Against St. Bonaventure on Tuesday night, Syracuse needed to overcome an eight-point second half deficit to avoid an upset. Four days earlier against Lehigh, the Orange had to fend off a late Mountain Hawks' rally to secure a win.
In both instances, teams from mid-major conferences came closer to leaving the Carrier Dome with a victory than opposing teams typically do in November. Last season, for example, SU topped Kennesaw State and Hampton in its first two games by an average margin of 32.5 points.
After the St. Bonaventure game, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was asked whether being challenged so early in the season will ultimately benefit the Orange.
"I'd rather have a couple of easier games to start out, to be honest with you, especially with these young guys," he said. "We've had to overcome some stuff in both these games, really."
Fortunately for Boeheim, Saturday's date at the Dome with Elon should serve as SU's first easy game this season. And that's not simply because the Phoenix finished eighth out of 10 teams in the Colonial Athletic Association last season. Arguably Elon's biggest weakness — its 3-point defense — plays right into Syracuse's hands. Additionally, the Orange's rebounding woes should be less obvious against an Elon team that itself has struggled this season on the boards.
Prior to the start of the season, Boeheim estimated that Syracuse would attempt 25 or 30 3s per game in 2015-16. At the time, it was fair to question whether he might be exaggerating. But through two games, it's obvious he wasn't. SU is averaging 28 attempts per game from beyond the arc, accounting for 55.8 percent of the team's field goal attempts — tied with Duquense for the highest mark nationally, according to kenpom.com.
Additionally, 3s have accounted for 44.1 percent of the Orange's points, the 17th-highest clip in the country. Two-point field goal attempts, meanwhile, have accounted for just 32.4 percent of SU's points — just 329th in the country. That's something that could hurt Syracuse down the road, as big men Dajuan Coleman and Tyler Roberson have struggled to establish themselves as effective low post presences on offense.
Against Elon, though, it shouldn't matter. That's because the Orange's 3-point-oriented offense should, in theory, be at its best. Through three games, opposing teams are shooting 47.5 percent from 3 against the Phoenix, ranking Elon 318th nationally in 3-point defense.
In an 88-68 win over Elon on Monday, Michigan went 13-of-24 from deep, allowing the Wolverines to pull away in a game they led by just one point late in the first half. Guards Duncan Robinson and Derrick Walton Jr. were particularly successful, going 11-for-12 from 3.
Two days later, Elon topped Belmont Abbey, 84-57, but not without allowing the Division II Crusaders to make make nine of its 20 3-point attempts.
Elon also isn't very good on the boards. The Phoenix rank 198th and 199th, respectively, in offensive and defensive rebound percentage. That's more good news for Syracuse, which has struggled to compete on the glass.
Against St. Bonaventure, SU lost the rebounding battle by 10 and surrendered 24 offensive boards. Collecting and capitalizing on so many second chance opportunities was instrumental in the Bonnies often controlling a game they shouldn't have.
But assuming Elon can't do the same or slow down Syracuse's 3-point attack, it seems likely that Saturday's game will be a much different story.