Not all that long ago, the 2021-22 Syracuse men’s basketball team was billed as an exciting, new-look squad. Here at the Fizz, we talked up the team with proclamations that it “had the chance to be special” and that it was one that would “enter ACC play as a ranked team”. These vestiges of hope – along with some flashy takes in our “Bold Predictions” article – are now in tatters.
Last night’s 74-69 loss to Virginia should serve as a cold towel to the face for anyone hoping against hope that this team’s problems would simply go away. Like a stricken airliner, SU is still struggling to gain altitude for takeoff dangerously far down this season’s runway. A laundry list of deficiencies are to blame for SU’s worst 13-game start since 1969-70, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to explain them away.
Syracuse has consistently had to play whack-a-mole with its blemishes on a game-by-game basis. They’ll fix one issue, and another pops up. This bunch seems to go into a teamwide shooting slump one game, run out of steam at the finish line the next, and go into hibernation at the boards the game after that. If you feel like SU hasn’t put together two good halves very often, it’s because they don’t. The Orange have outscored an opponent in both halves of a game just four times this year and only twice in their last 11 outings. The squads they’ve done it against – Lafayette, Drexel, Brown, and Cornell – aren’t exactly blue-bloods.
Some of the team’s issues were predictable, but it’s streakiness and slumps that have hamstrung this team. Before the season, we all knew SU would struggle on the defensive end, but perhaps not to 315th in Division I and program-worst since 1988-89 levels. We also expected high scoring output to offset the bad defense, but even that has run aground. Take last night’s malaise du jour, for example. Jimmy Boeheim’s 18 points look nice, but the grad forward clanged four of his six three-pointers and went 2-8 from the charity stripe. Meanwhile, Joe Girard’s awful slump continued to the tune of one single field goal in 30 minutes. Forward Cole Swider similarly scuffled to a 3-12 night.
It may be time to accept that the reason ‘Cuse is one measly game over .500 at this point is because it isn’t constructed to perform at the level we all expected. The unfortunate reality is that when Girard, Swider, or whoever else starts hucking up threes from point-shaver distances, the Orange don’t have reliable bench options to get them some oxygen. Junior guard Symir Torrence may play more with Girard currently out in the wilderness, but his offensive output is limited. Sophomore center Frank Anselem is usually only inserted out of necessity, and freshman forward Benny Williams is still trying to get his head above water. A thin, unproven bench and a maddeningly inconsistent starting five do not an ACC contender make, even with most of the conference still stuck in neutral.
Naturally, there’s plenty of basketball left. It’s not quite time to turn your attention to men’s lacrosse season quite yet. Last night’s thud against UVA has the team bottomed out, and it reminds me of SU’s 78-61 defeat to Clemson last February. To jog your memory, that game marked an unsuccessful return for Bourama Sidibe, a coming-out party for the Tigers’ Aamir Sims, and sunk the Orange to a mediocre 10-6 record while renewing questions about how far it could even go. SU and Buddy Boeheim ended up getting hot afterward and finished up strong: a revenge win against Clemson, an obliteration of NC State in the conference tournament, and a buzzer-beater loss against Virginia bolstered SU’s resumé before March Madness rolled around.
A finish like last year’s isn’t totally out of the question. The team already scores at a high clip and has a bonafide all-conference level shooter in Buddy Boeheim. To get any further and finally fulfill its potential, the Orange need some cohesion and need it quickly with ACC competition under way. It may mean the difference between another Spring of bubble watch or Jim Boeheim’s first-ever losing record.