim isn’t banging with big men down low like Dolezaj and Guerrier. And he’s not the primary ball handler like Girard, or the go to driver that Hughes is. But Boeheim is clearly the second best scorer on the team, with the capability to take over games. While he’s comfortable as a shooter, he obviously isn’t comfortable going all the way to the bucket.
Some of that may have to do with his inability to separate from defenders – which Hughes does exceptionally well. But if Girard – the smallest of SU’s starting five – is comfortable putting his head down and going to the bucket, Boeheim must expand that part of his game as well.
It’s too easy for defenders to know what Boeheim plans to do when he’s in two point land. Either he passes it out, or he rises for a contested jumper. Just by willingly going to the hoop, defenders will be forced to play on their heels. Unpredictability will only help Boeheim, and this team could clearly use as many trips to the free throw line as it can get.
When he gets to the line, Boeheim also needs to improve his shooting. Right now he’s only shooting 72 percent. That’s worse than Brycen Goodine. With more trips to the line, that percentage will likely go up. Frankly, Boeheim’s too good of a shooter to be that poor from the line. In all likelihood, it’s simply a matter of him not getting there to improve that percentage.
If the Orange could find three to five more points a game from Boeheim getting to the line, the tournament chances of SU would look much different. Maybe that means a win over Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, or Clemson – rather than the losses that complicate the rest of the season. Jim Boeheim has said that Buddy works out four hours a day. The work has paid off by adding the midrange jumper to his game. Now, he has to focus on getting all the way to the hoop.