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Syracuse needs Jim Boeheim to be patient and flexible but can he do it?

It’s not just for this season but next year as well

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season began we heard Syracuse Orange men’s basketball head coach Jim Boeheim talk about the depth of his roster and how they would need to improve defensively but how the young squad was going to surprise people.

“I think we have a lot of good young guys who are probably a little bit underrated, a little bit under the radar, and I think they’re more ready to help this year than I think most people would think.”

Ten games into the season the Orange are 5-5 and have left us wondering what will happen when the calendar turns to 2020. Syracuse has demonstrated the ability to knock down shots but they’ve become dependent on shooting 3-pointers. Syracuse ranks 317th in the country in 2-point attempts despite the fact they are hitting on 52.2% of their field goal attempts inside the arc.

It’s obvious to anyone watching that the Syracuse guards have struggled to prevent penetration at the top of the zone and have watched opponents get plenty of open looks as the Georgetown Hoyas did on Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t to suggest that Syracuse should play man-to-man but it seems like mixing defenses throughout the game might help break the opponents rhythm. We saw a halfcourt trap in the second half but when Syracuse tried to press with Joe Girard and Buddy Boeheim, the Hoyas broke it without trouble. So why doesn’t Jim Boeheim try to use his bench players in this situation? We know that the Orange needs the offense that duo provides but despite Buddy’s second-half barrage on Saturday Syracuse couldn’t get stops to overcome the Hoyas’ lead.

After deciding to redshirt Jon Bol Ajak and losing Jalen Carey to injury Syracuse has only two reserves averaging over 10 minutes per game. One of those two, Brycen Goodine didn’t see the floor on Saturday while the other, Quincy Guerrier played five minutes and his only contribution was two quick fouls drawing this comment from Boeheim after the game.

“He’s got physical talent but that’s got nothing to do with how you play,” Boeheim said. “Marek is the only front-line guy we got that knows how to play. He gets people the ball in the right positions and makes plays. We don’t have anyone else to do that.”

There’s no argument that both Goodine and Guerrier have struggled to start their careers. There’s also no argument that this Orange team allows far too many offensive rebounds (Syracuse ranks 319th in the country in that stat) and has been dominated by opponents inside in the five losses.

“You don’t isolate it that way, but our center scored two points and their center scored 19. We’ve got to get something out of that position.”

So while Boeheim was quick to point out that Bourama Sidibe needs to be better he didn’t mention that Guerrier is the top rebounder per 40 minutes for Syracuse this season. Jesse Edwards has shown some promising offensive ability but he needs more time to acclimate to the physicality. Edwards had 11 minutes on Saturday and only three fouls kept him out of Club Triliion.

This isn’t to knock these players. It’s the reality the Orange face as they try to replace the four starters they lost from last year’s team. At some point Jim needs to let his young players get some time and let them play through mistakes. The ideal time for this begins with Oakland this week. Syracuse has three more non-conference home games and it’s time for Boeheim to find ways to utilize his other freshmen along with Howard Washington and Robert Braswell.

It’s up to the Hall of Fame coach to figure out ways to utilize what his bench can give him now and develop them because next season might give us a Syracuse team without Elijah Hughes and that’s scarier than anything we’ve watched the last month.