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What each Syracuse men’s basketball player needs to do over the final month

The Orange’s margin for error is slim so every little bit will help

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

The Syracuse Orange are on a two-game losing streak and getting some rest before next Saturday’s visit from the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. With hopes for a NCAA Tournament bid hanging on it’s time for Syracuse to play their best basketball and each player in the rotation has an area they can improve upon so let’s take a look.

Marek Dolezaj / Bourama Sidibe / Quincy Guerrier

I’m grouping them together because they share the same issue-picking up unecessary fouls. This isn’t a place to get into a discussion about ACC officials but each game these interior players are picking up some lazy fouls. Syracuse isn’t a good rebounding team and when they aren’t able to be aggressive because of fouls it makes the task even harder.

The inside players must be smart about fouling. It could be going over the back on offensive rebounds with little room for success or trying to draw charges under the basket but these guys are usually good for one bad foul each per game. Instead of trying to draw charges or reach in they need to use their size and just “wall up” when guards drive to the hoop.

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

Elijah Hughes

Syracuse asks Hughes to do a lot. He’s tasked with scoring, handling the ball and running the offense, as well as covering a ton of ground from the wing of the zone. Oh and Hughes is doing all of this while averaging 38.2 minutes per game. While he’s seen a decline in his shooting going 37% over the last five games, an area where Hughes can be utilized more are post-up opportunities. When he’s got a smaller defender on him, Hughes needs to get the ball in these situations and they don’t have to be down on the block either. The Orange can overload the opposite side and let Hughes catch at the top of the lane where he can turn and shoot or pass to an open teammate.

Buddy Boeheim

You have to give credit to Buddy for becoming more than a 3-point shooter this season. His ability to use his size to get into the lane to get better looks has been impressive. What it’s not leading to is free throw opportunities and when Buddy has been getting to the line, he’s not delivering.

Since January 1st, Buddy has only taken fourteen free throws and has made eight of those attempts. He’s only been to the line in four of the nine games in that time frame and with Syracuse’s opponents trying to force them off the 3-point line he needs to use his size to draw some fouls and convert those free throws.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Joseph Girard III

Overall Girard’s freshman year has exceeded expectations. He was thrust into a point guard role and has limited his turnovers in ACC play to under two per game. Unfortunately for Syracuse what Girard was supposed to bring to the Orange in terms of shooting has not been as expected. He’s only shooting 36.7% from the field in ACC games and a lot of that has to do with shot selection.

Joe needs to turn off “Glens Falls” mode and improve his shot selection. Fans love watching him pull up from the logo and drain a long 3 but he seems to pick some bad spots for one of these early shots. Take the Duke game, Syracuse has a 32-28 lead in the first half and Girard has just made three good decisions with the ball leading to a basket and two assists. The Orange get a defensive rebound and Girard pulls up from deep and misses. He’d miss two more shots before halftime as Duke took the lead.

Girard’s scoring is important but he’s at his best when he’s moving without the ball and taking shots in the offensive flow. When he starts dribbling around and calling for ball screens the Orange offense becomes stagnant. Down the stretch Syracuse needs Girard to run the offense and look for opportunities in transition or stepping into open looks not hunting his own shots.

Howard Washington

Washington’s been getting first-half minutes in place of Girard and for the most part he’s handled himself well in those opportunities. He’s got fifteen assists in seven ACC games with only four turnovers and the Orange have found success in his minutes. However, Washington’s lack of offense allows the opponents to key on Syracuse’s other scorers. He has only scored six points in ACC play and is zero for six on 3-point attempts.

Washington doesn’t need to force those shots but he needs to be able to get the ball into the lane and create easier opportunities. I think part of Syracuse’s issue is related to the minutes that the perimeter players are asked to handle and as teams make them work harder on both ends of the floor it makes them less effective. If Washington can provide some offense (same with Brycen Goodine should he get an opportunity) during his time on the floor it can help the Orange.

With nine games left to go before the ACC Tournament Syracuse has their NCAA Tournament destiny in their hands. It won’t be easy but if the Orange can make some adjustments they might be able to find enough wins to get themselves back into the muddled bubble picture and find another opportunity to launch another Apology Tour.

Which things would like to see improved as we head down the stretch? Share your thoughts in the comments.