With losses last week to Clemson and North Carolina, Syracuse remained winless in ACC play as its once-promising season continues to look bleaker. In this week's statistics column, we look at reasons for the Orange's troubles, as well as some other developing trends and notable stats.
Syracuse is experiencing defensive issues in the low post
In the final eight minutes and 15 seconds against North Carolina on Saturday, Syracuse surrendered 10 made field goals in the paint. That ultimately turned out to be the difference, as UNC used a 34-17 run in that span to pull away from the Orange.
UNC, which scored a total of 46 points in the paint on Saturday, wasn't the first team to have success near the rim against the Orange. In four ACC games, SU has allowed 30 or more points to be scored in the paint each time; Pittsburgh had 34, Miami had 30 and Clemson had 40.
After having mild defensive success in non-conference play at the rim, the script has since flipped completely and the Orange's thin frontcourt has been exploited. Teams are now shooting 61.3% at the rim against Syracuse, according to Hoop-Math, and it's arguably the biggest weak spot on the floor for SU's defense.
The Orange have a very, very tight rotation
Yes, if you watch Syracuse, you already knew that. But you may not have realized that, according to kenpom.com, SU actually has the tightest rotation in the country.
The Orange's "bench" — which includes Dajuan Coleman instead of Tyler Lydon, since Lydon plays more minutes — accounts for only 16.0% of the total minutes Syracuse players have played. That's the lowest mark in college basketball — 351st out of 351 teams Division I teams — by a wide margin. Hofstra's bench accounts for 18.9% of that team's minutes, and the Pride rank 350th in that category.
Syracuse almost always uses a short bench, but this season has been extreme. Since kenpom.com started tracking bench minutes in the 2006-07 season, never has SU's "bench" accounted for less than 19.7% of the team's minutes — until this season.
We can't say for sure, but this could help explain the Orange's late-game collapses. In each of the team's last four losses, Syracuse has led or been tied at some point with under eight minutes to play, only to allow the opportunity to slip away. It's at least possible that in those moments, fatigue could be setting in.
Syracuse's starting lineup had its best showing yet against UNC
Syracuse's starting lineup — consisting of Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, Malachi Richardson, Tyler Roberson and Coleman— finished plus-6 in Saturday night's loss to North Carolina.
In terms of plus-minus, only once this season has that lineup performed better in a game. It went plus-7 against Elon on Nov. 21. But given the opponents, Saturday's performance was much more impressive.
Prior to Saturday's game, I wrote that the Orange wouldn't be wise to use that lineup much. I argued that, given UNC's ability on the boards, that lineup wouldn't rebound well enough to compensate for what I assumed would be a lack of offense, since the lineup generally struggles to space the floor.
On both accounts, I was wrong. With that lineup on the court, Syracuse outrebounded North Carolina, 18-12. The Orange also shot 36.8% from 3-point range (7-of-19), a respectable clip. But even that percentage doesn't tell the full story; because the Orange were so successful on the boards, they often got second and third chances at 3-point attempts on possessions.
It remains to be seen whether that strong offensive showing was a blip or a sign that the Orange might be figuring out how to create with that lineup. If it's the latter, that would be massive for Syracuse, since the lineup is already one of its better lineups both defensively and on the glass.
Syracuse's season could be determined by three games
In 11 of Syracuse's remaining 14 games, kenpom.com projects the Orange should be either heavy favorites or heavy underdogs. In each game, they are currently given either better than a 59% chance to win or less than a 30% chance to win.
In the three other games — against Wake Forest (Jan. 16), Notre Dame (Jan. 28) and Pittsburgh (Feb. 20) — Syracuse is given between a 42% and 49% chance of winning.
By that logic, those three games could determine SU's NCAA Tournament fate. Win all three and, assuming Syracuse takes care of business in the six games it should win, the Orange will have nine conference wins. That might be enough to sneak into the tournament.
But if the Orange were to lose two or three of those games, it would make their tournament chances extremely slim, barring a run in the ACC tournament.