The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team had a 1-2 showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, losing to VCU and Auburn with a win over Arizona State sandwiched in between. The team now sits at 3-3 on the season, having dropped a game to Colgate on the Saturday prior to the event.
The last time Syracuse started a season 3-3 was the 1996-97 season. The Orange would go on to lose in the first round of the NIT to Florida State that year. Syracuse has never started a season 3-4 (or worse) in the Jim Boeheim era.
Still, this is relatively familiar non-conference position for Syracuse in recent years. The team now sits in a proverbial hole and it will have to find a way to dig itself out to get back in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
We thought Colgate was just a bad matchup, then VCU’s full court press was a bad matchup and then Auburn’s physicality and height inside was tough to defend for Syracuse’s shooters. At some point, if you can’t beat teams with varying styles you’re just not a good basketball team. The team hasn’t arrived there yet, but it might real soon.
After the Battle 4 Atlantis, here’s what we learned:
Syracuse needs Jesse Edwards
Coming into the preseason it was thought that Syracuse would have depth at center with 15 fouls at its disposal. Then we were told Bourama Sidibe would be out a month. Frank Anselem has provided sound minutes as backup, but Jesse Edwards showed how important he was to this team when he was in foul trouble against VCU (and Syracuse lost) and when he helped lead this team to a victory over Arizona State.
“He kind of wore us down,” Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley said. “If they did break pressure he was the guy late in the clock making some things happen for them. He hurt us certainly down the stretch. I thought the inability to rebound and allowing him to dunk it a few times was a problem for us.”
Edwards is the best two-way player on this team right now. Maybe some of that is oversold, but Syracuse can’t afford to have him not log big minutes until something changes. Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 43 points on Saturday. Syracuse needs Edwards to be big on Tuesday night and maybe every night, for that matter. The Orange can’t afford to have him foul out of games.
VCU exposed a major weakness of this Syracuse team. The Rams pressed the Orange all game and Syracuse had trouble. Arizona State pressed the Orange in the second half and Syracuse still had trouble. Bruce Pearl of Auburn picked that up in the scouting report and his defensive team, which forces 17 turnovers per game, pressed Syracuse and... wait for it.
Syracuse had trouble.
“We didn’t handle the press as well as we should’ve,” Boeheim said after the Arizona State game.
Syracuse might want to think about playing Girard and Symir Torrence together when teams show press. The issue is you can’t afford to take Edwards out, so one of Cole Swider, Buddy Boeheim or Jimmy Boeheim would have to sit. Jimmy can handle the ball some, but Buddy and Swider aren’t ideal for helping Girard/Torrence in breaking pressure. But then you’d be sitting one of your best shooters, the supposed strength of this team.
This is a quandary Jim Boeheim will have to figure out when teams press. But Kadary Richmond and Marek Dolezaj aren’t walking through that door.
Swider squashes slump
If there was a silver-lining to the event, Syracuse was able to get Cole Swider to bust out of a mini-slump. Swider came into the event shooting 3-15 from three in the first three games of the season. Then he shot 0-7 from deep in the opener against VCU.
“We have to get Cole going,” Boeheim said. “We’re a different team when he’s shooting.”
Swider turned it around against Arizona State, going 7-12 from the floor and 4-5 from three. He scored a season-high 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He followed that up with 17 points against Auburn.
Syracuse is asking Swider to do much more than he did at Villanova. The Orange need his scoring and his shooting touch. He said no adjustments were made, but suggested the coaching staff believing in him made a difference. His teammates, he said, picked him up when he was struggling.
“No real adjustments,” Swider said. “Just trying to shoot the shots that I get. Trying to shoot open shots, make plays and everything in between.”
Buddy Boeheim is going to get his
Even with teams in his shorts for all three games, Buddy Boeheim still found a way to score in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. He made just five 3s all week, but still put up 60 points in the event.
Teams are going to stay with Boeheim on the perimeter. He won’t be given open shots but he’s going to find a way to score. He’s getting to the free throw line more this year. When he’s crowded, he goes into bully ball mode from the mid-post, uses his body and finds a way to create space to score.
Boeheim’s season-low was a 17 point effort against Auburn, the No. 30 team in KenPom defensive efficiency. He then scored 20 against VCU, the No. 4 team in KenPom defensive efficiency. If scoring against those defenses is a sign, Boeheim is going to find a way to score night in and night out.
Rebounding is ok, defense needs serious work
Syracuse out-rebounded VCU and Arizona State. It was almost inevitable that a tall, physical team like Auburn would out-rebound the Orange and the Tigers did so by a margin of ten.
We knew this wasn’t going to be a staunch defensive squad. This team doesn’t have that kind of potential. Syracuse is currently giving up one point per defensive possession and ranks No. 156 in KenPom defensive efficiency. That would qualify for the worst ever for Syracuse in the KenPom era. Now, it’s a small sample size and Syracuse just played against strong competition, but this team can’t win games playing defense the way it has in the last four games.
Syracuse ranks fourth to last in the country in 3-pointers allowed per field goals attempted. In other words, Syracuse is giving up a ton of 3s. Not only that, but teams are making them. Opponents are shooting 37.4% from range against the Orange. The defense has to improve and those numbers have to come down for the Orange to be competitive.
If the defense is going to be any good, Benny Williams figures to be a big part of that. Symir Torrence could play a part in that as well. But Syracuse needs Williams to grow up quickly. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks out, but the sooner the better for an SU team with a tough stretch remaining in non-conference play.
Syracuse has three tough games before going on the road to play Georgetown. The Orange need to win at least one of Indiana/Florida State/Villanova. Its best chance is against Indiana at home tomorrow. Florida State is going to have athletes defend and chase Syracuse’s shooters off the 3-point line. Given the way Syracuse is playing right now, it’s hard to think it can beat Villanova, a team that beat Tennessee and played UCLA and Purdue competitively. The Orange should beat Georgetown.
Taking on a longer-term view, the ACC is down this year. It’s Duke and everyone else. If Syracuse can survive this stretch without dropping its next three games and improve, it should be more prepared for conference play. The problem is that the ACC might not offer as many opportunities for quality wins this year as it usually does. Syracuse can rack up wins and finish higher in the league, but it’s important for the Orange to beat someone outside of its conference. Strength of schedule alone doesn’t get you into the field of 68.
But we’ve seen this movie before with Syracuse. Maybe it was foolish to believe anything else would happen this season.