After Syracuse’s back-to-back losses to the Duke Blue Devils (1/23) and the Pittsburgh Panthers (1/25), fans have hit the panic button regarding their hopes for an enjoyable Syracuse season.
We all knew the defense probably wasn't going to get to an average level before the end of the season, but to see the offense fall off the way it has over these past two games has been jaw-dropping.
Over the past two games, Syracuse has shot 32.8% from the field on 43-131 shooting from the floor and 18.3% from distance on 11-60 shooting and just 53.5% from the charity stripe.
All these percentages rank below the Orange's team shooting percentages on the season so far. In 20 games, Syracuse has shot 44.5% from the field, 35.6% from three, and 71.6% from the charity stripe.
The question that now presents itself is: what was it about these last two contests that have created such problems for Syracuse offensively?
For starters, both Duke and Pitt are two very physical teams with scrappy defensive ability. Duke has held opponents to a shooting average of 39.7% from the field and 26.5% from distance. Pitt on the other hand has held opponents to 41.4% from the field and 33.2% from distance.
While Pitt definitely allows opponents a bit more slack than Duke defensively, these numbers don't truly tell how they contained Syracuse in their Tuesday night matchup after losing the previous game 77-61 against the Orange two weeks ago.
Pittsburgh, while inefficient at times, is a very physical team with lots of length and strength in its lineup. Forward John Hugley, the Panthers leading scorer, is 6 feet 9 inches weighing in at 280 pounds. Forward Mouhamadou Gueye, weighs in at 200 pounds standing at 6 feet 10 inches with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. The rest of their starting five is at least 6-foot-4 weighing 200 lbs.
All in all, Pitt is a big and physical team, and when they get rolling they are hard to stop, like fans saw Tuesday night. The Panthers finished the contest with four players in double figures and still found a way to beat the Orange shooting just 34.5% from the field and 26.9% from beyond the arc while trailing Syracuse in the entire first half.
Duke on the other hand is just as big and physical as Pitt, but had more control over the contest from the start of the game. The Blue Devils outscored Syracuse in both halves of the game, mainly through and exposed Syracuse's 2-3 zone in the process.
However, the real main factor in Syracuse’s offense struggling so badly is that both Duke and Pitt close out on shooters, almost every play, something Syracuse has struggled with on defense all season.
The only way to contain such a shooting-heavy offensive scheme like Syracuse has been running this season is to force shooters into bad shot selections. Both Pitt and Duke used this technique to perfection against the Orange and won because of their relentless effort to contest and force the Orange into poor shot selection.
Syracuse currently sits with a 9-11 record and a 3-6 conference record through 20 games. They sit tied for 8th in the ACC conference rankings with only 11 games left in their season, 10 out of the 11 being conference match-ups. These next 11 games will determine Syracuse’s fate for the 2021-22 season.
The only way Syracuse will be able to move up in the conference rankings and potentially secure a spot in a post-season tournament relies on their offense's ability to shoot with volume at an efficient rate. This is only possible if Syracuse can set up other shooters on the team besides Buddy Boeheim in favorable situations. If the offense can rely on other players on the team to shoot the ball efficiently, it will take more pressure off Buddy and make him even more efficient in the process. Can Syracuse accomplish this feat, only time will tell, but these past two games hopefully will ignite a fire within this team that they desperately need to have a strong run over these 11 games to close out their regular season.