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SU Hoops Just Showed Us Its Resilience and Flaws. What Now?

Credit Dennis Nett/Courtesy

Almost three weeks ago, Syracuse men’s basketball was coming off a disappointing loss to a non-conference opponent with tougher games on the horizon. Today, the same exact things are true.

Of course, any further comparisons would be facetious. Three weeks ago, SU had just gotten strummed by Colgate in a home upset with four challenging games coming up. The Orange just finished up those four games – against Indiana, Florida State, Villanova, and Georgetown – and ended up going 2-2 against them. Back on November 23rd, we wrote on the Fizz that Syracuse needed to win at least two of those games to avoid panic mode. They did that, but the team’s outlook doesn’t feel much more comfortable.

On one hand, Syracuse showed grit in all four games. Indiana gave SU just about all it could handle by taking the Orange to double overtime in the Carrier Dome, but Buddy Boeheim and company cooked the Hoosiers’ defense and took advantage of some late foul luck to secure a victory. Against Florida State, SU was the beneficiary of an ice-cold shooting night for the Seminoles but still managed to claw out points against a bigger and more physical defense. The Orange also led both No. 6 Villanova and Georgetown at halftime before dropping both games.

But there’s your segue into the ugly side of SU’s season so far. ‘Cuse nearly lost against Florida State and blew leads against ‘Nova and Georgetown because it still struggles to deal with physicality on defense. All three of those teams have those things, and the Orange mostly don’t. Junior center Jesse Edwards is coming into his own at the position, but he’s a lanky, beatable figure at the five surrounded by average defensive teammates.

Adding to the troubles is the fact that Syracuse has major trouble hanging onto games in the second half. The stats show that in the final 20 minutes of the game, SU starts bricking threes and letting opponents shoot almost 50%. As you might imagine, that’s not an ideal combo for a squad that lives off of threes and is ranked 332nd in Division I in scoring defense. Some of the problem may be the miniscule bench usage head coach Jim Boeheim employs, but it can’t be all of it. Further success this season hinges on that problem being remedied quickly. In the meantime, Buddy Boeheim has been cold as of late and has had trouble creating his own shots. The rest of the team either can’t get hot at the same time or has been similarly scuffling.

SU now gets some cushion with non-conference foes in Lehigh and Cornell before conference play begins. At this point, we know what this team can and can’t do. It has limitations but has weathered a tough stretch in its schedule to emerge at .500. The next chapter of the season will chronicle how this team can harness what it has to make yet another push for March.

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