Scott Phillips was able to shed some light on what he thinks of Syracuse Orange basketball this season and what the team has to do to make the NCAA Tournament. Let's dive right in.
James Szuba: Syracuse is now 0-3 in the ACC, what do they have to do to go dancing in March?
Scott Phillips: They have to get more consistent shooting and with guard play. Malachi Richardson having some good outings in ACC play is a very positive sign but someone else has to be consistent besides Michael Gbinije on the perimeter for the Orange. Trevor Cooney is hovering around 33 percent from 3-point range over his career and he runs hot and cold sometimes while Richardson's also shooting 37 percent overall. Franklin Howard is probably a year away from being an ACC contributor and Kaleb Joseph has regressed to the point that he's barely scoring in limited minutes. Syracuse needs one of those guys to step up or they're NIT bound.
James Szuba: Jim Boeheim is back coaching as of yesterday. Do you think Syracuse will be a better shooting and defensive team with him back in the fold?
Scott Phillips: It's hard to say if Syracuse will be a better shooting team because the good looks have still been there at times, but they could be more focused and relaxed knowing their leader is back in the fold. Defensively, it should help to have Boeheim back as well since the team could draw inspiration from his return.
James Szuba: Syracuse went 4-5 in Boeheim's absence. How much of that is on Mike Hopkins and how much is on the players?
Scott Phillips: I think it's a really unique situation that Syracuse is facing because not many teams ever have to go through this length of a coach suspension in any level of basketball. That's Mike Hopkins' coach and mentor and also a huge part of the players' lives. For Boeheim to go away in the middle of the season after the highs of a big start and tournament win at Battle 4 Atlantis was probably difficult. So some of the blame falls on Hopkins for not channeling that emotion into more consistent play. Syracuse is still winless on the road and lost another game in overtime when they were at home. Players also have to rise to the occasion and that includes the bench. Too many key players had to play over 35 minutes a game.
James Szuba: What has surprised/disappointed you the most about Syracuse this season?
Scott Phillips: I'm disappointed in the lack of depth and how many of Syracuse's top players are playing nearly 40 minutes a game. It wears a team down quickly and Gbinije's perimeter shooting is already slowing down quite a bit. I'm pleasantly surprised by Tyler Lydon's play and how he's been on the interior. I didn't believe he was that willing to play inside after seeing him multiple times in high school and it's been fun to see his development in that regard. Gbinije's jump to an even stronger overall player is also not necessarily a surprise but something that I questioned a bit entering the season. Erase any doubts: Gbinije is one of the ACC's most productive players.
James Szuba: Some Syracuse fans think that last year's team was better. What's your assessment of this year's team?
Scott Phillips: This year's team is much better shooting the ball but they don't have a go-to interior scorer like Rakeem Christmas to balance it out. I think both teams struggled with depth and are ultimately NIT teams at the end of the day. This year's Syracuse has more young players showing promise, however, so the future appears brighter. The 2015-16 group also has a higher ceiling that last year's team (without McCullough).
James Szuba: Lastly, how do you think the Orange finish the rest of the season?
Scott Phillips: I think Syracuse has to prove that they can win road games before I'm willing to say they're in contention for a tournament spot and it doesn't get easier with that brutal three-game stretch at Wake, Duke and Virginia early in the schedule. If the Orange can escape that stretch with some wins, they get a nice five-game stretch with four straight home games and a fifth at Boston College -- all winnable games. A winning streak like that could catapult the Orange into tournament contention in a down year in college hoops. There will be plenty of bids available come March.
There you have it. If you don't already, be sure to follow Phillips at @phillipshoops and head over CollegeBasketballTalk to keep up with the best college basketball coverage.