Syracuse Basketball: Lacking The Leader For The Leading Role

Nate Shron

Whatever a go-to-guy is, the Syracuse Orange don't have it. In past years that hasn't mattered much, but now? That's a different story.

If basketball is a game of numbers, Saturday's Georgetown v. Syracuse game seemed to further prove the theory.

  • 35,012 - Attendance (or so Syracuse says)
  • 11 v. 8 - Respective rankings of Georgetown and Syracuse
  • 46 - Total points scored by Syracuse (a record low in Big East play)

Numbers never lie and anyway you add it up, Syracuse lost. Tough to swallow for most in and around Central New York. Even two days later. Just scroll through some of the tweets I've received regarding the Orange and its suddenly poor outlook for the season. Syracuse kind of sounds like DePaul to some people. Now, there remain some optimistic followers...

including Josh's boastful prediction...

... but most of the Orange fans are still on the ledge with a bullhorn ready to jump.

Saturday's loss had the feel of a sucker punch to the heart to Orange base. The pain lingering not only because it was a defeat to the hated Hoyas in the two teams last Big East dome game, or the fact that Georgetown ended yet another home winning streak of Syracuse's in front of a record crowd, but because the way Syracuse went down; easily.

There wasn't a frantic run to get back into the game -- save for a second when SU cut the lead to four, only to follow that up by fouling Porter on a good three pointer. The press didn't force turnovers and transition dunks, or, even better, spot up cheer-inducing threes. Nope. Instead, from early in the second half on, Georgetown controlled the game. It was ugly and the Hoyas certainly weren't dominate (Take out Porter and who knows what happens?), but the Orange mostly went out without a whimper.

That's tough to digest; more so with a game at Marquette and a home contest with Louisville on the horizon. But the good news is that Syracuse isn't done. I mean, think of Porter's performance, it took a career effort from the probable Big East Player of the Year for the Hoyas to win. Plus, while I'll give a TON of credit to Georgetown's defensive performance on Saturday, when SU is cold things go bad -- against the Hoyas SU was cold.

Yet, there's reasons to be excited and have hope for 2013 if you're an Orange fan. And actually, even if the wheels fall off, I'd say the season has been a success to this point given the team lost Dion Waiters, Fab Melo, Scoop Jardine, and Kris Joseph. As well as its weathered losing James Southerland and has been a top-ten team (until this week) relying mainly on three or four scorers.

Actually, that's the basis for this column -- instead of talking fans off the ledge -- because the one thing I kept thinking on Saturday was, 'Boy, it would be really great if this team had a go-to-guy.' Don't worry, I'm not letting Hubert Davis ghostwrite this. But I do think Syracuse fans have been spoiled over the last three to four years. Jim Boeheim has run a lot of talented players on the court, all whom had the ability to, in one form or another, lead the team.

The main stream narrative was always questioning if Syracuse could win because it relied on too many players, who would take over at crunch time? The answer, which was obvious to anyone who followed the team, was that any number of players could lead the team. Last year, for example, it was mostly Waiters -- who's scoring and ability to finish at the rim is SORELY missed. But there were times when Jardine or Joseph would be The Guy when needed. I distinctly remember Joseph taking over in the Big East tournament last year against Connecticut.

Of course it was Waiters' 18 points that stole the show, but Joseph, who suffered through a cold shooting day at the Garden, became the Facilitator -- allowing the game to flow through him. That's just one instance, but there were a ton to pick from. Again, the pundits questioned how or why, but Syracuse won a lot of games over the last few seasons by having enough guys step up and play different roles when necessary.

That's gone. There isn't a player who can, like Waiters, say, "The offense will now be me attacking the rim, who's with me?" There isn't a High Basketball IQ like Joseph who can slow things down and look for others first. There isn't even a player like Jardine, someone Orange fans loved and hated equally at times, but had the guts to take big shots, and even hit a few, too.

As Saturday showed, Syracuse doesn't have what it had in the past -- a go-to-guy by rotation nor does it have even one go-to-guy.

While Triche has had huge games (29 points at Seton Hall comes to mind), he hasn't had the Senior Step Up year fans had hoped for -- too inconsistent on offense and too quiet a leader. Michael Carter-Williams is too inexperienced. James Southerland is either on fire or all wet. The only player who's been consistent on offense, defense, and has the intangibles, seems to be CJ Fair. But Fair's game, while vital to Syracuse, isn't suited for being the go-to-guy. That's not an insult, it's just Fair does exactly what is needed, to ask more would be unfair.

I do still think there's reason for hope. The entire year has been so crazy we could finally see a true underdog, maybe St. Louis or Colorado State, cut down the nets. Syracuse still has a legit shot should it get hot at the right time -- and avoid bad match-ups like Georgetown. Remember the game at Arkansas? The Razorbacks have become a fringe NCAA tourney team. Syracuse was the only team to win at Bud Walton Arena because of Southerland and because it was a good match up for the Orange. It's not quite like last year with players stepping up to lead but things aren't that bad. Saturday simply brought out the worst in Syracuse.

But should the Orange go cold in a tight game , against the perfectly wrong opponent in the NCAA tournament? Requiring someone to step up, to take over, to lead the way to the next round...well, that guy -- or those guys -- isn't here anymore. Still, at least your team got to dance in the first place. Isn't that right, DePaul fans?

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