When the dust settled on the Syracuse Orange’s ugly 60-57 overtime loss to the St. Bonaventure Bonnies and most got over blaming the officials, it was time to reassess what we know about this SU team.
Syracuse is 10-2 on the year, with two quality losses — to Kansas and St. Bonaventure. They’re young and still inexperienced. Their offense is entirely reliant on one player (Tyus Battle) performing at a very high level. And while the defense is very good, they’re still a shakier zone in that they can be gamed with some ease.
St. Bonaventure and Kansas both did so in similar ways. Buffalo embraced the philosophy too. Shoot ‘til you miss from outside works if you have the players to nail those jumpers.
All the same, Syracuse has still been able to shut those teams down for stretches. Despite the result on Friday night, we can’t just forget that the Orange held the Bonnies to just 13 points in the second half. Foul trouble was what helped get the best of them in OT. The dreaded issue with layups was also the only reason they were in the extra period to begin with -- point-blank misses near the buzzer being the difference between the comeback win and a letdown loss.
While the defeat to a very good St. Bonaventure team probably won’t sting toward the end of the year, what we saw there also didn’t occur in a bubble. These past few games, channeling the come-from-behind heroics of 2016-17’s mid-season run, are both thrilling and frustrating. They’re indicative of Syracuse’s high ceiling but also its very real problems scoring for stretches.
The half-court offense, as you’ve come to realize at this point, can be dreadful at times.
But for every stretch where Syracuse has been unable to shoot to save their lives (first half vs. KU, Georgetown, Bonnies), there have been second halves that show quite the opposite. The Orange are able to channel the “hot hand” in a way that should remind you of the 2015-16 team a bit. And just like that squad, it’s all intrinsically linked to stops on defense, too. The press, notably, was a key factor in the turnaround on Friday just as it was vs. Georgetown.
And that’s what makes me think this Orange team will probably be alright following an unexpected (but far from improbable) loss.
Foul trouble can be corrected to an extent, even if Bourama Sidibe’s health appears destined to hang in the balance for much of the year. Layups can theoretically fall when they hadn’t previously. If you’re going to ride a “hot hand” theory to drive your offense, there are pluses and minuses to that approach. But between Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett, the Orange may have enough players that can get hot to roll that dice some more forward.
At times, young teams need these sorts of games. And really, SU has had three straight performances that resemble one another considerably. They were lucky against Georgetown and Buffalo that the loss was avoided. Against the best of those three, St. Bonaventure, they dropped the game (albeit barely).
You can potentially argue they needed the loss to help course-correct the problems that have become obvious to those watching through these past couple weeks.
But in a long season, the impact of this loss will be defined by what happens next. Eastern Michigan’s challenge is largely in that it’s familiar with the zone. Then it’s off to ACC play and what should be an intriguing stretch of five games to start things in-conference.
A growing and developing Orange team can take their lumps this year and still be a tournament team. A squad complacent in fixing the (fixable) problems will continue down this road of death-defying late-game feats. Last year’s team was content to live life on the edge. This year’s has a chance to embrace a different script.
Until Syracuse proves me wrong, I’m willing to bet this team is able to write a different ending than last year’s did.