Jim Boeheim often speaks about how important practice is to his team. At his weekly radio show, postgame press conferences, and other media appearances, the headman often says that when a player plays well in practice he’s going to play in the game.
The need to play well in practice has never been more apparent this week. This is the first time the Orange have had a week off since the team’s COVID pause. After a grueling stretch of three road games in a four-game stretch, SU returned home after Saturday’s 71-59 loss to Virginia Tech.
The loss to the Hokies was another Quad 1 opportunity the Orange missed out on. The win has eluded Syracuse all season long, with both Indiana and Florida State falling out of Quad 1 criteria. Despite those missed chances, SU still has a couple of opportunities left on the schedule.
Three games in a row. Feb. 23 at Notre Dame, Feb. 26 vs. Duke, and Feb. 28 at North Carolina all present the chance for Syracuse to get a Quad 1 win. At 13-12, if the Orange want any chance of making the NCAA Tournament, they need two wins in those three games and a couple at the ACC Tournament.
This all comes back to practice. Boeheim finally has a chance to get his team prepared for the final stretch of the season. The Orange have limited practice time at the Melo Center because of all the flying around the conference. This week presents an opportunity to compete and get better.
Specifically, practice has been the determining factor according to Boeheim of how much Benny Williams plays. Fans have clamored all season for the freshman to get more minutes, but Boeheim constantly says his practices are not good enough to get him game action.
Before the season, at Syracuse basketball media day, Boeheim said centers Jesse Edwards and Frank Anselem had been great in practice and improved a lot over the summer and fall. Look at them now. Edwards was having an ACC Most Improved Player caliber season before his wrist injury, and in his first start, Anselem pulled down 15 rebounds.
Going back to Williams, he’s played 22 combined minutes the past three games. 13 in a blowout against Louisville, only six against lowly Boston College, and just three at Virginia Tech. The Maryland native had a chance to make a statement in Blacksburg but missed an easy one at the rim and that was that.
Syracuse is not dead yet, but they certainly are close. A full week in between games with plenty of practice time could be the rejuvenation of the Orange over this final six-game stretch.