Non-conference play has had a rough start with a young Syracuse lineup still trying to figure out how its identity. Losses to California, Michigan, and St. Johns have left Syracuse wondering whether this team can compete in the ACC once conference play starts. The Orange still has No. 7 Villanova on its non-conference schedule, along with Louisiana Tech, Colgate, Long Beach State, and Cornell. What are the biggest keys for the Orange to focus on?
1. Maturity of Kaleb Joseph:
We touched on this last week about how Jim Boeheim needs to give Kaleb Joseph more time to figure his game out and not panic too soon. Joseph only played 19 minutes against St. Johns, scoring a dismal 3 points and shot 1-of-5 from the field. However, Boeheim will not have an option but to play Michael Gbinije at the point guard position more if Joseph cannot develop stronger poise when the pressure is on late in games.
2. Next step for Chris McCullough:
Enough of whether McCullough will be a one-and-done player for the Orange. The freshman made a crucial mistake late in the game against Michigan and turned the ball over four times against the Red Storm this weekend. He also only shot 30% from the free throw line against St. Johns. Syracuse’s season is going to depend on whether McCullough can take over this season and become a leader in his first year. The Bronx product will get a good chance to gain some momentum against lesser competition in the coming weeks, along with trying to redeem himself against tough competition like the Wildcats.
3. Bench help:
Uncertainty surrounding DaJuan Coleman’s health puts even more pressure on each bench player to contribute when asked upon. Then area of the lowest depth is down low, especially if Rakeem Christmas gets into foul trouble. Boeheim is still hesitant to play Chinonso Obokoh, which means the Orange might have to play a smaller lineup more often than not. Ron Patterson and B.J. Johnson have both shown flashes of potential in very limited minutes and will get more chances during the rest of non-conference play to develop trust with Boeheim that could translate into extended minutes later in the season.
4. Downtown shooting:
Three-point shooting has been atrocious for Syracuse so far. The Orange is currently the second-to-last team in three-point shooting percentage in Division I at 20.9%. Syracuse needs a balanced offense to succeed in the ACC and that cannot happen if shooters are inconsistent from behind the arc. At a certain point, shots have to start falling. The Orange is hoping this can happen sooner rather than later so players such as Trevor Cooney find consistency and confidence.
5-3 is not exactly the start Orange fans were hoping for coming into this season. Although it is inevitable that Syracuse will go through growing pains with an inexperienced lineup, the Orange can use the next few games before ACC play to working out problems that have been haunting Syracuse thus far.
Posted: Zephan Mayell