Towards the end of the loss to Florida State, Syracuse tried something for the first time. Jim Boeheim played a lineup that, until recently, did not make much sense. Suddenly, the vision is becoming clearer and the lure grander.
The small lineup is breaking the mold. No, not the small lineup with 6-foot-8 Jimmy Boeheim playing center. The small lineup with 6-foot-8 Jimmy Boeheim on the bench. Cole Swider shifts from the small forward to power forward with Jesse Edwards manning the middle. Buddy Boeheim takes over the three. Joe Girard plays his natural shooting guard, and Symir Torrence gets the keys to the offense as the point guard.
Syracuse began each of their 17 games with the same starting lineup, Jimmy Boeheim included. That likely won’t change tonight against Clemson. Honestly, it may never change barring injury. However, the new small lineup is something that SU has to try more. After all, nothing else is working.
The main purpose of the Torrence-led group is to handle pressure. Hounding defenses and full court presses are one of the many forms of kryptonite for SU this year. Gone are the days when Boeheim could give the ball to an athletic playmaker like Tyus Battle or Michael Gbinije with the shot clock winding down or facing a double team and work out of trouble. This year’s roster doesn’t have the athletes to do that. So, the idea is to make the players on the floor as athletic as possible. Torrence only helps.
This lineup is more of an indictment of Girard than Jimmy though. The Glens Falls native is doing his best to convince Orange fans that he is a point guard. However, the seven 4+ turnover games are not maintaining the mirage well. Girard’s best asset is his shooting ability. The Junior knocks down more than 43% of his three-pointers, which ranks best in the ACC. The second most efficient perimeter shooter is NC State‘s Terquavion Smith at worse than 36%. It’s up to Boeheim to keep those numbers on the floor as long as possible. However, the rate Girard is turning the ball over is not worth the three-point trade off. Playing him off ball might hide his ball-handling shortcomings.
Admittedly, there is a finite list of what Torrence provides. For one, scoring is one of his last priorities. The Marquette transfer is averaging just 2.1 points per game on 33% from the field. If he were to start tonight against Clemson, the numbers would tell you Torrence is the least productive starting point guard in the Power 5.
Then again, it doesn’t seem as though Syracuse needs him to score. In theory, Girard will get more open shots playing off ball and doing laps around the arc like Trevor Cooney. Buddy Boeheim will score regardless, and Swider’s shot is starting to fall more consistently after a 17 point performance in the FSU loss. If Torrence can cut down on the team turnovers and get the ball to the scorers more often, the offense should sustain, if not surge. Unlike Girard, Torrence only has one game with 4+ turnovers. The critics might be turned off by Torrence’s mere 2.8 assists per game, but he is only playing fewer than 12 minutes per contest. Over 40 minutes, his production at this rate would yield about 10 assists. Girard is playing 34 minutes per game and giving an average of 4.4 helpers. His 40 minute assist rate is just a hair over five.
So, playing Torrence more or even starting him might seem like a scary and desperate proposition. However, it can’t be scarier than the 8-9 start. Desperate times call for desperate measures. When Syracuse fans are begrudgingly watching the NIT, they won’t want this “what if” haunting them. It’s time to give Torrence more run.