The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team stumbled to the Virginia Cavaliers by a final score of 74-69 in its ACC home opener. Syracuse moved to 7-6 overall and 1-1 in league play. Virginia has now won seven of the last eight meetings against Syracuse.
Syracuse got off to a sluggish start and Virginia opened up a 25-13 lead early by dissecting the 2-3 zone, but the Orange closed the gap by halftime thanks to the Boeheim brothers. The score was knotted at 33 at the intermission after Jesse Edwards scored on a floater before the buzzer.
In the second half, Virginia continued to execute against the Syracuse defense to the tune of 17-27 (63.0%) shooting. Syracuse kept the game close late on some timely shooting, but it couldn’t quite generate the stops necessary to get over the hump. Ultimately, the defense came up short.
Here are our takeaways.
2-3 zone defense, where art thou?
It’s becoming trite to continue to discuss how the 2-3 zone has been lackluster this season, but Syracuse let a middling Virginia team shoot 30-57 (52.6%) from the floor. Virginia got the ball into the paint without much resistance by overloading one side of the zone with crisp passing for dunks. Virginia finished the game with a 40-24 points in the paint edge.
“Coach Bennett is the best at drawing up his own offense against the zone,” Buddy Boeheim said post-game. “I’ve seen four different looks the last four years I’ve played them. They’ve done different things with different personnel.”
Syracuse came into the night with a defensive efficiency rating of 102.0, ranked No. 189 in Ken Pom. That qualifies as the worst Syracuse defense in the Ken Pom era (since 2001-02) and that number is still dropping.
Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone has usually been the tonic for Syracuse basketball, but the pivot to an offensive strategy with shooters has turned the 2-3 zone into an Achilles’ heel.
“We’re not talking about great, we’re talking about a little better. We can be a little better defensively. I think that’s the key,” Jim Boeheim said. “Virginia’s not a great shooting team and they shot 52%. Obviously our defense is not good enough.”
Boeheim scoring machine still operates
The other side of the ball hasn’t been much of a problem for Syracuse. The Boeheim brothers continue to carry the offensive load and Jimmy’s first-basket-of-the-game modus operandi for Syracuse remains mostly unfettered (He’s scored the first bucket 11 times in 13 games, to be precise). He made two back-to-back 3s to get his team on the board against Virginia.
And were we ever really worried about Buddy Boeheim? Even as he’s at the top of the scouting report and gets extra defensive attention in the form of double teams, he still scores the ball. He got off to a slow start, but found a way to heat up at toward the end of the first half, going into bully ball mode and drawing fouls. He shot 6-6 from the free throw line in the first half while Jimmy was able to score inside after his early 3s.
In the second half, Virginia tried to mitigate Buddy’s offense, hard-hedging screens and doubling, forcing him to pass the ball. Still, he made contested shots from both range and close and Jimmy found opportunities inside, including this transition dunk.
The Boeheims scored 45 of Syracuse’s 69 points. No other Syracuse player reached double-figures.
“Offensively Cole [Swider] and Joe [Girard] have got to be there for us. We got as much as we could expect from Jimmy and as much as we could expect from Buddy, but we’re certainly not going to win with two guys. We’ve got to get Joe back in it,” Jim Boeheim said.
Brent Axe just called the TNIAAM hotline to let everyone know that free throws still, in fact, matter.
It’s hard to pin the game on just one player, especially when that player finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals. But Syracuse had a missed opportunity at the charity stripe, shooting 15-23 (65.2%) from the line. Jimmy went 2-8 from the line while Buddy and Jesse Edwards missed just one each.
Even just two more made free throws could’ve changed how this game was played down the stretch. In a narrow defeat, it’s easy to look first at the line to see where this game could’ve been won.
Said Jim Boeheim following the game, “You can’t win these games if you go 2-8 from the foul line. I don’t normally put that on a player, but he’s my son and he needs to make those.”