On its face, Syracuse's 78-51 win on Tuesday night at the Carrier Dome was the Orange at their absolute best. On one end, they made their 3s at an impressive rate, knocking down 14 of 30 attempts. On the other, they forced 19 turnovers, leading to 14 points in transition. SU also didn't get outrebounded, something that couldn't be said in the Orange's previous three games.
But it must be noted that Syracuse played Colgate, which fell to a lowly 2-6 on the season with the loss and figures to be a bottom-feeder in the Patriot League this season. The Raiders, at a clear talent disadvantage, made life easy on the Orange, who snapped a two-game losing streak. And while it's difficult to be overly critical of a 27-point victory, SU's overall performance does make for some cause for concern.
If the Orange can consistently hold their own on the boards this season like they did Tuesday — they and Colgate each grabbed 32 rebounds — they'll be in a position to win most games. But against Colgate, it's worrisome that the Orange couldn't do more than simply hold their own.
Entering Tuesday, the Raiders, who don't have a player taller than 6-foot-9, ranked 220th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 226th in defensive rebounding percentage, per kenpom.com. Despite that, the Raiders were outrebounding Syracuse for much of the night and grabbed 13 offensive boards.
This isn't a new trend for the Orange. They've been horrific on the boards all season long, and they're now ranked 322nd in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. At this point, it's difficult to assume this is coincidental or that Syracuse can somehow get significantly better on the glass. Rather, it seems pretty clear that SU will consistently struggle with rebounding this season unless it makes a drastic change.
One possible change could be using more lineups featuring the 6-foot-8 Tyler Lydon, the 6-foot-8 Tyler Roberson and the 6-foot-9 Dajuan Coleman all on the court simultaneously. Those lineups haven't frequently been used this season, appearing only sparingly in five different games, so it's difficult to know how effective they would be. (For what it's worth: When they have been used, Syracuse is minus-2 on the season.)
Hopkins and, later, Jim Boeheim will need to consider whether the potential rebounding advantages that lineup might bring would be beneficial enough to sacrifice the offense that smaller lineups gain for the Orange. As we've noted here in the past, neither Roberson nor Coleman operate much outside of the paint on offense, and that becomes a serious detriment to Syracuse's spacing when both are on the court. It makes it more difficult for SU to do what it does best — get open 3-pointers.
"Every decision we make is going to be a decision made to win that game," Hopkins said. "Everything changes. If it's scoring, sometimes you're sitting there and you go, 'Maybe our 3s will be worth more than their 2s.'"
When Syracuse shoots like it did on Tuesday, there won't be a decision to make. The Orange shot nearly 50% from beyond the arc, getting the majority of their makes when they were using four-out lineups. Against Colgate's matchup zone, SU had little trouble finding wide open looks; often times, it took just one or two passes, or even simply a pump fake, to free up a shooter.
Of course, as games last week against Wisconsin and Georgetown proved, it won't always be that easy for the Orange to get those looks, and they won't always be as successful with them when they do, which will take away from the attraction of those smaller lineups.
But, admittedly — and as you've probably noticed if you've been keeping up with my coverage — I tend to believe the smaller lineup will prove to always be Syracuse's best option. But the Orange should at least experiment with the especially big lineups, which they will. And when they do, that's when we'll really know.