Monday’s 26-point loss to Virginia marked three-out-of-four losses for Syracuse, but after the tough stretch, the Orange should be feeling more encouraged than concerned.
Beginning with the obvious, UVA shot an absurd 72 percent from the beyond the arc, going 10-for-13 from three in a second half that saw the Cavaliers absolutely pull away – SU led UVA by 2 heading into the break. ESPN’s Jay Bilas even admitted that there was nothing the Orange could do to stop Virginia from what it was doing, and he may certainly have been right. But at the same time, Syracuse can take UVA’s miraculous performance from three with a grain of salt. I mean, there was truly nothing they could do.
The Cavaliers converted at an unusually sustainable clip on Monday night. Their 18-of-25 performance against the Orange was their best outing from beyond the arc in over six years. Whether or not Syracuse sees Virginia again this season, it can’t expect any postseason opponent (or Clemson on Saturday) to shoot that well. If anyone does, then a tip of the cap to them. They deserve to win.
What Orange fans can be at ease with though, is before the Cavaliers went unconscious, Syracuse was right in it, even leading through several minutes into the second half. This again shows that the Orange has the ability to hang with anyone, and not to say SU would have won if it weren’t for Virginia’s outburst, but the fact that there was really nothing Syracuse could do to stop it should suppress concerns following the loss. Virginia – nor any other team in the country – will typically shoot that well. Just for some perspective, UVA’s 72 percent from three is almost 30 percent higher than the per game average of the best three-point shooting team in the entire country (Lehigh, 43.5 percent).
Looking beyond just Monday, Orange faithful can also be encouraged when reflecting on its recent grueling stretch of games. After thrashing No. 18 Louisville, Syracuse endured a four-game slate with three matchups against top-five teams. The Orange did not emerge victorious in any of those three but still showed what it needed to against No. 1, No. 5 North Carolina and No. 2 Virginia.
Syracuse led at halftime in each game, and with the exception of Monday – which was essentially out of SU’s control – kept pace throughout the second half against the Blue Devils and Tar Heels. Say what you want about the Orange in the second half, but if its first halves are proving one thing, it’s that Syracuse has the shear ability to hang with anyone. It should also be noted that the Orange took care of business in its only game against an unranked opponent during the four-game stretch, handling Wake Forest on the road in blowout fashion.
Another thing Syracuse can confidently fall back on – regardless of Monday’s result – was the play of Tyus Battle, who shot 5-of-19 in the 79-53 loss. Moving forward, not having to play Virginia will certainly benefit the junior, who has gone a combined 32.7 percent shooting – and a morbid 15 percent from three – in the Orange’s three-game losing streak to the Cavaliers.
Syracuse ends the regular season at Clemson on Saturday, but the Orange’s last five games have seemed rather telling. Although SU came up short against three top-five teams, it still showed glimpses similar to those of past Syracuse teams from recent years.
So, come March, who knows? Syracuse will obviously have to beat good teams to get where it wants to go, but they’ve done it before, and have reason to believe they can do it again. Think about it, before Virginia went off in practically unrepeatable fashion, the Orange was leading with under 15 minutes left to go. Before that, Syracuse stayed in it against one of the hottest teams in the country in Chapel Hill, leading that one at the half as well. And before that, they battled with a Zion-less Duke team they had already beaten with him on the court. This all comes after a 20-point thumping of No. 18 Louisville.
All in all, just like in recent years past, this year’s team has had its ups and downs, but looks to be peaking at the right time. They’ve shown it despite mixed results against some of the country’s top teams, with Monday’s deceiving 26-point loss serving as the latest example.