As you well know, Syracuse Orange basketball has lost its last two games after starting out 4-0. Both contests were away from home against currently ranked teams (South Carolina and Wisconsin) — stark contrasts from the competition they faced in the earlier games. But that doesn’t change the fact that SU has looked like they’re missing a few things on both ends of the floor.
What, specifically, though? We try to assess the biggest issues.
The vanishing Tyler Roberson
After a strong start to the season, the senior forward has not been a presence on either end in recent games — so much so vs. Wisconsin that he only played 13 minutes. In the past two games combined, his stat lines read one point and eight rebounds. That’s far below his averages of 8.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, which are also knocked down by the lack of recent production.
Where Roberson has thrived in the past is as a four going up against smaller bodies, while Dajuan Coleman mans the five. We’re seeing some of that this year, but the results haven’t been the same as teams are finding ways to keep him away from the offensive glass.
Roberson’s ability to affect the game on the boards is his best asset, and even without much scoring, there have to be more ways to position him near the rim.
Whither, three-point shooting?
Syracuse is still shooting over 40 percent from three on the year, and has four different players up over that mark (Tyler Lydon, John Gillon, Frank Howard and Tyus Battle). But the shots haven’t fallen in these two losses. They hit 40 percent vs. South Carolina, but on just 6-of-15 shooting. And against Wisconsin, they were a woeful 6-for-23 (26.1 percent).
Part of the reasons for it is that the offense is becoming a two-man show. Andrew White and Tyler Lydon are being leaned on heavily for scoring, while the rest of the lineup plays more supporting roles in setting up the offense. In some ways, this makes sense. Neither player is necessarily great and creating shots for others, while you have Gillon and Howard both as capable distributors. Players are getting too tied up in those roles, and then letting the defense dictate all the shots to White and Lydon. They’re still scoring — from three and elsewhere -- but this team needs to be a threat inside as well.
Wisconsin did not hold a size advantage inside, and South Carolina didn’t have much of one either. But Syracuse was largely kept out of the paint in both instances. Working the ball inside creates more space outside for their shooters to get up uncontested (or close to it) threes. Expect the team to be working on this aspect of the game far more going into its matchup with UConn.
Get the ball into (and out of) Frank Howard’s hands
As mentioned above, Howard’s a capable distributor (5.7 assists per game). And he minimizes turnovers (1.5 per), too. The last two games have seen him either riding the pine or forcing jump shots, however, when he could be either distributing or driving the lane to draw fouls.
Against South Carolina, Howard was 3-for-7 from the field with just three assists in 24 minutes of play. In the Wisconsin game, he was 2-for-8 in 16 minutes, with just two assists. Howard can and should shoot, but he needs to make those count: Uncontested threes and driving the lane are his go-to shots. The mid-range jumper isn’t something he, or most players, should be attempting with any regularity. If he’s not open for three or capable of driving, then it’s time to dish the ball out. His ability to distribute early was a key part of this offense excelling in early games. It can be going forward.
Again, don’t panic. We’ll be fine. Some small tweaks and these issues can start to go away, and Syracuse will be right back on track heading into ACC play. Jim Boeheim’s been here before, and it’s worked out nearly every single time.