Three months past Syracuse Orange basketball’s media day, small ball stands as a topic surrounding the Orange that nobody can escape. The idea hit the table, was scrapped into one million pieces and now Jim Boeheim seemingly taped up the blueprint following four straight losses in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Boeheim opened the season from the Carmelo Anthony Center stating that three-guard lineups would feature prominently on a team that essentially featured a full front court of first-year program entrants. Small ball disappeared into the oblivion, with Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe emerging as a block city, Geno Thorpe quitting and Howard Washington not filling the stat sheet in spurts of early-season opportunity.
As the Orange lost Geno Thorpe, emerged as a top-30 scoring defensive team and a prominent rebounding machine the thought of going small escaped Boeheim’s mind. The idea even caught scorn with the Orange starting 8-1.
“I know if I jump off the Brooklyn Bridge it’s not going to be a good result. I don’t have to wait and see,” Boeheim said, posing a drastic metaphor.
But the Orange are now 1-4 in conference despite holding Notre Dame to 51 points, Wake Forest to 73 and now-No. 2 Virginia to 51. Against them, Syracuse shot 30.4, 42 and 38 percent respectively and now sit at 107th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive rating (one of only three teams in the ACC outside of the top-100 with Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh).
With that as the backdrop, small-ball reemerged against then-No. 23 Florida St. thanks in part to foul trouble. On the ACC coach’s teleconference Monday morning, Boeheim seemed to at least mildly endorse the idea of more lineups featuring Howard, Washington and Tyus Battle. Here’s what Boeheim said about that and other hot-topics around the Orange.
Small-ball is here?
Washington broke into Syracuse’s rotation over the weekend and capitalized on 24 minutes, scoring nine points on 3-of-4 shooting with three rebounds and an assist. His entry in the first half produced a three-pointer from him, a steal and a pair of free throws (both missed) within one minute of his entry.
The Seminoles beat the Washington line, 22-16, to close the first half with a lead, but Syracuse found a successful 7-of-17 shooting stretch. It shot only 41 percent, a poor mark but still above the team’s recent standards.
Another Washington stretch, though not small-ball (with Howard fouling out) pushed a 14-9 Orange run to tie Florida St. 74-74 and force overtime.
“We move the ball a little bit,” Boeheim said on the teleconference of the three-guard lineup. “We put another guy in who can make shots ... it hurts our defense, it hurts our rebounding.”
With his mild thumbs-up to small-ball, Boeheim shared praise toward the way Washington played. Syracuse’s loss to the Seminoles and Washington’s minutes may have simply been a product of heavy guard minutes lately and foul trouble, but may open Boeheim’s eyes to the three-guard set again, until trends change again.
Speaking of minutes, between Battle, Howard and Oshae Brissett the Orange feature three of the top-10 players in NCAA basketball in minutes played. Battle (38.3) trails only Jalen Adams of Connecticut in minutes per game.
Howard clocked in at 36 minutes when he fouled out in the second half against the Seminoles, recently him and Battle have been shoe-ins for playing the entire game. Battle played 50 minutes in the loss, and Boeheim laughed as a reporter mentioned Howard likely would have played 40 if not for fouls.
“Yes he would’ve,” he confirmed.
“It’s the only way we can win,” Boeheim added. “Again I don’t like playing guys that many minutes, but most of the best players this league play 36 minutes or a little bit more than that.”
Road team difficulties
Major road wins are slated to be major points of consideration when the NCAA decides its at-large candidates for March Madness. That does not bode well for Syracuse to date, SU has lost all three road games in ACC play and its lone win was over Georgetown.
The ACC has grown into a powerhouse so great that the conference boasts three of the top-10 and eight of the top-40 in Kenpom.com’s standardized team ratings. 10 ACC teams sit in the top-50, including Syracuse.
Only Pittsburgh sits outside the top 102 spots.
That power up and down the conference, Boeheim said, makes it harder than ever to pick up quality road wins in conference play. The only ACC team yet to lose on the road in conference play is Virginia, and that’s a one game sample size.
“I think everybody’s good enough to win at home now,” Boeheim said. “I’m worried when we start the season. I’m always worried. You can’t react to where you are, you have to react to where you’re going.”