Syracuse Basketball Roundtable: So, When Are the Orange Going to Be No. 1?

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

TNIAAM's esteemed basketball panel dives into what's going on with the Syracuse bigs, while dealing with other important, Orange-related issues, too.

Welcome back to the Syracuse basketball roundtable! It's been awhile. The Orange still haven't lost though, so that's pretty awesome. The ACC also blows, so that's not awesome. And we're still not No. 1... which could irritate or not irritate people to varying degrees, depending on your perspective.

As is and will be the norm all season, we're chatting about Syracuse basketball, the ACC and anything else that might come up in the never-ending soap opera that is Jim Boeheim's Orange team. Join us below...

Will Syracuse take over the No. 1 spot in the polls before suffering a loss?

Chris Daughtrey: Hard to say. What you're really asking is, who's going to lose first, Syracuse or Arizona? I think both are teams that, when playing their best, no team on the schedule will beat them. But that's not to say they neither will lose. To satisfy superstition, I'll say no.

Lisa Nelson: Did Arizona lose at UCLA?

Matt McClusky: Yes, the Orange will eventually get to the top spot in the coming week, maybe longer. And, again, for anyone who says, "being ranked No. 1 in January doesn't matter!" I say there's a reason they play ball before March. Rankings are a part of the process and why the hell not be No. 1 if some team has to be?

Jeremy Ryan: That depends as much on Arizona as it does Syracuse. As long as the Wildcats continue to win, they'll stay at #1. The Pac-12 has a couple of decent teams, so a loss is possible, but since the ACC is deeper I think SU could stumble first.

Dan Lyons: I honestly have no clue. Syracuse and Arizona's schedules are a bit similar moving forward, so it's hard to really point to a moment where one has a really good shot of gaining a game on the other. Arizona plays a decent UCLA team on Thursday, while Syracuse has UNC this weekend. Either could result in a loss. SU has Pitt on the 18th who always gives us fits, while Zona plays a good Colorado club on the 23rd. Those are two more possible losses. Since I can't give a good answer based on reason... yes, Syracuse will hit #1 at some point in the next few weeks. #Homerpick

Sean Keeley: You know, I don't think we will. I feel like the Orange are due for a loss sooner or later. Then again, Arizona seems to be in the exact same position (really good but not invincible). I guess the actual answer is…who the hell knows?

John Cassillo: I hope so. The pollsters usually like to hit us pretty hard for losses, so it'll be a long march back to the top if we lose before we're No. 1. Problem is, the ACC schedule doesn't do us any favors. Even a win over Duke only makes a small dent in strength of schedule. Oh well. The difference between 30-1 and 31-0 wouldn't really matter in the big scheme of things if we ended up winning a title.

SU's played pretty well thus far. But where can they improve going forward?

CD: There's the age-old issue of slow starts and playing down to inferior opponents. But, as much as I like to defend SU's big, I think the Orange need more consistent play from them, Rakeem Christmas in particular. f he can average 8 and 8 with some blocks sprinkled in during conference play, it would be a huge boost for the Orange.

LN: Interior defense. They need to set their feet earlier, quit jumping so much, and for the love of God, BOX OUT. This goes for everyone. I get that it's harder to rebound out of the zone, but if even one of the wings boxed out, it would make a difference.

MM: Down low, no question needs improvement. I'm not even talking about on offense. The back of the zone, with either Christmas, Keita or occasionally Coleman has been late on rotations and been beaten weak side on rebound opportunities too often this season. Grant and Fair seem to be in the right position at the right time, but the Bigs haven't been consistent enough. However, I will say Christmas seems to love playing with Ennis -- which isn't a knock on Michael Carter-Williams, it's just pointing out there's something different about Rakeem on offense this season and I think it's probably due to Ennis' style.

JR: They need to learn how to play hard and well for the full 40 minutes. They have a tendency to start out slow, and have to expend a lot of energy digging themselves out. So far it's worked, but eventually they'll fall into that hole and realize they forgot to bring a shovel.

DL: Outside shooting besides Trevor would be nice. Ennis and Silent G both shot well against Virginia Tech, so if that's a sign of things to come, we'll be in good shape. Hopefully CJ can start knocking them down like he did last year as well. Aside from that, the normal things about the bigs being more consistent. Are we still allowed to ask for that?

SK: My kingdom for a consistently-dominent big man performance. I don't know if it's ever gonna happen but a guy can dream.

JC: Interior defense. While this team is great on that end of the floor, there's a certain lack of focus that we see in that area of the zone that's incredibly aggravating. It hasn't resulted in a loss... yet. But it could if things don't improve.

Which ACC team concerns you most as a matchup (and why)?

CD: Duke, but not because of any of the players (though Jabari Parker is probably the best overall player in the country). It's because of Mike Krzyzewski. Not only is he probably the greatest men's college basketball coach ever (the numbers don't lie), but his time working with Boeheim with Team USA gives him insight and knowledge into the zone that most non-Big East teams don't have.

