Up until a few weeks ago, the Syracuse Orange had been one of the worst teams in college basketball when it came to putting the ball in the basket. Fans had been losing hope, but since the loss to St. John’s in the Carrier Dome – Syracuse’s low point in their non-conference schedule – The Orange have been an entirely different group of shooters. Marksmen from the field, the resurgence in shooting has given new life to a team that was looking like it would be fighting to reserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March.
In the Orange’s first eight games of the year, in which the team went 5-3, Syracuse’s team shooting was at record lows. The Orange shot 53 percent from inside the arc in these games, but only 21 percent as a team from distance. Trevor Cooney, who led the ACC in 3-pointers made and attempted last season, shot only 28 percent from behind the arc. The Orange’s only double-digit scorers were the two men in the post: Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough.
In the last four games the Orange have been a different team, and have looked much more like the team that Syracuse fans have been waiting to see since mid November. The Orange are 3-1 in these games, and could very well be 4-0 if the inexperienced squad had not given up a late lead in Villanova. While the Orange’s 2-point shooting has fallen to 49 percent in these 4 games, Boeheim’s squad has made up for the deficit by shooting threes at 46 percent. Cooney has shot 52 percent from behind the arc, and the emerging Michael Gbinije has shot 58 percent from distance. Cooney has averaged 19.5 PPG in the Orange’s last games, and has climbed back up to 4th in the ACC in 3-pointers made.
However, not all has been bright for the Orange in this time of prosper. In the same four-game span, McCullough has shot just 16 percent from the field, after going 50 percent in the first eight games of his collegiate career. The freshman has averaged only 4.8 PPG during the team’s hot streak and has left coaches and fans alike scratching their heads. As the rest of the team looks to be back to form, one of the players that kept the Orange above water is struggling to stay afloat.
If McCullough can get back on track and the rest of the team can maintain a balanced shooting output, the Orange will be a tough team to beat in the ACC. Syracuse has shown that they can play with the best teams in college basketball, and now need to learn to close out games and play with consistency. The Orange have the talent to make noise in the ACC, but only if they can fix these problems without new ones emerging along the way.
Posted: Nathan Dickinson