The Syracuse Orange aren’t really seen as an NCAA Tournament team right now. That doesn’t mean Jim Boeheim & Co. are doomed to missing March Madness for the second straight season, mind you. But some things still need to go right to make it back the (real) postseason.
So what are those things? The TNIAAM staff weighs in below.
I think a lot needs to happen for Syracuse to make the tournament. First off, they need to perform on the road. 2-8 last season. If they improve that to at least .500, that’s a huge improvement that would perk the ears up of the committee. There is a load of talent in the ACC, as there is every year, but that’s the minor jump that I’m looking for Syracuse to surpass this season. Overcome the road woes, and then go from there.
Syracuse Basketball is going to need consistency to make the NCAA tournament. Last year, there was never a definitive game plan or player the team could go to when things weren't looking good. It was always some variation of "what's worked best over the last 30 minutes to use in the last 10." And more times than not, it didn't work when the Orange needed it.
However, go back to just the year before and the Orange found a small ball lineup that put everyone on the floor in a position of strength to use when the extra gear was needed. Opposing teams just couldn't adjust quick enough — and we've heard Boeheim talk about doing this again this year. It’s not the only solution, but it’s a start.
For Syracuse to make the NCAA Tournament, they will have to be better on the defensive glass. We know that the zone makes it harder to match up and box out, but the Orange have ranked near the bottom of the country in defensive rebounding the last two seasons. Doing a better job on the boards will help a team with a lot of uncertainty on the offensive end. It can allow Syracuse to get out in transition and create opportunities for Tyus Battle to attack the defense in an unsettled situation. If Syracuse wants to earn a spot back in the Tournament they cannot afford to keep giving up 2nd and 3rd chance points.
Tyus Battle said that Syracuse needs to get back to being a defensive team, yes in the 2-3 zone, and it’s no surprise he pointed to the 7’2" player in the middle as potential for the whole system’s improvement. Pachal Chukwu has a sensational story of perseverance and an even more impressive frame that rivals any other big man in college basketball
One year into the system the Orange need him even more. The team was 141st in points allowed per game last year and were well outside the top-200 in total rebounding. When they were winning, it came on spurts of three-point shooting and scoring bursts. That was not enough to make the tournament. Boeheim said they’ll go with three-guard lineups again, but getting that anchor production at the center position could change everything. Here’s to buying into that hope again.
Syracuse will make the NCAA Tournament for two reasons: 1) They’ll buy in on the defensive end of the floor and 2) The team will have two players (other than Tyus Battle) become reliable options on the offensive end of the floor. I’m not too worried about the team necessarily “buying in” defensively, but how good will the younger/inexperienced wings/centers be? Oshae Brissett, Matthew Moyer, Marek Dolezaj, Bourama Sidibe and Paschal Chukwu all have their work cut out for them this season.
Offensively, Syracuse will need more than Tyus Battle each night. Who will it be? Geno Thorpe and Brissett are the two names that initially come to my mind. What about Moyer? If SU can develop a few threats offensively and execute the zone then you have to like their chances to grab an NCAA Tournament bid.
Syracuse needs to get back to business on the defensive end, first and foremost. The early season talk is that Syracuse will get back to its roots in terms of being a good defensive team but questions loom large. Battle, Thorpe and Brissett will have to carry the scoring load while guys like Moyer and Sidibe will have to be glue guy types and focus on the little things. Frank Howard simply has to play good defense, run the offense and hit guys in their spots. Paschal needs to be solid defensively and any production out of Howard Washington would be a bonus. If the guys can do those things as a collective, the wins should follow.
Scoring beyond Battle is critical to this team keeping up with its most difficult opponents all year, and potentially grabbing a quality win or two away from home. Road struggles were a bit part of missing last year’s tournament, and it’s unlikely Syracuse can fix that without a secondary scorer (at the very least). Hopefully Thorpe or Brissett (the two most likely candidates) reveal themselves as quality scorers early on to help redirect defenses away from the star sophomore. It’ll go a long way toward securing that tournament bid over the course of the long season.
But what about you? What’s the most critical thing(s) for the Orange to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament this year? Share your own thoughts below.