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Offensive adjustments are making it harder for opponents to defend Syracuse

The Orange are attacking the lane more frequently.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is going to go as far as their offense will carry them.

During this winning streak Jim Boeheim has implemented some new wrinkles which have helped the Orange respond to their opponents. I’ve been a vocal critic of Boeheim’s reliance on the high ball screen and Syracuse’s habit of standing and watching one player isolated on the wing, but Boeheim’s recently added some NBA concepts to Syracuse to address these issues. The Hall of Fame coach certainly deserves credit for being flexible and making some adjustments to utilize his roster.

We know that Syracuse can shoot the 3 and shoot it well. Opponents know that and they’ve ignored the high ball screens and tried to force the Syracuse perimeter players to create off the dribble. The ball movement that was successful early on had been slowed when the Orange lost home games to Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. What Boeheim has done in response is to use the threat of the three-pointer to isolate and exploit mismatches on the perimeter.

At Virginia Tech, it was Buddy Boeheim on Hunter Cattoor Watch the clip below and see how the floor is spaced so Buddy can get into the lane for easy jumpers. Once he gets in rhythm he creates space to get a 3 over Cattoor and then he runs the floor and Elijah Hughes gets a great outlet for a transition 3.

Last night at Notre Dame, the Orange got Hughes in situations at the top of the key and with Buddy and Joe Girard on the wings, the Irish defense can’t help on Hughes because they are afraid to leave those guys open.

Elijah is a willing passer in these situations and when the Irish tried to come off Bourama Sidibe to help, Hughes set him up for easy baskets in part because Sidibe was just outside the paint rather than 23 feet from the basket.

Another aspect of the Syracuse offense which has come and gone this season was getting the ball in the hands of Marek Dolezaj at the top of the key. This allows the Orange to have their three perimeter threats running off the ball with Sidibe or Quincy Guerrier providing screens. The play below ended with a Hughes turnaround but you can see how the off-ball movement is forcing the Irish defense to cover the entire court.

Dolezaj’s been aggressive and effective contributing 37 points, 40 rebounds and 13 assists over the last four games. His ability to be a threat to pass or drive from the top gives Syracuse another option that the defense has to respect.

Syracuse still has moments where they stand and watch while the ball-handler settles for contested jumpers. If they can avoid getting into those long stretches where they fall in love with the jumper they can continue to impose their will on opponents. The increased effort on the defensive boards can help push the Orange into their successful transition offense. As the team heads into some tougher ACC games these improvements may be able to push Syracuse back into NCAA Tournament discussion.