While Syracuse Orange basketball fans get concerned over the team’s lack of offense against better opponents (averaging just 53 points per game vs. power conference teams), Jim Boeheim is much more worried about SU’s defense.
As he told the media following Saturday’s victory over Boston University:
"We couldn't lead the local high school in steals with this team. We can't get a steal. We're not playing defense like that."
A fine Boeheim zinger, especially given how early in the season we are right now. And, as usual, there’s some truth to it as well. Syracuse has averaged just seven steals in their matchups with UConn, South Carolina and Wisconsin, versus 8.7 on the season as a whole. Last year, they led the entire ACC with 8.1 per game.
Part of the reason is obvious: So many newcomers to SU’s patented 2-3 zone. With Andrew White, John Gillon, Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson all seeing significant minutes, any previous experience they have is almost nullified by the fact that it was elsewhere. White and Gillon, in particular, are grad transfers who’ve developed at a combined four different schools before SU. Battle and Thompson are freshmen, and Boeheim’s already made it clear what he thinks of the latter’s defense thus far.
Orange guard Frank Howard tells Syracuse.com’s Mike Waters a bit more on the zone’s struggles thus far:
"It's little rotations in each spot. One step is a big deal. For instance, taking away the middle. Us being in the middle of the court, or being all the way down to the elbow, that's a big deal. It's little stuff like that we're trying to clean up. We know where we're supposed to be but it's easier said than done when you're on the court."
Boeheim also took the team to task for allowing teams’ best shooters to be open so regularly. BU’s Cedric Hankerson scored 34 vs. the Orange on Saturday, while Rodney Purvis had 21 for UConn. North Florida’s Dallas Moore had 30, Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ had 24. The list goes on...
In terms of steals, Syracuse should have ample opportunities to force them against their next opponent, Georgetown. The Hoyas average 14.4 turnovers per game, which is among the 120 highest figures in the country (out of 351). They also have a shooter in Rodney Pryor who can make SU pay for a lack of defensive attention. He’s averaging 20.6 points per game this year on 57.6 percent shooting.
Then again, is Georgetown better or worse than the local high school team? It’s honestly tough to tell.