After starting the season 25-0, Syracuse has dropped five of its last seven games and has cast doubt upon Final Four aspirations that filled Orange Nation for the first three quarters of the season.
Just a month ago, Syracuse seemed like the team of destiny: beating Pittsburgh on a prayer and North Carolina State with a furious comeback. But, since then, the Orange has been abysmal in more ways than one.
One reason for the drastic decline in play has been the overall lack of scoring. Currently the team is scoring 68.3 points per game on the season, but in the last seven, has only scored an average of 61.6 per game. Conversely, on the season the Orange has allowed 59.5 points per game on the season, but in the last seven, has allowed 64.1 per game.
In Friday‚Äôs loss to the NC State Wolfpack, the Orange shot under 33 percent for the game. This was aided by a poor shooting night from senior CJ Fair, who was just 3-for-16 from the field.
It has been a theme in all of the Orange‚Äôs losses. In those games, Fair has shot 7-for-23 (Boston College), 6-for-12 (@Duke), 4-for-13 (@Virginia), 12-for-25 (Georgia Tech), and¬†Friday¬†night‚Äôs performance.
Compare this to Fair‚Äôs efforts when the Orange was winning, and stat lines like 12-for-20 (Duke), 9-for-13 (@Florida State), and 8-for-13 (Clemson) stand out. Fair was taking less shots and scoring more, which equated to winning.
The problem for the Orange is that they do not have a pure shooter to turn to when Fair is struggling (which he has for a majority of the past month). Jerami Grant has been the closest bet to a ‚Äòsure-thing‚Äô for the Orange, but he has been battling an ailing back and has to slash his way through the paint to score. He came to play against the Wolfpack¬†Friday, but it clearly wasn‚Äôt enough.¬† Trevor Cooney, on the other hand, has underperformed consistently since conference play began.
Cooney was supposed to be the dependable shooter that Syracuse faithful have become accustomed to over the years. Already being compared to the likes of Gerry McNamera and Andy Rautins, Cooney had high expectations. But Cooney hasn‚Äôt scored in double digits since the loss to Virginia and even then was an extremely inefficient 4-for-12 from the field.
Without Cooney scoring, the Orange‚Äôs season three-point percentage has dropped to 33.8 percent, and in the five losses is only 23 percent. When the Orange doesn‚Äôt hit threes, it becomes ugly pretty quickly. Unless the shooters wake up and help balance the offense, the Orange will be looking at an early exit from a tournament.
Just look at the Orange‚Äôs last possession¬†Friday¬†night. Six opportunities to put points on the board, four of them from behind the arc to tie the game. None of the six fell, and many weren‚Äôt even close. The defense has kept the team in the game, but unless Fair and Cooney can start scoring from the outside, March will end very quickly for this Orange squad.
Posted: Jason Weingold