Syracuse has won seven straight since its only loss of the season, and yet Orange fans may be worried the squad hasn’t been quite as dominant as earlier in the season. SU has won games in different ways recently: running St. John’s off the floor, pulling away from Connecticut and Rutgers late, and grinding out wins over Georgetown and Louisville.
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The ability to win different types of games bodes well for SU’s chances in March, but it may be even more important to be playing its best at the right time. With only three regular season games left to work out the kinks, let’s take a look at what the Orange should focus on to make sure it’s firing on all cylinders in March.
- Improve the rebounding.
It’s SU’s most obvious flaw, and Jim Boeheim hasn’t been shy about saying so. Cleaning the glass might be the one dynamic most closely tied to this team’s performance. Syracuse has been able to win this season despite being outrebounded, but needed late game heroics against Georgetown and West Virginia when the Orange was outworked by more than 15 boards. SU’s most impressive performance of the last month was an 85-67 win over Connecticut. In that game, Syracuse won the rebounding battle 27-24. It’s probably no coincidence that the Orange’s best rebounding performance during this stretch also led to its most impressive win.
- Get the three-point shooters going again.
Brandon Triche is second among SU’s rotation players in 3-point shooting percentage. He’s also third on the team in scoring, but hasn’t reached double figures once this month. In February, Triche is just 2-15 from beyond the arc. His second half minutes have been cut recently in favor of Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters, but at some point the Orange is going to need Brandon to come up big. It would be comforting to see him get his stroke back before the regular season ends.
The other x-factor behind the arc is is the nearly forgotten James Southerland. Boeheim made it known early this season that Southerland would get a few minutes every game, and if he could hit shots, he could earn more minutes. The problem is, it’s been a while since Southerland has done significant damage from deep. Once considered the best sharp shooter on this team, he has gone 1-16 from three in the last seven games.
Wednesday night could be a big night for Southerland, since he should see some real minutes (he’s played 5 minutes or less in three of the last four). Knowing how much more explosive the offense is when Southerland is hitting from deep, it’s worth giving him substantial time in these last games to see if he can work his way out of this cold streak.
- Get Dion going on offense.
Waiters’ scoring can be the difference between a good Orange team and the unstoppable force we have seen at times this season. During SU’s most dominant stretch of the season from late-December until the Notre Dame loss, Waiters scored at least 12 points for eight straight games. But he’s reached double figures in only two of his last seven. If the Orange is going to beat other top teams in March, it needs Dion at the top of his game. Now would be a good time for him to start heating up again.
Posted: Steve Neikam