There are 25 days left in December and 76 more until the start of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. The Syracuse Orange still have 23 regular season games remaining and won't begin conference play until after the New Year.
I'm still worried. And, with the Orange sitting at 5-3, that's at least somewhat reasonable, right? After last night's 69-57 loss to the St. John's Red Storm, Syracuse is now 1-3 against legitimate opponents -- teams that aren't Kennesaw State, Hampton, Loyola, or Holy Cross.
You could say that losses like this one simply boil down to missed shots, and if you did, you'd probably be right. You'd also be in agreement with Jim Boeheim.
"Look, let me put it this way. This will be the end," Boeheim said as he closed his four-minute press conference. "We're either gonna make some shots, or we're gonna lost against good teams. That's it. Okay? It's not that complicated."
The Orange went 3-of-22 from three and shot just 39 percent from the field. They lost at least in-part because they missed the shots that, down the stretch, the Red Storm made.
But here's the issue: we don't have reason to believe that anybody on this team is going to start making those shots. Trevor Cooney's inconsistency is the only consistent aspect of his game. B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson have been struggling with their shots for weeks. Michael Gbinije had one of Syracuse's three made three-pointers last night, but he isn't ever going be a knockdown shooter.
For the Orange to beat good teams, they aren't often going to often do it by going ballistic from beyond the arc. That's just not their strength. Of course, they won't go 3-of-22 every night, but this isn't a group that's going to be among the country's best three-point shooting teams.
Again, I'm at least slightly worried. I'm slightly concerned. But, from this loss, the shooting isn't what I'm concerned about. I'm concerned because 1) Kaleb Joseph is seriously struggling and because 2) Syracuse blew a lead it held late in the second half.
For most of the 19 minutes he played, Joseph was the worst player on the court. He looked lost, especially on the defensive end. On the other side of the ball, he made a number of questionable decisions, including, once again, some poor shot selection.
"He's gotta learn that he's a point guard, not a three-point shooter. And he's gotta play defense," said a livid Boeheim afterwards.
I've been on the Official Kaleb Joseph Bandwagon since the start of the season, so maybe I'm a little biased here, but I still tend to believe he'll figure this thing out before ACC play starts in about a month. He's a freshman who's only eight games into his collegiate career. We can't keep making excuses for him, but I'm willing to be patient.
What I'm more concerned about is that his team led 55-52 with four minutes remaining and, at home, couldn't put away the Johnnies. Not only that, but the Orange had swung the momentum completely in their favor by erasing a seven-point deficit to take that lead and, after an on-court scuffle that followed Rysheed Jordan flagrantly fouling Chris McCullough, had an extra-raucous Carrier Dome crowd behind them. And they still lost.
Immediately after taking its lead lead, Syracuse turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions, thus allowing St. John's to pull ahead and pull ahead for good. Obviously, you can't have that. It's the difference between a successful team and an unsuccessful team: being able to close games.
Of course, it's important to remember that this team has only two players -- Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney -- who were real contributors to last year's team. I feel like I've made that point hundreds of times, but it's the truth. This season's Orange have a number of significant contributors who either weren't on last year's team or, if they were on the team, rode the bench. So it's feasible to expect it to take some time before Syracuse hits its stride. But with each loss like last night's, it's going to become more and more difficult to stay optimistic, and the players in that locker room are going to become less and less confident.
Still, it wasn't all bad for the home team. There were positives to take away from the losing effort. Michael Gbinije went 5-of-10 and had 13 points, five rebounds, five assists, and a steal. Rakeem Christmas went 5-of-8 and, with 15 points and 15 rebounds, had his second double-double of the season. I still can't figure out, with such a size advantage, why he wasn't force-fed the ball more often. Against a team that really only played one player (Chris Obekpa) who isn't listed as a guard, our 6-foot-9 leading scorer needs to take more than eight shots.
For Christmas and the rest of the Orange, it doesn't get much easier from here. Before traveling to Philadelphia to play another former Big East foe in the Villanova Wildcats on December 20, they play host to Louisiana Tech (currently 7-1) next Sunday in what will almost certainly be a must-win, even in mid-December.