Well, I guess a reality check was needed following that three-game winning streak. The humbling 22-point loss to the No. 10 Virginia Tech Hokies showcased a lot of the weaknesses the Syracuse Orange have.
The Hokies dominated the 2-3 zone with their excellent three-point shooting, as their quick swing-passes around the perimeter made it near impossible for the Orange to close out on their numerous deep threats. However, it wasn’t only the defense’s fault in this one, but the Syracuse offense had one of their worst outings of the season due to the high ball pressure from the Virginia Tech guards.
The Hokies are a very talented defensive team, and their ball pressure is what makes them so effective on that end of the floor. By not allowing the ball handler to feel comfortable in the half court and set up the offense, the opponent is left getting into their offense late into the shot clock, thus leading to forced contested shots and turnovers — both of which hurt the Orange mightily Saturday night.
Syracuse is built on their talented perimeter players, the “big four,” in Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, Elijah Hughes, and Oshae Brissett, but the Hokies were able to limit their production by staying in their personal space from the moment the ball handler crossed half court. Hughes is the only consistent perimeter shooter out of those four players, so it is crucial for them to get to the lane off the dribble if the other three want to see offensive success.
Howard and Battle start the offensive set most of the time, and they typically look to go downhill to either create for themselves or to kick the ball out to the other perimeter playmakers. They’re both capable of beating their man off the dribble when there’s a little ball pressure, but the pressure typically slows down the set and causes the offense to go stagnant, thus leading to isolation-ball.
This Syracuse basketball team needs to be scoring in transition and moving the ball on the perimeter in the half court in order to find easy shots, and coach Buzz Williams did a great job of making those two keys to the game nonexistent on Saturday.
The Hokies forced the Orange into 14 turnovers, with Hughes having four and Battle and Howard having three each. Syracuse’s offense is already a weak point this year, so giving up opportunities to score the ball isn’t a great idea for this roster. Not only did the ball pressure cause the Orange to turn the ball over, but it led to Syracuse needing to force up contested shots with the shot clock ticking down, thus causing the Orange to shoot 36 percent from the field.
The primary scorers for the Orange, the “big four” I mentioned earlier, combined to shoot 16-49 against the high ball pressuring Hokies. With limited perimeter shooters, the Orange need space for their deep threats to knock down threes, but the Virginia Tech defense was smothering and turned the open threes Syracuse was getting in the last three games into contested shots.
Yes, the score of the game is not a good sign for this team, but it also allowed coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange to understand where they need to improve as they begin to approach the final stretch of regular season play. This team isn’t going to win games with dominant scoring, but they do need to find a way to stay in games against teams like Virginia Tech — 56 points on 36 percent shooting won’t cut it.