We’ve rehashed the Syracuse Orange’s crushing loss to Georgetown enough that we don’t need to dig into that specific game any more in this space. It’s a long season, and while that defeat won’t help SU’s tournament chances, it doesn’t kill them off completely either.
Still, the game’s worth addressing in the larger context of Orange basketball in recent years. Especially in terms of the regular season.
As Sean mentioned, perhaps we expected a bit too much of this year’s team. A lot of that was based on a surprise Final Four run that we felt may have provided additional validation for the program. I certainly thought so.
But instead, that may be quickly becoming the outlier to a very difficult series of regular seasons for Syracuse.
Since the 25-game winning streak to start the 2013-14 regular season, Syracuse is just 45-33 in regular season games. That excludes all ACC and NCAA Tournament play, though if we did add those games back in, that mark is 50-36. Four of those additional wins come from last year’s tourney run.
Still, whether you want to put stock in the 45-win mark (a .577 win percentage) or the 50-win plateau (.581 win percentage) instead, there’s no denying that something’s up (or down) with Orange basketball of late. As mentioned, the Final Four run may have blinded us to that a bit.
In their last 42 regular season games against ACC competition, Syracuse is just 20-22. Looking solely at the 2014-15, 2015-16 and current regular seasons, the Orange are 9-11 against non-conference opponents from the Power Five, plus the Big East and AAC. That’s a 29-33 regular season run vs. major conference teams right now — almost definitely the worst stretch of Jim Boeheim’s long career.
So what’s caused this dropoff? Some ideas that come to mind:
Unprecedented roster turnover
In 2013-14, the team was led by a freshman (Tyler Ennis) and a sophomore (Trevor Cooney). For 2014-15, Cooney stuck around, but the rest of the minutes were largely distributed between newcomers to the regular rotation like Kaleb Joseph, Michael Gbinije and to some extent Rakeem Christmas. Last season saw some consistency with Cooney and Silent G, but the rest of the starting five was largely new to the role. The offense focused in on freshmen Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon for extended stretches.
This year, Lydon is the primary remaining piece of the puzzle, with newcomers Andrew White, John Gillon and Tyus Battle (plus an increase in playing time for Frank Howard) carrying the rest of the water.
Teams can withstand personnel changes year to year. And some, like Kentucky, can pretty much remake the roster each and every season, too. But for Syracuse, which has a system in place on the defensive end that takes some time to master, you can’t continuously overhaul the lineup without expecting a dropoff.
Offense lacks efficiency
Syracuse is 57th in adjusted offensive efficiency right now, per KenPom, which measures points per 100 possessions and makes adjustments for opponents. Last year, they were 50th. In 2014-15, they’d hit 118th and for the entirety of 2013-14, they were actually 29th -- though that number’s largely boosted by the early returns of that season through 25 games.
The Orange simply haven’t been able to pull together an offense that’s title-worthy of late. Defense wins championships, sure, but not without a team capable of winning a game by making baskets along with those stops. Look at Virginia, arguably the best defensive team in the country for three years running. But their offense has been less than great in that stretch, and they’ve failed to make it to the Final Four despite having dominant teams. There are plenty more examples of that same dynamic elsewhere, even the opposite effect, too. Teams must be balanced, and not so reliant on one side of the ball or the other in order to win games.
Speaking of offensive issues...
As we learned during football season, if you’re efficient, tempo’s your friend on offense. If not, things get out of hand in a hurry.
Syracuse’s offense has not only been less-than-efficient these past four years, but they’ve also played at a snail’s pace.
So far this year, they’re the 252nd-”fastest” team in the country in possessions per 40 minutes (again, straight from KenPom). Last year, they were 322nd. The 2014-15 team was 239th and in 2013-14, SU was among the slowest teams in the country at 345th.
If you’re not scoring well (and the offensive efficiency numbers tell you they’re not), these types of tempos don’t really work. You don’t need to be going at breakneck speed. But if you’re failing to hit shots, more possessions can help balance that out even without efficient play on the offense end. You’re relying on your defense to make stops, yes. But in most of Syracuse’s recent seasons, they’ve been very capable of shutting down opposing teams. Some tempo could’ve done them some good.
You can dig through the numbers for quite some time and see where a lot of the struggles may come from — even if you can’t pinpoint exactly what’s ailed the team since the end of 2013-14.
In terms of this year, where the Orange seem to have struggled even more than the last few seasons, is that the defense (just as Jim said) isn’t up to snuff. The past three seasons’ respective defenses have all been top-30. This year’s comes in at 57th, something you can directly attribute to the roster’s zone inexperience, but also something that must be addressed quickly to stop the bleeding here.
Over the past few years, Syracuse has repeatedly shown that the regular season means very little once you get to the NCAA Tournament — in both positive and negative ways. If they want to add another chapter to that increasingly frustrating (yet thrilling) story, it would seem it’s now or never to fix what it can and salvage the season.