Kevin and I were cautiously optimistic after the Syracuse Orange’s big win over Boston College earlier this season. He mentioned three things that concerned him about Syracuse, and I mentioned that Syracuse shouldn’t get complacent after the easy victory over the Eagles. There was a good recipe for success after the Boston College game, and as long as Syracuse stuck to that script, the Orange could have been headed towards a very good season.
What has followed has been a rocky and tumultuous road, to say the least. Syracuse has been wildly inconsistent on offense and the defense hasn’t been as air-tight as recent teams have been. While the defensive issues are huge topics that probably deserve multiple pieces, the offense already has a game plan on how to return to form.
While not always perfect, Syracuse’s win over Miami showed an offensive evolution that was refreshing to see after games of inconsistency and struggles scoring the basketball. The 83 Orange points were the most recorded by the team since its return from its most recent COVID-related pause. What was most impressive was not just the return of consistent offense, but the introduction of an idea that Syracuse should continue to stick with as the season progresses.
There’s been a lot of discussion about SU’s shot selection, and for good reason. Take a look at the shot chart below. On the left is Syracuse’s field goal percentage, and on the right is Syracuse’s field goal attempt frequency. The two zones on the bottom are three-point shots while all other zones represent shots inside the arc.
Look at the top zone on each chart. Syracuse is shooting 79.2% at the rim, 13.3% better than the ACC average. However, the Orange only attempt 17.3% of their field goals at the rim. That’s 6.8% lower than the league average. Conversely, the bottom two zones represent that Syracuse is attempting 41% of its field goals from three and only hitting 32.2% of those deep shots. To put that into context, Syracuse averages the second-most three-point attempts per game in the ACC, but ranks 12th in field goal percentage from beyond the arc.
What Syracuse showed often this season was an increased tendency to settle for a three, especially early in the shot clock and often contested. Against Miami, the focus on long-range shots went away in favor of more dribble penetration and passes to the inside. Both Buddy Boeheim and Kadary Richmond showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket to open up easy opportunities to score. Boeheim often used those chances to create open mid-range opportunities. Richmond also created options to score at the rim for himself or for others with a dump-off pass or a kick-out three.
Richmond’s dribble-and-drive ability is key in particular for Syracuse to build a good habit by involving its highly efficient frontcourt in the offense often. The Orange have a bad tendency to not give the ball to Quincy Guerrier, who’s one of the more efficient scorers in the paint in the nation. Richmond’s passing allows the ball to find Guerrier, who has dominated around the rim despite the size advantage many opposing forwards possess over him. Reversing this bad habit is just one of the many ways that Syracuse’s offense can continue to roll.
Richmond’s introduction to the Miami game also allowed the Orange to work on the other bad habit that I mentioned earlier - the reliance on the three-ball. Richmond came in for Alan Griffin and moved Joe Girard to the shooting guard. The freshman took over the ball-handling duties to start each possession.
Because of that, Syracuse stopped firing a three on what seemed like every possession and focused on developing good looks and good opportunities inside the arc. Gone was the green-light three-point shooting of Griffin and Girard. In came off-ball movement and active passing, two of the keys to the blowout victory over Boston College. That allowed Syracuse to crawl out of its initial deficit to the Hurricanes to start the game and to control its own offensive tempo.
What needs to happen from now on is for Syracuse to learn from its mistakes and not fall back into the traps that most of its players find themselves in. The Syracuse guards showed a detrimental tendency to hold onto the ball themselves and fire up a three without giving a touch to Guerrier and Marek Doelzaj in the frontcourt. The Orange traded efficiency for hope and promise, which led to an offense that couldn’t buy a basket to start the 2021 ACC schedule.
Against Miami, SU rediscovered its key to high-percentage shots with a focus on the interior from all players and a relaxation of the deep-range shot. That’s not to say all of the bad habits were fixed as there were still plenty of perplexing threes that were attempted against the Hurricanes. What Syracuse needs to do is to not get greedy on the three once again. Working inside has proved to be successful.
Bad habits will be the ultimate downfall of a promising Orange offense.