Last night Tyler Ennis didn’t need a clean look to sink Pittsburgh on the road. He didn’t even need to follow through. In fact, he didn’t need too much help from his teammates while draining a 35-footer for yet another dramatic, come-from-behind victory for Syracuse.
So, yes, the Orange is 24-0. It’s the longest win streak in program history. And all of Cuse Nation loves it (insert Jim Boeheim smile here).
Fans in central New York are not the only ones saying it anymore. Even all those ACC analysts up and down the coast are not alone. The notion has gone national. Syracuse is, well, good. Like, really good. But why? Why is this team so good? Why is the Orange off to its best start in program history
It doesn’t have the depth of, say, Jim Boeheim’s team from two years ago. Remember the five off the bench for Syracuse during its run to the Elite 8? Dion Waiters, CJ Fair, James Southerland, Michael Carter-Williams and Baye Keita. Almost the entirety of that unit became starters (and did I mention they came off the bench?). This year’s team doesn’t score a whole lot. The 71 PPG don’t match up with the 80+ that the 2003 National Championship and 1987 National runner-up teams scored on a nightly basis. Then why is Syracuse good?
The Fizz breaks it all down by the numbers. And you’ll find out there’s more to that answer than you’d think. Take a look.
Tyler Ennis Is Clutch
There’s really no other place to start. It seems whenever the Orange needs to press the damage control button, Ennis swoops in to the rescue. The freshman has poise, confidence, and an unfamiliarity with the term “failure.” Check out his numbers in the last five minutes and in overtime of ACC games this year:
- FG%: 53%
- FT%: 85%
That is straight up cold-blooded. The free-throw number is more impressive considering he hovered just above the 70 percent mark for much of this season. He knows when to turn it on when he needs to. And that means he’ll knock down his signature floater in the lane when he has to. Attack the paint and get to the line when his team needs him to. Pittsburgh has now witnessed this display twice in just a month.
And don’t forget, he also leads the ACC in assists, with close to six per game.
Syracuse Hits Its Free Throws
It’s probably one of the most necessary improvements from recent years. The Orange has been money from the charity strip. The Orange has hit 70 percent of its free throws and the number is on the rise. If SU finishes above the 70 percent mark, it would be the highest in 13 years. But what’s more remarkable, is Syracuse’s ability to make the freebies when it matters. Take a look at how clutch SU has been from the line against the best teams its faced:
- Against ACC teams: 73%
- Against Power Conference/ACC teams: 75%
- Against Ranked Teams: 82%
Did you enjoy watching that figure rise? Think about how important Syracuse’s free-throw shooting will prove to be come Tournament time, especially with how often players like Ennis, Fair and Jerami Grant get to the stripe.
Win The Turnover Battle
We’ve heard Boeheim say it time and time again this season. The defense is why Syracuse has won so many tight games. He brought it up last night after SU held Pittsburgh to just 1-of-8 shooting from the field over the final six minutes. When you take care of the basketball, good things happen. Syracuse doesn’t play as fast as it did a season ago. But it turns the ball over less and forces its opponents into mistakes:
- Turnovers per game – 9.2 *5th in the nation
- Steals per game – 8.5 *14th in the nation
- Steals per turnover – .92 *4th in the nation
Remember, Ennis and Trevor Cooney are also tied for first in the ACC in steals with over two per game. The zone extends to try and bade opposing point guards into tossing passes to the open slots in the zone like the corners or the free throw line. That hasn’t worked a whole lot this season.
Granted, SU has been in total control of many games this season. Syracuse wins its contests by about 12 points per game on average, which is good for top 20 in the country. But the Orange has also been in some exciting games this year. And this year’s team possesses an uncanny ability to run opponents out of the gym down the stretch. Let’s look at the best teams the Cuse has faced. It’s played 11 ACC games and 6 non-conference games against power conference teams. In seven of those games (six in ACC play), SU was trailing in the second half. And they came back to win all of them:
1) @ St John’s – SU was down 60-58 with 5 minutes left
2) vs. Miami – SU was down 40-35 with 6 minutes left
3) @ Boston College – SU was down 45-37 with 16 minutes left
4) vs. Pittsburgh – SU was down 52-39 with 2:30 minutes left
5) @ Miami – SU was down 47-46 with 6 minutes left
6) vs. Duke – SU was down 87-84 with 1:20 left in overtime
7) @ Pittsburgh – SU was down 54-48 with 2 minutes left
Boeheim will be the first to tell you that this team should be a four or five loss team at this point in the season. But the Orange continues to win. Why have they gone on these runs? Check out how well Syracuse shoots the ball compared to its opponents in the last five minutes and overtime of its ACC games:
- SU’s FG%: 53%
- Opponent’s FG%: 34%
Seriously, when have you said to yourself this season, “These guys look tired”? Syracuse raced past Pittsburgh last night with just six players. And until Keita returns, it’ll have to continue to do so, unless Boeheim trusts freshman like Tyler Roberson and Ron Patterson with more minutes off the bench.
But for now, let’s look at the best teams in the country. AKA, the Top 25. Syracuse is one of just two teams that play four players 30 or minutes per game. The other team is Wisconsin. The difference between the two is that the Badgers have lost 5 of its last 8 games, and the Cuse is playing better as ACC play has progressed. Take a look:
- CJ Fair – 37.3 MPG
- Tyler Ennis – 34.5 MPG
- Trevor Cooney – 31.8 MPG
- Jerami Grant – 31.8 MPG
The key will be getting Keita back healthy soon, and being able to play another ten games before the NCAA Tournament. But Syracuse has proved it has the legs to run in high scoring games like what we saw against Duke inside the Dome, and in low-scoring, low-possession games like what we’ve seen against Miami and Pittsburgh this year.
Posted by: Kevin Fitzgerald