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Five takeaways from Syracuse’s 85-64 loss to Penn State

Not at all the showing we were looking for...

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 27 NIT Season Tip-Off - Oklahoma State v Syracuse Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Prior to the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team’s trip to Brooklyn for the NIT Season Tip-Off, there were many unknowns surrounding the team’s identity. The Orange lost its season opener against Virginia 48-34, but since Joe Girard III entered the starting lineup two games later, the offense had looked much better, highlighted by a 97-46 blowout of Bucknell.

And the defense, albeit not one of the Orange’s best, still looked solid for a young team. Two games against power conference opponents, Oklahoma State and Penn State, would hopefully prove that what we saw against UVA was less a reflection of the team and more motivation for improvement.

But the Orange dropped their first semifinal game against OSU, showcasing weaknesses on both sides of the ball. And Friday night’s 85-64 loss to PSU in the tournament’s consolation game only confirmed those areas of concern.

Another Slow Start

Syracuse has started slow in its three power conference opponents so far this season. Against Penn State, the Orange missed six of their first seven field goals and didn’t reach double digits in scoring until 7:09 left in the first half.

Although in each of the three games the Orange eventually managed to either cut the lead to a few points (Virginia), get a lead of their own (Oklahoma State), or even the score (Penn State), starting the game in a hole and then playing catch-up has prevented Syracuse from getting comfrotable and controlling the game.

Poor Transition Defense

The more the Orange miss shots, particularly three-pointers with long rebounds, the more fastbreak opportunities for the other team. That’s made worse when Orange players fail to get back or aren’t physical enough to stop opposing players one-on-one. With the Orange shooting just 33.3 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three-point range, the Nittany Lions got out in transition and faced little resistance.

Rebounding and Interior Defense Struggles Continue

The Orange have been effective in transition themselves this season against lesser opponents. But poor defensive rebounding the last two games has eliminated any success in that area. Penn State out-rebounded the Orange 57-28, including 23 offensive boards (Syracuse had just seven). Mike Watkins led the way for the Nittany Lions with 16 rebounds (11 offensive). With so many extra opportunities on offense, Penn State also antagonized Syracuse’s already weak interior defense, scoring on tip-ins and put-backs.

Foul Trouble

Syracuse and Penn State each committed 21 team fouls in the game. But for an Orange team that now appears to lack depth—or, at least, Jim Boeheim prefers to only give six players major minutes—that’s more of a problem. Both center Bourama Sidibe and forward Marek Dolezaj (who mostly played center tonight) fouled out of the game, and Elijah Hughes and Quincy Guerrier each had three fouls. A lot of this can be attributed to the aformentioned rebounding and interior defense troubles.

Lack of Creating Shots

One positive of this Syracuse team is its high assists totals, which is something that has been missing from the program for several years. The Orange assisted on 14 of 18 made baskets against Penn State. But aside from Elijah Hughes, no SU player has demonstrated an ability to get a bucket when open passes aren’t there. And when Hughes goes cold like he did on Friday night, that’s even more of a problem.