LN: Virginia. It will almost be like playing ourselves. Both teams can struggle to score, so they rely on their defense. Think about what this game will look like if both teams play solid defenses (per usual), but no one can hit a shot. It'll be 10-8 at halftime, and only because Syracuse hit more free throws.

MM: Duke is still very good despite the losses, so the Blue Devils should be a concern, but aside from Coach K? Not so much. Honestly, isn't a little funny that in Syracuse's first year in the "mighty and historical" ACC, the highest ranked opponent, the most "feared" so to speak, has been Villanova? Look ahead on the schedule, there are tough looking games on the road, but nothing too daunting. In all reality, the ACC just isn't good this season -- at least not right now.

JR: Pitt. SU always has trouble at the Petersen Center, and the Orange travel to Pittsburgh on February 12th. That could be a rough one.

DL: It's still Duke until I see someone else step up. UNC seems to rise to the occasion against good teams, and Pitt is Pitt, but Duke is the scariest of the bunch until further notice.

SK: Duke, right? Jabari Parker is probably the best player we'll face in the regular season. We're probably looking at a track meet game and I wonder if we can outlast them. I feel like we can but I feel like they can as well.

JC: Mostly Duke, because they're the only other legitimate threat in the league (sorry, Pitt), and when he's on, Jabari Parker is a pretty frustrating matchup problem. But to be honest, there's several other teams much better suited to beat us than Duke (see any of the defense-first teams like Miami this league has to offer).

Which ACC team concerns you least as a matchup (and why)?

CD: Boston College because, truthfully, that team is a steaming pile and there's no getting around it.

LN: Maryland. They're struggling a lot more than anyone expected. Even if they weren't, though, the Terps typically prefer to drive the lane instead of shooting from the perimeter. Yea, that's not gonna work against the 2-3, guys.

MM: The game in Cameron is probably the only "guaranteed" loss for Syracuse -- and the thing is, I'm not totally convinced SU can't win there. So long as Ennis plays the way he has -- a confident and never-nervous point guard -- and the defense, at least on the wings, continues to dominate, SU can beat everyone. Obviously, the Orange will likely lose this season at least a couple times, but, right now that's debatable.

JR: Boston College. They just aren't very good. How many of us would be surprised if they didn't win a league game all season?

DL: I won't go with BC because Brian at BCI was nice enough to hang out with us on the podcast, so no need to keep harping on their struggles. Besides, he indicated that they may have a few short, unathletic white guys on the bench who have shot a basketball before, so BC is actually pretty terrifying in that regard. How about Georgia Tech? They have a bit of size, but looking at the numbers, they're a pretty dreadful shooting team (29% from 3). If not them, it may have been Virginia Tech. They hit a few Vermont-esque shots that kept it from being even uglier than it turned out. That wasn't a good team.

SK: Boston College, right? They're not very good. I need to provide more?

JC: It's Boston College, but I actually think they're better than advertised. We'll see on Monday, but it's a different team with Dennis Clifford in the lineup. So beyond them, I'm least impressed by a Robert Carter-less Georgia Tech.

I don' think we've played a complete game since Indiana. Do you agree?

CD: I'd argue that, despite falling behind so much so early, the Villanova game was a complete effort. Maybe I'm just applying revision history, but I recall the WIldcats simply hitting a bunch of contested, really deep threes. That's not bad play or effort by the Orange, that's just really hot shooting by 'Nova. Staying in the game mentally in those early minutes and having the fortitude to mount the comeback is a sign of good play as well.

LN: Ugh. Yes. The defense this year has been pretty consistent, so most often there's been an offensive drought. How else would you explain Syracuse failing to score a field goal in the Miami game for 10-ish minutes in the second half, and still only being down 3? How do you fix that?

MM: Without question I agree. At Virginia Tech was close, where a six point first half lead seemed like 20, but the Orange didn't really put forth its fullest effort until midway through the second half. It's disconcerting that Syracuse still sleepwalks through games, but in all reality what team doesn't? Most teams at any level seem to play two-thirds a game at "full speed." So long as Syracuse doesn't start like it did against Villanova, it should be fine going forward.

JR: I think that's fair to say. Like I said above, the Orange have trouble getting out of the gate. Even the games that have ended up as easy wins were close for the first ten minutes or so.

DL: That's probably right. However, I'm not sure how many "complete" games teams put up every year. A major conference team will almost always go on some kind of run, they're just not usually a Villanova-style outburst. I guess Tom Crean is just so bad against the zone that Indiana didn't have that in them. I'm not terribly concerned about the slow periods, this has been something that Syracuse teams have done forever, aside from that 2009-10 team that really enjoyed dancing on everyone's grave for 40 minutes each night.

SK: I don't know if we play a complete game 95% of the time. Complete games are few and far between, especially once you get into conference play. The question is, can we keep winning when we aren't doing the things we usually do well?

JC: I'm always hyper-sensitive to these things, plus it's my question. Syracuse struggles at the start of games and needs time to settle down on both offense and defense. We've recovered just fine, but it's disconcerting to think of what could happen if games like the one against Villanova don't turn around. Dan's right. Few teams look like the 2009-10 team. But for once, I'd just like to see us start well, keep going and finish strong.

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