We’re now 11 games into the season and things are starting to come into focus for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing probably isn’t what most hoped to see before the season started. Syracuse is a middling 6-5 with a lot of questions on the defensive side of the ball and an offense that has been very inconsistent.
Jim Boeheim was blatantly honest in the presser after Oakland. On defense, our back line is just too thin. Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj haven’t seemingly put on a pound of anything, muscle or fat, in their entire time on the hill.
How do we combat such a skinny back line? Well, one way is to hope that our opponent doesn’t have any big, skilled interior players. Thankfully, such is the case on Saturday as we face North Florida.
Let’s take a look at the five keys to the game and what to watch for:
1. Interior Defense
I know I just said North Florida doesn’t have any big, skilled interior players. I honestly don’t think it matters. Even decent players are made to look like Anthony Davis against our bigs.
The Oakland game was a perfect example. Brad Brechting was averaging 7.6 points per game. Against the Orange he went 6-for-7 from the field and scored 20 points. Jimmy Boeheim junior from Cornell torched us for 25 points.
We turn decent players into superstars when they face us. The one bonus against North Florida is that none of their top 10 players in terms of minutes and points is taller than 6-foot-7. Syracuse should be able to handle the interior against North Florida. At least, I hope.
2. Perimeter Defense
Which leads us to our real challenge against the Ospreys: perimeter defense. North Florida is number one in the country in three-point attempts per game at 31.3. They’re also 36th in percentage at 37.9%. They are going to shoot them. The question is, will we be in good position to defend them?
So far this season, the top of our zone has not been good on the defensive end. Joe Girard is a tenacious player and his aggression and constant energy are a welcome sight. Unfortunately, his athleticism and size hamstring him against more physical or athletic guards.
Buddy Boeheim, I’m sad to say, is just slow to react. He is almost always a step behind on the defensive end, and often seems like he’s walking in molasses. He’s also probably the least aggressive player on the court at all times. He shies away from contact and is almost never seen diving into a scrum for a loose ball or attacking the glass for a rebound. He had zero of them against Oakland in 40 minutes, by the way.
I’m not sure what the answer here is, but to me it is simply giving our starters more rest. Against better opponents, we are going to need them fresh down the stretch to make a late push or protect a lead. If they have to play the whole game, they are going to have dead legs and be a liability on both ends of the court.
Hopefully against North Florida we start to see some more of Howard Washington, or Brycen Goodine (gasp). Even if Brycen hasn’t looked great so far, he needs to see the court more. He is our most athletic guard by a mile, and he showed in Italy that he can hit shots. He’s a freshman and just needs the minutes.
3. Crowd Noise
Just kidding, I’m not touching this one with a ten foot pole.
3b. Energy level
What I will touch on is the energy level for the team. First off, let me just say that I enjoy watching this team a heck of a lot more than the past two years of pounding the ball into the floor for 25 seconds and chucking up a contested, foot-on-the-line two.
What I don’t like are the stretches we get into where the movement just stops. It happened frequently against Georgetown. Instead of continuing to run the motion offense off the ball, we had several players just standing around at the three-point line.
Speaking of, why does Quincy Guerrier do this? Against Oakland, he camped at the three-point line almost the entire time he was in the game. Even after passing on a wide open look, he continued to hang out there.
We need constant energy from this team. We need five Girard’s out there pumping up the crowd. We need Elijah Hughes to come with the same intensity that he does on those tomahawk dunks for the entire game. This team might not be as athletic as others, but that doens’t mean we can’t make up the difference with energy.
Do that, and the crowd noise problem will solve itself.
4. Get the bench in the game
I’ve already mentioned it, but I’m going to keep harping on it. The fact that Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard, and Elijah Hughes combined for 116 out of a possible 120 minutes is absolute insanity.
I get that the game was close throughout, but Boeheim is absolutely killing these guys. Not to mention, their defense (yes, Elijah too) has certainly not been any better than their backups.
I want to see time for Brycen Goodine, Howard Wahsington, Jesse Edwards. and Robert Braswell. Braswell never even got a fair shake this year, yet for some reason he is a ghost now. This team needs depth and athleticism badly. The fact that some of our most athletic players are riding the pine is nonsense, and, quite frankly, on the coaching staff.
5. Raining threes
Call me crazy, but I think this year’s team has gone a bit off the deep end with the three-pointer. I realize that it’s what the team is built to do, but when nearly 60% of your shots in a game come from behind the arc, there could be a problem. Especially when you’re only making 35% of them (tied for 114th nationally).
I’d like to see us at least attempt to get the ball into Sidibe in the post. Even if all he does is kick it back out, it will at least help to keep the defense honest. Right now, no one even looks in Bourama’s direction down low on most possessions. He’s become almost what Paschal Chukwu was last year, except he’s not 7-foot-2.
Marek Dolezaj has shown great touch on the interior, and we need to see more of it. Getting the ball inside the paint is going to be the only way we will get open shots against good defensive teams.
Right now, we aren’t even hitting our open threes, so let’s focus a little bit more on the interior and the rest will hopefully fall into place.