With the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team still on hiatus, it’s time to shift focus from this season to the next. That first starts with looking back at what went right, what didn’t, and where does the program go coming off its first season under new coach Felisha Legette-Jack.
Now comes the fun part: what’s next? That starts with evaluating the Orange’s strengths and weaknesses from the 2022-2023 season. We conducted a similar exercise around midway through this season, but we now possess both a larger sample size to look at and a higher-quality one (the second half of the season was entirely against opponents from the ACC and WNIT).
How did the Orange stack up against the ACC this season? What about at the national level, and what does that say about what the program should prioritize moving forward?
Syracuse versus the field
Similar to our previous view of the team in December, the Orange’s offense never faltered even as their opposition grew tougher. Syracuse ended the year ranked second in the ACC in points per game (74.2), largely stemming from Dyaisha Fair’s scoring production, the team’s killer fastbreak offense, and extra possessions coming from the offensive glass.
Those last two sources of offense were especially the reason behind the Orange’s scoring success this year even with the team ranking in the middle of the pack in shooting (seventh in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage). Syracuse collected the fourth-most total rebounds in the ACC, including first in offensive rebounds thanks to Dariauna Lewis and company. Fair and Georgia Woolley’s activity at the top of the key allowed ‘Cuse to force a ton of turnovers (first in steals), generating enough easy breakaway opportunities for layups and transition points.
At times, the offensive did not look pretty mainly due to the lack of spacing. Teisha Hyman’s outside shooting regressed in 2023 compared to 2022, while Fair, Woolley, and Alaina Rice were the only reliable shooters on the team (Asia Strong had her moments, but on limited volume). Even then, Syracuse still finished top-half in the ACC in field goal attempts, free throw attempts, and three-point attempts.
Syracuse also excelled in the possession game. The Orange averaged the fifth-fewest turnovers per game on offense and ranked seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio.
In short, Syracuse broadly thrived on the offensive end. Give credit where it’s due to a lot of the members from this past season’s team, all of which had some moments (big and small) which contributed to those impressive numbers.
Defense, however, remains a big question mark moving forward.
Before we get to the (albeit shocking) numbers, remember, Legette-Jack basically started from scratch with this team and her past remarks since the beginning preaching for strong defensive effort at least translated with defensive rebounding and on the perimeter.
Unfortunately, that message never bore out in the stat sheet.
Syracuse forked over the second-most points per game (67.9) to opponents in the ACC. While the Orange did hold opponents to the second-fewest free throw attempts (sticking to Legette-Jack’s emphasis on disciplined defense), they did give up the highest field goal percentage in the conference.
Adding bigger forwards like Sophie Burrows and Alyssa Latham will help to shore the Orange’s most critical need: size in the paint. Fair’s success as a perimeter defender can only go so far given her lack of height, and Syracuse lacked the depth needed to counter the ACC’s ball-handling, post-scoring offensive hubs down low.
The positives on offense and the negatives on defense bore out on compared to the rest of the NCAAW. Syracuse (impressively) ranked top-40 in offensive rebounds per game (20th), steals per game (21st), total rebounding (35th), and scoring offense (36th). The biggest red flags came with the defensive metrics, where the Orange ranked 266th in opponent points per game and opponent field goal percentage.
One could hope that with more forward depth down low, those two data points can improve and build off Syracuse’s strong rankings on the perimeter (52nd-best three-point percentage defense).
Those were some of the lessons learned from Legette-Jack’s first season with the Orange, but what did you notice from this past year? Where can Syracuse improve the most moving forward?
There are still tons of questions needing answers heading into 2023-2024.