Scoring 39 points in a loss at Georgetown in 2013. Getting run out of the Dome by St. John’s in 2016. Giving up triple-digits to Colgate and losing to the Raiders for the first time in almost 60 years. Yet, last night’s 64-53 loss to Pittsburgh might be the worst showing by Syracuse in the last decade.
The Orange’s issues are not just on the court, major issues are plaguing this program right now, and it all starts with the head coach. First, you have to look at the personnel decisions by Jim Boeheim to see why SU is in the position they are in now.
Here is a list of players who arrived in Syracuse in the last three seasons (since 2019-2020) and are still on the team: Joe Girard III, Jesse Edwards, Jon Bol Ajak (tried to leave), Frank Anselem, Cole Swider, Symir Torrence, Jimmy Boeheim, and Benny Williams.
Now, here’s the guys who played at SU during that same time and have left the program: Brycen Goodine, Quincy Guerrier, Kadary Richmond, Jalen Carey, Robert Braswell, Woody Newton. Look at all the young talent on that list. Each of those players left the Orange with at least two years of eligibility remaining and chose to use it elsewhere.
This falls on Boeheim. Since Girard arrived as a freshman, he has been the starting point guard, and anyone else who challenged him has left. Carey started two games, got chewed out by Boeheim, had thumb surgery, and transferred. Goodine, who committed to Syracuse in 2017 as a member of the 2019 recruiting class, left after one season.
The departure of those two was accepted because of the entrance of Richmond. He was the superior option last season at point guard, but Boeheim was too loyal to Girard, and the class of 2020 recruit said goodbye.
It was pretty clear then and it’s crystal clear now who is the better basketball player, better fit for the 2-3 zone, and better facilitator on offense. Syracuse’s main issue on offense is stagnation and ball movement. SU often relies on Buddy Boeheim to pull a rabbit out of his hat because no one can create separation from their defender.
Girard is not a true point guard, he has never been one, which makes Boeheim’s decision to anoint him over all these other options even more surprising considering the limitations of the rest of the roster in terms of ball-handling and facilitating.
Besides personnel problems, Boeheim’s offensive scheme is outdated, and without the correct players, is failing. Syracuse typically runs ball-screen actions for its perimeter players and has them isolate against their defender. The problem is the Orange are horrendous at setting screens.
When you have a team that lacks athleticism and quickness (outside a couple of guys who don’t get off the bench), screen-setting becomes paramount to getting open. Yet, defenders casually slide right around SU screens to stay on top of their man. That falls strictly on coaching.
Both on-ball and off-ball screens are vital to the Syracuse offense, yet often it’s just the act of setting a screen and not actually getting in front of the opponent to free up Buddy, Joe, or whoever the play is for.
Since Syracuse’s defense is so atrocious, now 218th on kenpom.com, compared to 77th a year ago, the offense is relied upon to carry the heavy lifting. The Orange are not getting any stops, and when the shooting goes cold, as it did the last two games, it’s game over before it starts.
SU needs at least three players at 15+ points and four in double digits to have a chance to win. Last night Buddy Boeheim was the only guy above nine. On Saturday against Duke, the Orange’s leading scorer had only 12 points.
These are just two of the main issues that Syracuse has created for itself. Unmentioned is the minutes’ distribution, where John Bol Ajak, someone who tried to transfer but could not find a home, is playing over highly-rated recruit Benny Williams. This is just one of the decisions Boeheim has made this season that has people scratching their heads.
If you look at who has left and who has stayed or joined, the type of player is clear. Boeheim has decided to sacrifice his defense for more shooting. It just turns out that the only thing the new players could do is shoot, and there are leaks all over the rest of the roster.
It is sad to watch how bad this season has gone for Syracuse, an offseason of such promise and hype over two sons playing for their father. It was supposed to be a fairytale type of season for SU. It’s been anything but, and the only person to blame is the man in charge.