If the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team only had ONE problem, that would at least be palatable for fans. Poor shooting means more practice there. Poor selection means correction. Poor defense... well, we can dream of a correction there, I guess.
The issue is that SU’s suffering from all of those shortcomings, plus a disadvantage on the boards created by having little usable depth inside. We’ve seen how the Orange have been exploited on the boards in recent games, helping spur second half runs for opposing teams. Offensive rebounds have been a particular problem, and one that’s seemingly getting worse by the game (Pitt collected 12 more boards total than SU on Saturday, plus held a 16-11 advantage on the offensive glass).
Unfortunately, Tuesday night’s opponent won’t offer much of a respite from that struggle.
Though the Miami Hurricanes are just 6-6 (2-5 in the ACC), their most recent game was a 78-72 upset over Louisville. In that one, the ‘Canes out-rebounded Louisville 38-30 and held a 12-7 advantage on the offensive glass. On top of that, their defense kept the Cards cold from outside (3-of-20) and Miami leaned on a variety of different players on offense to punish Louisville. Isaiah Wong led the way with 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting (plus seven boards). Center Nysier Brooks had only eight points, but 11 rebounds (five on the offensive end). Elijah Olaniyi had 15 and 10 for a double-double, while Matt Cross scored 16 points off the bench — hitting four from outside on six attempts.
If you’re like me, you immediately read through that box score and watched some highlights, and saw an easy way for Syracuse’s recent issues to repeat themselves once again.
Now, Miami can’t recreate the above every single game, either. If they could, they wouldn’t be 6-6. But SU’s defensive woes (though they’re somehow still 64th in defensive efficiency per KenPom) have shown us that there’s a recipe here to let the ‘Canes repeat what they did to a better Louisville team. The Hurricanes don’t necessarily move the ball around a ton. But simply by leaning into a hot hand like Wong, that’s enough to open up the rest of the offense against a poor D — especially with a clear rebounding advantage.
For Syracuse, there are no easy fixes. But a few small tweaks they could make to hopefully avoid dropping a third straight contest. In particular, would focus on shot selection here, if we’re assuming defense and rebounding aren’t moving significantly just a few days after the Pitt collapse. Some quick notes there:
SU’s been chucking threes quite a bit of late, failing to work the ball inside where Marek Dolezaj and Quincy Guerrier are at their most dangerous. Miami’s defensive advantage actually comes inside, however, while the Orange have not been adept at grabbing offensive rebounds at all.
There’s a case to be made that more shots at the rim (where SU hits 78.6% of its attempts this year, per CBB Analytics) is still the way to go, but that also assumes they can get there with Brooks waiting. Attacking inside more and potentially using that to let Dolezaj kick out to more open three-point shooters could be the way to get things back on track.
Syracuse doesn’t need to launch threes at a peak Golden State Warriors level. Yet, they could also just take better threes. They’ve hit nearly 43% of three-pointers from the left corner and 37.2% from the right wing. Perhaps stick to those areas and the elbows — where shots are falling at 45% rate — versus some of the colder portions of the floor, if they can’t get past Brooks at center.
Again, no simple solutions here. And Syracuse will have their hands full against any team with a capable center this year. But if we’re admitting the defense can’t improve too much, scoring more points is one way to mitigate that a bit (as we’ve seen with previous, poor defensive teams like the 2016-17 squad).