That wasn’t the road trip I think any of us imagined for Syracuse men’s basketball going into Thanksgiving weekend. An optimistic 4-1 start turned sour with two double-digit losses on back-to-back nights to back-to-back states: Penn State and Oklahoma State.
So now the Syracuse Orange return to the Dome, tail between legs, trying to scrap and claw their way out of the early season hole they’ve dug themselves. However, this is hope for optimism, as Syracuse basketball has a conceivable path to victory in all three of their coming games.
If Syracuse can somehow get through this “gauntlet” (I use quotations because if this is a gauntlet, what is the ACC?) at 3-2, they can recover a good chunk of the momentum that they lost in New York City.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the five keys to the game that you should watch for tonight against Iowa.
1. Containing Luka Garza
This needs to be mission number one for Syracuse basketball. Luka Garza has been an absolute beast for Iowa, scoring more than 19 points and grabbing more than 10 rebounds in an incredibly efficient 27 minutes per game.
He’s had a double double in four of seven games this year, and completely took over at times against Texas Tech, finishing with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Prior to that, he had back-to-back games of 30 and 29 points respectively.
Luka Garza is going to be a handful on the offensive end. He’s no slouch on defense either. He’s averaging 1.7 blocks per contest and does a great job of clogging up the middle. At 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds, he has the size and frame to push people around.
That spells major trouble for the slender backline of the Orange. This game is going to be dictated by how well that backline can contain Garza. I don’t think they are good enough to stop him, but if they can limit him to his season averages without getting in massive foul trouble, I’ll consider that a win.
2. Can our backcourt make a shot?
Two games of absolutely dreadful shooting at Barclays Center left many fans wondering how the team possibly recovers. A quick remedy to that? Make some %$#@ shots!
Syracuse basketball has the shooters. Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard might not be the most athletically gifted players in the world, but they both have a great shooting stroke and quick release.
Their shots will start to drop again eventually. Let’s hope it’s tonight against the Hawkeyes.
3. Transition defense... again
Yes, this was in the last 5 things, and here it will remain until I see signs of life from our transition D. The last two games have been ugly on that front. Far too many transition buckets scored with far too little resistance from our players.
It all starts with the guards. As soon as our guards get a shot off, they need to be sprinting back down the court. In both games in New York, they watched their shots, assuming they’d go in, and were caught flat footed and torched by faster athletes.
We might not be as athletic as some teams, but there is zero excuse for the lack of effort in getting back defensively. That is a coachable flaw, so we better see some improvement here.
4. Be Aggressive! B-E Aggressive!
Terrible cheerleading reference aside, I think we all have seen the cold hard truth about this team so far.
We look soft.
We don’t look like a team that wants to battle or get physical. We look like a team that wants to shoot you out of the gym and then hope you give up. So far, if you punch us in the mouth, we put up the white flag. We aren’t banging with anyone down low and it seems like every player is afraid of contact.
That has to change, and it has to change now. If Syracuse wants any chance at winning meaningful games this year, the aggression and intensity needs the old Spinal Tap treatment... dial it up to an 11.
5. Freshman contributions
To put it bluntly, the freshman need to contribute more. Well, not so much Joe Girard, but Quincy Guerrier and Brycen Goodine. Those two might be the most athletic on this entire team aside from Elijah Hughes. But they have looked like, well, freshman.
I know it’s asking a lot for them to progress quickly, but that’s what we need right now. This team needs more options. We need bench players that come in, give our starters a rest, and won’t dig us a deep hole or give up a lead.
Both Guerrier and Goodine have that potential. Will we start to see the progression, or will they continue to experience growing pains?
Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to check back in for the game thread and post game coverage.