The Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team (10-2, 1-0) enters the new year at its highest point so far this season, securing a victory versus its first ACC opponent and riding strong on an active five-game win streak.
Now, the Orange are in line to suit up against the ACC the rest of the way with 17 games left to go in its schedule. As stated before, the road ahead looks difficult given how dominant the ACC is performing this season.
With that in mind, the turnaround under new head coach Felisha Legette-Jack has been positive heading into the second half of the season. Statistically, there’s improvement across the board with few legitimate holes for this year’s Orange.
The highs: perimeter defense, rebounding, the “blue collar” stats
Since the beginning of the FLJ era in Syracuse, the Orange prioritized hustle, intensity, and toughness as part of the team culture this season. The coaching philosophy bares out in the numbers.
Though 12 games, the Orange centered its team defense on two principles: limiting second-chance points and preventing opponents from getting hot on the perimeter. Syracuse ranks 11th in the nation in rebounding (45.3 RPG) while forcing opponents into the 22nd-lowest three-point percentage (25.2%) in the NCAAW.
That forces opponents to take more shots on the interior, leading to the Orange ranking 58th in blocks per game (4.3) and providing more help in the paint to prevent easy looks at the rim and extra offensive rebounds. Syracuse transfer players Dariauna Lewis, Asia Strong, and company have all done their part on the hustle front.
: Check out the highlights from our win vs. Yale pic.twitter.com/HHz7L9Ri4r— 'Cuse Hoops (@CuseWBB) December 5, 2022
Syracuse also remains disciplined despite the additional physicality, allowing just the 4th-fewest opponent free throw attempts in the ACC.
On the perimeter, the Dyaisha Fair and Teisha Hyman backcourt lead the way on the perimeter, leading the Orange to rank 42nd in the nation in steals per game (10.6) and 64th in turnover margin.
Broadly speaking, the improvement is astronomical compared to last year. This season, the Orange rank 97th in the NCAAW in opponent field goal percentage (37.3%). For context, Syracuse allowed opponents to shoot 45% from the field in 2021-2022. Obviously, the former percentage will regress slightly to the mean once ACC play concludes given how elite this year’s ACC offenses are, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
The lows: outside shooting, opponent paint scoring, playmaking
In general, it’s the offensive side of the ball to watch for as Syracuse takes on the ACC for the next few months. Syracuse ranks 41st nationally in offense, generating 77.5 points per game so far, and 90th in field goal percentage. It’s impressive, but compared to the rest of its conference, the Orange still lag behind the rest of the ACC.
The two biggest areas of concern for the Orange are outside shooting and offensive playmaking. Syracuse ranks 265th in threes attempts per game and 251st in three-point percentage. When you combine both those numbers, Syracuse looks to arguably be the worst shooting team in its own conference. Compared to the rest of the ACC, the Orange have produced the fourth-fewest three-point attempts and the third-lowest three-point percentage in the conference.
On the outside shooting front, it’s the worst of both worlds for Syracuse: low volume and low efficiency. Fair and Georgia Woolley are the only members of Syracuse shooting at least 33% from three.
The lack of passing is also something to watch for, as the Orange rank 159th in assists (second-worst in ACC). As we saw versus Penn State, it becomes harder to generate efficient offense in close games without additional support outside of Fair and Hyman.
Moving forward, the biggest thing to watch for is to see if Syracuse’s paint protection, rebounding, and turnover production can translate against these elite ACC offenses. Seven of the top 40 scoring offenses in the country are ACC programs. But this is a team that prides itself on winning the ugly games through its blue collar mentality on the court.
It’s been a great start to the season so far and a lot to like about this year’s Syracuse women’s basketball team. We’ll have to see what holds up moving forward as conference play really kicks off.