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Syracuse abandoned what they knew, and it worked vs. Miami


NCAA Basketball: Miami at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange beat the Miami Hurricanes by 15 on Wednesday night. It was unexpected, to say the least -- especially because of how it all came about.

Syracuse shot well from the floor overall (nearly 57 percent), from three (41 percent) and even from the free-throw line (almost 86 percent). They out-rebounded Miami 30-26, had two players in double figures and most of all, held one of the nation’s top offenses to just 55 points.

They also did it with just five players seeing any meaningful playing time. This, the same team that we thought would be winning with its unprecedented depth. THAT team gave one minute apiece to former starters DaJuan Coleman and Frank Howard, five to Taurean Thompson (who did start), and then rode everybody else as far as they’d go.

Now, some of this should’ve been happening the whole time, too. Tyler Lydon should always be the focal point of this offense given his unique skill set and athletic advantages in the paint. And Andrew White should also get the green light more often than not — especially if he’s going to shoot the way he did vs. the Hurricanes. Lydon and White combined for 42 points on 14-for-26 shooting, and it never really felt like they were taking on too much of the load.

NCAA Basketball: Miami at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

But to this point, that isn’t how the Orange were running things. Jim Boeheim was honestly vexed by what had gone wrong for Syracuse, and how to turn them right. The team was failing on both ends of the floor — the respective disasters against St. John’s and Boston College being the lowest of low marks. Leaning on Taurean Thompson had created issues on defense. Frank Howard’s presence seemed to do more harm than good on the offensive end.

It ends up that the best thing for Syracuse was to largely abandon what they’d done before.

From Lydon at center, to a very small (virtually non-existent) bench, and an emphasis on its two best scorers, everything just went right for SU. The smaller lineup pushed the offense to its best mismatch (Lydon), while the defense relied upon the size and experience of Lydon and Tyler Roberson to keep people out of the paint. Spreading the Miami offense out and forcing them to beat Syracuse on the wings was a success, and a hallmark of a well-executed zone. Having four player (Roberson excluded) that could run and spread the floor and shoot from distance also tested what Miami could do.

The ‘Canes were so flummoxed at one point that they even switched briefly to their own 2-3 zone. It worked for a hot second, but the Orange triumphed past that too, leaning on Lydon and White once again when they were needed most.

This game was far from a masterstroke. Boeheim was not creating an unforeseen lineup permutation from scratch, or creating a new offensive style on the fly. For the first time all year, he’d made some clear adjustments to play to the strengths he knew this team had. It may have taken half of the season to get there, but at least for now, this “new” Orange team has figured something out.

The next question is how long it will (or can) last. We’ll find out soon enough on Saturday when Syracuse likely trots out a similar lineup in an attempt to repeat Wednesday’s strong effort.