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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. Oakland preview: 5 things to watch for

Can the Orange avoid things getting... grizzly?

NCAA Basketball: Cornell at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another double-digit Syracuse Orange men’s basketball loss. The latest debacle came at the hands of hated rival Georgetown in an 89-79 ugly defeat. Woof.

But just as every dog has his day, Syracuse can claw their way back above .500 (last bad canine pun, I promise) on Saturday at home in the dome. And with the Oakland Golden Grizzlies on the agenda, the Orange must be salivating (gotcha!) at the opportunity.

After that uninspiring defensive performance against the Hoyas, I think we all need to see good game. Please.

And on that note, let’s discuss the five keys to the game that you should watch for on Wednesday night.

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

1. The defensive sieve

Syracuse defense has been brutal in these past four losses, and not much changed against the Hoyas. Georgetown out-rebounded the Orange 41-29 and 14-5 on the offensive glass. Their guards drove around our guards and shot over them like they weren’t even there.

I can’t think of a single standout performance on the defensive side of the ball. Even Elijah Hughes was slow to rotate and often left the top of the zone completely out to dry in the corner.

Honestly, the defensive effort just wasn’t there, and it’s hard to imagine that changing in the short term. Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard are both excellent shooters, but let’s face it, they aren’t the most athletic duo at the top of the zone. In fact, they might be one of the least athletic pairs.

We’ll get to that later...

2. Getting to the center of all our problems

While Joe and Buddy struggled on defense, they made up for it with a solid offensive output. Buddy hit 7 threes on his way to 25 points. Joe hit four of his own on his way to 16 points.

Marek Dolezaj also had a great game, scoring 13 points and grabbing 9 rebounds before, once again, fouling out. Elijah Hughes played his usual game: blistering hot in the first half, ice cold in the second.

But where was Bourama Sidibe in all of this? In 28 minutes, Sidibe managed 2 points and 5 rebounds. An unfortunate pattern is starting to emerge with Sidibe against better competition.

In six games against Power 5 conference opponents, Bourama Sidibe is averaging 4.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in 23.8 minutes per game. We’re going to need to see more than that if we’re going to have success in the ACC this year.

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

3. A tale of two halves

What is it with players on this team going so ridiculously hot and cold in halves? In the first halves against both Georgia Tech and Georgetown, Elijah couldn’t miss. In the second halves, he was basically invisible.

Buddy Boeheim was the exact opposite against Georgetown. He had zero points at halftime. He scored 25 points, all in the second half. And he fouled out with three minutes to play!

I realize that it’s impossible to ask for that kind of performance all game, but can we stop with the Jekyl and Hyde routine? It’s getting old.

4. Freshmen follies

If you had asked me before the season who of the four freshman would be the standout player at this point in the season, it probably wouldn’t have been Joe Girard.

I’ve always thought Joe was a hell of a competitor and great shooter, but I thought it would take him some time to adapt to the competition level. So far, he’s been pretty darn impressive. More than 10 points and four assists with about two turnovers per game, and 34% from 3-point range. Not bad, even if the numbers against P-5 opponents dip somewhat.

Let’s look at the other freshmen.

I think Jesse Edwards has a ton of potential. With a bit more weight and experience, he can be a standout player for Syracuse basketball. But he’s not there yet. He’s still getting pushed around on the interior, caught out of position, and picking up fouls due to that poor positioning. It will come with time.

I also think Quincy Guerrier has a lot of potential, but I think he could take more time to develop. He is just so awkward out there right now. He’s like a bull in a China shop on offense. He doesn’t know what to do with the ball when he gets it, and his shot is absolutely not there for him yet.

On defense, he also is out of position frequently causing him to recover slowly or overreact and pick up a foul. In the past two games, he’s recorded 0 points, 7 fouls, and 5 turnovers in 17 minutes. The growing pains might take a little longer with him.

Let’s face it, Brycen Goodine has looked bad in his limited minutes. He’s young, and there’s plenty of time for him to turn the corner. But right now, he’s not contributing much.

I’d like to see him get more opportunities to play, especially when Buddy or Joe (or both) aren’t hitting shots. Howard Washington has looked good, but I think Brycen needs to see the floor if he’s going to improve.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

5. Is it a talent thing?

Several announcers have alluded to this being Jim Boeheim’s least talented or worst team ever. I’m not sure I’m ready to agree with that quite yet.

However, I do think it’s fair to say that the only outstanding athlete on this team is Elijah Hughes. Jalen Carey is probably next on the list, and he’s out for the year. Then it’s probably a toss up between Quency Guerrier, Brycen Goodine, Jesse Edwards, or Robert Braswell.

Notice a problem here? All of our most athletic players are role players at best, bench-warmers at worst. So no, I’m not so sure it’s a talent gap. But there’s definitely an athleticism gap.

Outside of Elijah, who on this team looks scary to a defender inside the three-point line? That is one of the many questions this team needs to answer if they want to turn this season around.

Let us know what you think about this team’s talent in the comments!