Fresh off three straight victories, Syracuse travels to Charlottesville on Sunday night for a meeting with No. 13 Virginia. Ahead of that game, the TNIAAM crew got together to assess the team's NCAA Tournament hopes, the play of Tyler Roberson and more.
Between this team on a 3-game winning streak and the one that lost four straight games to begin ACC play, what's the biggest difference? And do you think it's more than a coincidence that the turnaround has so far coincided with Jim Boeheim's return?
Kevin Wall: I want to say it's the quality of the competition as much as anything, but Syracuse has been better rebounding since the Clemson game. It's given the Orange extra looks on offense, and taken away some of the 2nd chance points that killed them against Pitt (and Wisconsin) earlier. Boeheim's return seems to have given the team a little boost, especially as it relates to closing out the tight game against Duke.
James Szuba: The biggest difference is Jim Boeheim being back on the bench. With him back in the fold Syracuse has played better defense. This team is starting to look like a traditional Syracuse team in terms of defense becoming its MO.
Andrew Pregler: I think part of it is Boeheim just having a better feel for subs off the bench, but I think another aspect has been how much better the defense has been at limiting points in the paint. And I think that's because Boeheim just knows the zone better than Hopkins. That's Boeheim's masterpiece and no one, not even Hopkins, will be able to replicate that right away.
Michael Burke: The Orange have been playing really well defensively over these past three games, as Boeheim has said, and they also shot well against Wake Forest and Duke, which is generally a key to their success. Now, it's mostly impossible to know if this is because of Boeheim's return -- and as Kevin points out, the competition has been weaker -- but I think there's got to be some causation along with the correlation. He's 9-2 this season for a reason.
Tyler Roberson is averaging a double-double in ACC play. Is he exceeding your expectations, or did you expect this level of play from him this season?
KW: He's been better than I thought he would. I wish he'd stop settling for 17-ft jumpers early in the shot clock, but his effort has been what this Syracuse team needs. He will need to keep rebounding well as the season moves forward.
JS: This is the Roberson I expected to see to start the season. I wouldn't say I expected him to average a double-double but this is the type of effort you'd expect from him. It's good to see his industriousness pay off.
AP: What he did against Duke was legitimately insane. The double-double per game is amazing and not anything I thought he'd be able to do game in and out right now, but I'm sure this is what Boeheim and crew saw when they recruited him. So I'm hoping this keeps up.
MB: I didn't know what to expect, to be honest, but I certainly wasn't expecting this. He played pretty well down the stretch last year, but I figured that was largely due to playing alongside Rakeem Christmas, who attracted a lot of attention. What Roberson is doing now is really impressing me.
Franklin Howard has seemed to overtake Kaleb Joseph as the lone backup point guard. Do you think that's the right move?
KW: I do because Howard seems like the best bet to run the offense and let Gbinije play off the ball more. Howard needs to be careful not to over-dribble at times,but he has the ability to get into the lane and create shots for others. His length at the top of the zone is also an advantage over Kaleb.
JS: I think it is the right move at this point. Howard has been stready, not great, but steady in that role while Joseph hasn't looked ready. KJ is in a typical basketball catch 22. In order to see the floor, he needs to play better but in order to play better he needs to see the floor. It's tough to play in rhythm when you only get a few minutes at a time and you look over your shoulder after every dead ball. Howard is the right move for now.
AP: Long term? Probably. I just really hate to see a kid like Kaleb get the shaft because Boeheim doesn't like him. I have no doubt that Kaleb could be a starting PG for another D1 school (not at Syracuse's level at this time or ever after transfer rules etc), it's just clear Howard is already at Joseph's peak.
MB: I think so. I feel for Joseph, as he seems like a good, smart kid. But Howard's been decently effective in his minutes, and Joseph simply hasn't on either end of the ball.
At this point, what are the odds Syracuse makes the NCAA Tournament?
KW: Right now I'll say 60% because Syracuse is trending in the right direction. However, the ACC is pretty loaded, so there aren't many easy wins on the schedule. I think Syracuse needs another quality win, and to avoid a bad loss to be comfortable before the ACC Tournament.
JS: If the tournament started today I'd say Syracuse is in but just barely. I think the team still has a great opporunity to make the tournament but there's still a long season ahead. I'd say there's a 50% chance of Syracuse making the big dance.
AP: I'll go 50% The team still needs to get to 19-20 wins and make some noise in the ACC tournament. A one and done showing even in a deep ACC isn't going to move any voters at the last second.
MB: I'll say roughly 60%. Most of Syracuse's losses don't look bad at all, and the Orange have a very feasible path to nine or 10 conference wins, which I think would be just enough to get into the tournament. However, if they slip up and lose a game they shouldn't, things will get very interesting.