It’s hard to understate just how poorly Syracuse basketball played in its season opener against Virginia last Wednesday. The Orange shot just 24% from the floor and 17% from three in the worst offensive performance the Dome has ever seen from an SU team. That’s not to mention it was also the worst offensive performance of the Jim Boeheim era and the worst the ‘Cuse has had as a program since World War II. It was not good.
And while some might look at the schedule and see a Colgate team that SU has beaten in each of its last 53 meetings (every single one since 1962) and think that the Raiders are a cupcake that the Orange can play to regain some confidence, that’s just not the case. Colgate made the NCAA Tournament a season ago and presents a lot of challenges for a young SU team. These are the three biggest ones.
Bring ‘Em Back
We mentioned that Colgate is coming off its first NCAA tournament berth since 1996 last season and when a mid-major like the Raiders makes the big dance it’s often thanks to some senior leaders making one final push in their collegiate careers and willing their teams to tourney at the peak of their powers. That’s not the case for Colgate. The Raiders return four of their five starters from that NCAA Tournament team, including each of their top five scorers. In total, Matt Langel’s squad brings back each of its top five scorers and over 80% of their total scoring. That list includes the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year and Division I transfer of the year in Rapolas Ivanauskus, one of the best point guards in the league in Jordan Burns and a top ten scorer in program history in Will Rayman. This Colgate team knows how to play with each other and has so much built in chemistry to pair with their underrated amount of talent. That combo of veteran leadership and skills could be a recipe for success come Wednesday.
There are two big weaknesses of the 2-3 zone. The first is when a team does well to get into the high post and ACC logo area and run the offense from that point. The other is that it’s susceptible to being shot over and if teams light it up from distance, it can spell disaster. That’s especially true with the three-point line being pushed back a few feet this year. That gives a major advantage to this Colgate club. The Raiders shot nearly 40% from beyond the arc, the ninth best mark in the country. All of their best three-point shooters from that team (Ivanauskus 43%, Rayman 43%, Jack Ferguson 41%, Burns 39%, Tucker Richardson 37%) are back this year. The Orange are going to have to find a way to defend the three-point line if they want to get their win back.
Play ‘Em Tight
SU took last year’s meeting with Colgate by a final score of 77-56 and while that may seem like a blowout, it doesn’t really paint the whole picture. The Raiders trailed by just three at the halftime break after putting up a fantastic fight in the opening frame, even leading by as many as five in the opening 20 minutes. That’s a trend that isn’t just exclusive to that Syracuse game either. In the Raiders’ 77-70 (close) loss against three-seed Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament last year, Colgate rallied back from a 12-point halftime deficit to take the lead in the second half, going on a 19-6 run to begin the half. The Raiders aren’t afraid to go up against more athletic or more talented teams. They’re going to find a way to make it tight for at least part of the game and if SU gets off to a poor start like it did last week against UVA, then watch out.