The Syracuse Orange dropped what was a very winnable game on Wednesday night, 73-67 to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Sure, it was on the road, and SU hasn’t played all that well in true road environments lately. But in the ACC, any opportunity for a victory away from home is critical.
So 15 games in, the Orange are 12-3 and 1-1 in league play. This is where things get a bit more difficult, however. The next three games:
- Jan. 6 vs. Notre Dame
- Jan. 9 at Virginia
- Jan. 13 at Florida State
You may have taken solace in the Irish losing Bonzie Colson before looking at the box score from Wednesday night’s 88-58 bludgeoning of NC State. Without the star big man, Notre Dame still won the rebounding battle and seemingly scored at will. Any illusions on the Orange being able to just pick up a quality victory “for free” (as we’ve done vs. ND in the past when they’ve lacked a star player for one reason or another) should be wiped away if it hasn’t been already.
Syracuse could very easily be staring a 1-4 ACC start in the face before getting a perceived break vs. Pitt later this month.
That’s a dire picture, really, especially given the limited opportunities to grab impressive road wins. But we can take some solace in the fact that the Orange do have a few things going for them... assuming the young team can also make some tweaks on the fly as the year wears on.
Rebounding is still a strength
It may not have been against Wake Forest, but Syracuse’s biggest advantage over most opponents is still size and its ability to crash the boards (especially on the offensive end). That goes a long way in creating second-chance opportunities for a team that doesn’t shoot the ball too well. It’s also a critical component to team success.
Young teams can have off nights. We’ve seen a few of them this year, particularly against St. Bonaventure and now, Wake. They’ll likely happen some more. They just can’t happen vs. teams we “should” beat anymore.
Jim Boeheim’s (obviously) been here before
Even if 12-3 starts aren’t incredibly common for Syracuse, there’s value in having a battle-tested coach to help balance out a greener team. Granted, this greener Syracuse team has put itself in unenviable situations numerous times already and actually came out on top more often than not. But Boeheim’s experience coaching teams beyond their skill or experience level is well-documented at this point.
Look at the 2015-16 team as exhibit A, obviously, and the one that’s easiest to reference in terms of recency. Though you can only take on so many losses. And at some point youth does need to turn to experience. That 2016 Final Four team had much more experience than this one, but it also might have just as much (future) pro talent.
Boeheim sees the same recurring issues we’re seeing for the past month. He’s addressing it, even if he’s not telling us how just yet.
We still don’t know what this team’s ceiling is
Related to the above, this team’s young with room to grow. They’re also one of the better defensive squads in the country, struggles defending deep threes aside. We’ve seen what happens when a strong Orange defensive group is able to make just enough shots to beat better opponents. It’s happened literally dozens of times from 2011 through this season.
Looking just at Wednesday night’s result, Frank Howard won’t always score 23 points, but he likely won’t always turn the ball over six times every game either. Tyus Battle won’t always be in foul trouble. Oshae Brissett won’t always have issues on the offensive glass. We’ll probably use Marek Dolezaj more in games where a team is really challenging us on the boards.
You see what I’m getting at. We’ve had some quality games this season, but it’s rare this group has put together a complete effort, despite winning 12 games thus far. Maybe it’s an assumption that they’ll find a way to play a complete game on both ends of the floor. But we don’t really know for sure. When this group is playing at the height of its defensive abilities, would you really doubt them against most opponents?
The ACC’s an absolute crapshoot
Look at what’s happened already in this young ACC schedule. Miami and North Carolina were upset on Wednesday. Boston College knocked off Duke in December. We’re just a couple games into the conference slate and there’s only a handful of teams left without a loss.
Now, that’s not going to help the conference out when you’re looking at its strongest teams vs. those of other leagues. But it also goes to show that the depth of the ACC is both its biggest strength and its downfall at times. Georgia Tech is not a great basketball team this year, yet just upset what looks like a very good Miami team. BC could be something of a fringe bubble team, yet has a win over Duke and a loss to Clemson. Those same Tigers are ranked in the top 25 right now. FSU was supposed to be terrible this year, yet is probably a top-15 club by resume.
Just like Syracuse has the chance to be on the receiving end of an upset, they’re equally likely to be doling them out. We did so (notably) three times at the Carrier Dome last year. The Orange can do so again this year. They just need to try to make sure one of them is on the road... for selection purposes.
We knew this season would be weird and a bit rocky. And perhaps some early efforts made us forget all of that. But this IS Syracuse basketball, after all. If nothing else, it keeps things interesting. A loss to Wake Forest is far from good. However, it’s far from earth-shattering either, especially this early.
There’s ample time to panic later on, if we’re treading water by late January. For now, though, let’s wait and see what happens next.