Saying that the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team’s game against the Boston College Eagles on Saturday was an offensive explosion for Jim Boeheim’s roster is a vast understatement. Syracuse’s 101-63 win was its largest margin of victory over an ACC opponent during its time in the conference. The impressive shooting should be celebrated, but the Orange may have unlocked the key to operate their offense at full efficiency.
What was shown on Saturday was a Syracuse offense that looked flowing, not stagnant. The ball didn’t seem to get stuck as the Orange created open look after open look. There’s a couple of reasons for this smooth offensive look from SU, one of which can be attributed to a tweet from James:
The Syracuse offense has been impressive to start the season. Team is doing a good job of sharing the ball. Orange are 8th in the country in assisted field goal rate 67.8% (KenPom).— James Szuba (@JamesSzuba) December 13, 2020
Let’s put that stat into context among ACC teams. First of all, Syracuse leads the conference with 20.2 assists per game. The next closest team is NC State, who is averaging 17.67 assists per game. Even though Syracuse only assisted a field goal 62% of the time against Boston College, below its season average, that percentage would still lead the ACC in assisted field goal percentage.
These assist numbers signal an identity shift in the Syracuse offense. The Orange don’t have a player like Tyus Battle who can put the ball on the floor, drive to the hoop, and create his own shot. No one on this season’s Syracuse roster has the ball-handling and dribbling skills for that style of play to consistently work.
Instead, the Orange are using ball movement to create open looks from various locations on the court. It’s no fluke that Syracuse leads the ACC with 101 assists on the season. Players are flinging the ball around the half court to find guys open in the corner for three or find a player free underneath the rim.
The Orange have three players — Marek Dolezaj, Kadary Richmond, and Joe Girard — who are in the top ten in the ACC for assists per game. Each player is averaging over four assists per game. No other team has more than two players who are averaging more than four assists per game. Alan Griffin also isn’t far behind with his 3.4 assists per game.
What we saw from Boston College is that the ball didn’t stay put in one player’s hand for a long period of time. The ball was constantly moving in and out of the arc and around the perimeter. The constant passing forced BC’s defender to scramble, which created space for SU’s shooters.
While the passing for Syracuse was a key contributor to the offensive showcase at Chestnut Hill, off-ball movement was another key reason why the Orange offense looked so good against Boston College. Syracuse players used a number of screens and backdoor cuts to create easy passes.
Girard was one of the players who greatly benefited from this increase in off-ball movement. With the exception of the Rider game, the sophomore had been struggling from beyond the arc, going a combined 4-for-21 from range against Bryant, Niagara, and Rutgers. However, against the Eagles, Girard had his best shooting day, hitting 5-of-7 shots from three.
The majority of his three-point looks came when Girard used an off-ball screen to loop around and create some space, which often led to a dump-off three or a catch-and-shoot three. The Glens Falls native had been attempting most of his three pointers with straight-up shots early in the season, which could’ve been a contributing factor to his initial struggles. However, he looked much more comfortable with collecting a pass and shooting, which seemed to be his game plan against Boston College.
Griffin was another benefactor of solid off-ball movement. He already showcased this ability during his time at Illinois, and the transfer can take full advantage of floating around without the ball in this Syracuse offense. Griffin consistently found the open gap on the three-point line against the Eagles, which led to easy catch-and-shoot opportunities for the sharpshooter.
Perhaps more impressive is Griffin’s aggressiveness towards the rim. We’ve seen him attack the basket with backdoor cuts multiple times this season, not just against Boston College. This is where Griffin takes advantage of Dolezaj’s excellent vision and passing, much like Elijah Hughes did at Syracuse. Griffin is finding and creating open looks with his off-ball movement, which makes it easy for Syracuse’s passers to get him the ball.
Isolation ball isn’t Syracuse’s game this year. The Orange can’t rely on a player to dominate a one-on-one matchup consistently throughout a game to score easy points. What we’re seeing instead is players sharing the ball with fluid movement and finding whoever gets the open look.
Syracuse’s passing and off-ball movement greatly influenced the score line in favor of the Orange on Saturday. The game didn’t just represent a dominant statement to the ACC and a crucial bounce-back game after a tough loss.
Syracuse found a recipe for consistent offensive success.