The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team had their biggest challenge of the season tonight, playing against the No. 6 ranked Villanova Wildcats who are off to a 7-2 start after defeating Syracuse 67-53 inside Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
Coming into this game, the Orange were on a two-game winning streak beating Indiana last Tuesday and taking out Florida State Saturday in their first conference match-up. Riding a hard-fought wave of momentum before stepping into the Garden, the Orange looked to make a statement to anyone who doubted their legitimacy this season.
While Syracuse played competitive basketball in the first half, the Orange ultimately got outmatched in the second and lost by 14 when the final buzzer sounded, after leading 29-26 after the first. There were many bright spots from tonight's loss, with some negatives scattered along the way as well.
After the battle in the garden was all said and done, here are our three takeaways from tonight’s loss:
While the Orange were red hot from beyond the arc tonight, their playmaking was just a mess to start this game tonight. Even with a 12-11 lead after the first five minutes of the game, Syracuse had three turnovers without even missing a shot. Some plays just looked rushed tonight, with players jumping the gun and making passes their teammates didn't even know were coming their way.
By the end of the first half, the Orange’s playmaking trouble didn't hold them back from getting a 29-26 lead on the Wildcats. The second half was a different story. The Wildcats began to find their rhythm and started to make things challenging for the Orange offensively. Syracuse shot only 9-28 from the field and 1-7 from beyond the arc, throwing four turnovers in the process.
In order to get the most on offense, The Orange’s strong suit this season, they need to be patient letting plays develop rather than attempting risky passes in order to keep the pace of the game faster. By slowing the game down, their offense will come more naturally, and their production in turn will be more efficient. This efficiency on offense is only possible with a more poised approach to playmaking from Syracuse.
Defense is coming together slowly but surely
One sign of positivity for fans of the Orange was their intensity on the defensive end of the floor, which has been lacking so far this season. Against a top 10 ranked team in Villanova, the Orange were overwhelming the Wildcats from the second the game started. Syracuse played with passion and intensity, communicating with one and other, switching assignments at the right time, and forcing turnovers with their swarming defense.
This is huge for fans of the Orange because they are traditionally known for their hard-nosed mentality on defense, but this year, there seemed to be disfunction on the defensive end of the ball. In the first half, the Orange put as good of a stop as you can to the Wildcats offense, holding them to 9-37 from the field and 5-28 beyond the arc. Keeping a top ten team like Villanova, who is known for their connectivity as a team and efficient shooting, to such an abysmal start is something for the rest of the NCAA to take note of considering the knocks on Syracuse’s defense early in the season.
In the second, Villanova certainly ruffled the feathers of Orange’s defensive scheme, making three three-point buckets in the first five minutes of the half and it didn't get any better there. The Wildcats also continued the merciless hounding of offensive rebounding, making a physically long Syracuse team wish they hit the weight room a bit harder this offseason. However, every time the Orange had their backs against the wall they kept fighting and played with grit that can only be found from within. Eventually, their fighting spirit got outmatched by some timely shooting from the Wildcats and Syracuse couldn't respond to the shooting firestorm. Even after a strong start, they still lost the game.
The Orange’s first-half play was enough to prove to Syracuse fans, that with time and repetition, this defense has the potential to turn around their narrative and lock-up teams when necessary.
Rebounding got the best of us tonight
In a highly competitive game, everything looked good for the Orange early on. Their shooting was lights out, they played good team defense, and were even able to draw some fouls to get to the free-throw line. However, their rebounding was the sole reason this team lost tonight even though they were playing great up until the last 12 minutes of the contest.
In the first half, The Orange finished even with Villanova in defensive rebounds with 15 each. But on the offensive end of the ball, Syracuse only grabbed 4 offensive rebounds compared to the Wildcats 15. The Orange had trouble boxing out on defense, allowing so many missed shots to fall back into their opponent's hands for second-chance points-scoring opportunities, with the same trend following them into the second.
The Wildcats finished the contest with 57 rebounds compared to Syracuse only snagging 36. In order to win competitive games like tonight’s going forward, Syracuse needs to get big and hold their own boxing out and crashing the paint whenever a ball is shot, in order to keep their opponents from grabbing offensive and defensive rebounds that ultimately add up and could cost them games.