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Syracuse men’s basketball is asking for more from its forwards

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Jim Boeheim wants more from his forward group. How much are the wings to blame for the team’s defensive lapses?

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament chances took a hit when it suffered a 14-point road loss (it wasn’t even that close of a game) to Duke on Monday. Following the game, Jim Boeheim said one of his starters admitted to not playing defense in the first half.

Boeheim has also asked more of his forwards, suggesting that they need Quincy Guerrier and Alan Griffin to play better for them to win going forward.

Guerrier shot 3-for-11 from the floor against Duke and scored just seven points — his second lowest point total of the season. He also played just 25 minutes, his second lowest minutes total of the season.

“In those situations, he’s got to get in the lane and find people, make better decisions. He’s learning... He’s learning. He’s a really good player,” Boeheim said. “But in the second half he didn’t score because they took away his drive. He’ll learn.”

Boeheim wants more from Guerrier, but his offense isn’t suffering due to a lack of effort.

“I love Quincy. He plays hard. But he can’t finish against these big guys. He’s got to get better at that,” Boeheim said.

Instead, Syracuse has turned to redshirt sophomore Robert Braswell. The Orange were able to complete a 20-point comeback against Notre Dame in part due to Braswell’s contributions. He’s played 33 minutes over the last two games because of his defense. He’s rebounded well, but has also struggled to make shots.

“We got Robert wide open on four 3s. He’s been making those in practice. But he had really good looks. I think Robert is playing better defense. Quincy’s not playing good defense. I don’t know why, but he’s not,” Boeheim said.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Guerrier has performed at a high level for Syracuse nearly all season. Over his last five games, though, he’s shooting 34% from the floor. Opposing teams are defending him with length and it’s been an adjustment for Guerrier to finish inside.

Still, in blowout road losses the offense hasn’t been the problem. In road losses the Orange are giving up 83.2 points per game. Boeheim has offered honest assessment on guys like Griffin. He maintains steadfast in that zone’s defensive issues have less to do with the guards up top in the zone.

“Trust me,” he said. “It’s got nothing to do with our guards. Our forwards are not playing defense. That’s the best way I can say it. They’re not. They’re not covering. They’re not coming up.”

The head coach softened his stance on the guards slightly while also suggesting the untrained eye might not be able to pick up on who’s at fault.

“Some of it’s the guards, but the majority of it is in the forward position,” Boeheim said. “It’s hard to see that when you don’t know the defense and you don’t know what we’re trying to do.”

The issue, he maintains, is from the wing. Syracuse allowed Duke to hit 10 of 18 tree-point shots in the first half.

Said Buddy Boeheim, “A couple times the forwards weren’t up on that wing pass. The job for the wing, when it goes to the wing, is for the forward to be there and the guard bumps [the forward] down.”

But the younger Boeheim spoke more broadly when asked about the zone’s inefficiencies. He suggests (accurately) that Syracuse is undersized, so they have to work extra hard, pick up the intensity and communicate more. He didn’t absolve himself or his backcourt counterparts of blame either.

“It’s on everyone. A 2-3 zone, it’s on everyone to do their job. If one person slips up, the whole zone is just affected by it,” Buddy said.

Syracuse ranks No. 94 in the country in defensive efficiency, the third-worst under Boeheim in the Ken Pom era. Three of the last five seasons have been the worst, statistically. The 2-3 zone has looked a step late, and often a rotation slow as the zone catches up to the opponent’s pass.

Interestingly enough, Syracuse still leads ACC in 3-point percentage defense (something Jim is quick to point out) — but is still seventh in the league in terms of opposing shooting percentage from inside the arc. The zone typically struggles to rebound without individual blockout responsibilities. This year is no different as the team ranks last in the ACC in preventing offensive rebounds. Marek Dolezaj is undersized in the middle, but Coach Boeheim doesn’t believe that’s the problem. He’s asking more from the forwards.

With the season winding down, opportunities for Syracuse to build a résumé are few and far between. There’s still a path, but the Orange will need to tighten the screws on the 2-3 zone to come out with wins.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Buddy said. “Especially on defense.”

“A couple guys are more interested in their offense and you can’t win that way. We have to play better defensively to win. Period,” Jim finished.