clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Syracuse men’s basketball: not the best of times, not the worst of times

This wasn’t a quick renovation project

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It was the worst loss for the Syracuse Orange since joining the ACC. The positive spin on what we saw on Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill is that it only counts as one loss in the record book.

Obviously no one wants to watch their team get trounced on national television. It’s not a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon (nod your head football fans), but the reality that some Syracuse fans seem to want to ignore is that the program’s Sweet Sixteen run in 2021 just patched a temporary hole on the program’s problems. This is a Syracuse program that hasn’t been ranked in the top 25 since 2018-19.

This year’s losses aren’t the same as last year. How quickly many forget dropping home games to Colgate and Bryant, or a four-game losing streak where the Orange failed to keep within double-figures. That stretch featured three non-NCAA Tournament squads and was capped off by a 20-point home loss to a sub .500 Georgia Tech, so as bad as Saturday was, it’s hard to call it worse than what we saw in the Dome just one season ago.

Coming into the season, we hoped Benny Williams would emerge from Boeheim’s doghouse and reach the potential we’ve seen in flashes. His suspension and up and down play have forced Justin Taylor to play out of position. Naheem McLeod’s injury combined with the health of Mounir Hima has Maliq Brown playing more minutes at center instead of being the main power forward.

That makes it hard for the Orange to match teams like Duke and UNC who are strong on the interior and perimeter. Losing to these teams isn’t bad by itself, but it does put more pressure on games like tomorrow night’s at Pitt. The margin for error isn’t great for this team as they don’t have a big road win to stand on. So, how can they get to the post-season?

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s less about who starts and more about how the Orange adjust to tougher opponents. The losses have delivered a similar pattern- Syracuse struggles to get into the paint and resorts to taking long jumpers without moving the ball. Everyone wants to find a scapegoat but the blame is shared. Syracuse has to find some better offensive sets when they need a basket.

Against UNC, Chris Bell started strong and was ignored for most of the half. Instead of trying to ride the hot hand, the Orange grew frustrated and forced things. What is frustrating as a fan is that the Orange players and coaches have shown they can identify match-up advantages in other games. Autry closed out the BC game by putting Quadir Copeland on the ball and running pick and roll plays that led to Maliq Brown baskets.

It’s easier to do this against teams with comparable talent as the Orange, but in-game adjustments have to be made quicker and often with more frequency against better opponents. I’d still like to see more than just the center used as a screener for the guards. One way to get Bell and Taylor open looks is to have them pick and pop. Off-ball screens could get Mintz or Starling a step on their defenders and make it easier for them to catch a pass on the move to get to the rim.

Maybe the Tar Heels aren’t the team to press, but this Syracuse team responds well to playing in transition. When the halfcourt offense is stuck in quicksand, the press should be attempted, even if it’s not effective. With Brown at center, Syracuse has an athletic edge, but if it lets opponents control the tempo and get the ball inside, that advantage disappears.

There’s still a lot of season left, and a number of Q1 opportunities before the ACC Tournament. NCAA dreams remain even if it’s hard to see after the blowouts in North Carolina. This program isn’t where we want it to be, but it’s trending upwards and that’s important to remember the rest of the way.