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Syracuse men’s basketball roundtable: What have we learned after 10 games?

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10 EFFING games, that is

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

No one’s necessarily thrilled about what we’ve seen from the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team so far this year, and at 5-5, the uneven start definitely has things feeling uneasy with ACC play just around the corner.

Obviously when teams start poorly, you have questions. We do too, which is why we asked a few 10 games into what’s been a forgettable 2021-22 campaign so far.

What record does this team need in ACC to get back in NCAA discussion?

Kevin: Assuming that Syracuse beats Lehigh and Cornell to get to 7-5 I think they need to be at least 13-6 in the remaining ACC games. That sends them to the ACC Tournament as a 20-11 team with some bad losses and decent to good wins. It will give them a chance to push into the NCAA Tournament by winning 2-3 more games in Brooklyn depending on the quality of the ACC wins overall.

John: I’m not sure how this team finds itself in the NCAA Tournament conversation without some big upsets and at least 19 wins total before the conference tournament begins. So that’s 12-8 in ACC play, including maybe four wins vs. Pitt and BC? Even that’s tough to imagine as a serious resume unless it includes road wins over Duke and/or Virginia Tech and who knows what else. The ACC is bad again this year, and the Orange’s non-conference resume doesn’t have the same strength to counteract that.

Christian: Let’s assume, like Kevin said, that Syracuse beats Lehigh and Cornell. I still think the Orange need at least 19 wins to be somewhat safe for the tournament. That means a 12-8 record like John suggests. The problem is that Syracuse needs to find a few upsets here and there. The surprise factor of the 1-1-3 is no longer there so a defensive game like against Florida State won’t happen again. It’s got to come from the offense.

Biggest surprise so far?

Kevin: The emergence of Jesse Edwards on the offensive end. We all hoped he’d anchor the zone and provide rebounding but did you expect he’d be shooting 72% from the field? Right now Edwards is 6th in the ACC in Player Efficiency Rating ahead of Paolo Banchero...and frankly the Orange should start running more offense through him moving forward.

John: It’s not a positive surprise, but the three-point shooting has really been rough considering the makeup of this roster. There’s the chance that throwing a bunch of shooters out there just leads to better defense on the perimeter, but good-to-great shooters from outside also typically just figure it out. That hasn’t happened team-wide, especially when it comes to Buddy Boeheim (28% from beyond the arc) and Cole Swider (29%).

Christian: I’d say Jesse Edwards for this, but for the sake of being different, let’s change it up a bit. Jimmy Boeheim had a great end to his Cornell career, but some doubted whether or not that would translate to Power Five competition. While the defense remains to be seen, the elder Boeheim son has shown a great inside game and a confidence to take opponents on in the high post. He’s been the guy Syracuse has turned to when the outside shooting fails.

Biggest disappointment?

Kevin: The 3-point shooting. Remember when Jim Boeheim said this would be his best shooting team ever? The Orange are shooting 35.9% from 3 and that’s good for 6th in the ACC and 99th nationally. That’s with Joe Girard still hitting at 50% himself which we don’t expect to be sustainable. If Syracuse is going to play their way to the top of the ACC they need to be better from deep.

John: While it isn’t necessarily a surprise that Syracuse’s defense has struggled, the zone’s truly failed to stop teams from hitting outside this year, allowing opponents to hit 34% from three (223rd in the country). Having the ability to shoot over the zone just opens up a lot for opposing offenses, without a long-term fix, this isn’t gong to end well for the Orange.

Christian: The lack of adaptation on offense. When this team was marketed as a shooting team, there was some hope that Syracuse would stray away from the isolation ball offense that has been the hallmark of the Orange attack over the past few seasons. However, for a team that needs to create open shoots to take advantage of the three-point shooters, there’s not a lot of moving around on offense and the players on this team don’t have the isolation talent to create their own space for their shot. Syracuse should be showing much better offensive consistency than what’s been shown so far.