Entering the post-Jim Boeheim era, one central question surrounded Adrian Autry and Syracuse Orange men’s basketball: what would the defense look like?
Gone are the days of Boeheim’s permanent 2-3 zone, in its good times and bad. Instead, Autry has played mostly man-to-man with his predecessor’s specialty used sparingly. The results have been spectacular on multiple levels.
The Orange rank 35th in defensive efficiency according to KenPom and are first in the ACC with 15.2 turnovers forced per game. They’re second in the conference in blocks (5) and steals (9.29) per contest. Compared to a year ago, SU has improved in these three categories, plus opponent field goal and three-point shooting and fouls committed.
What’s even more impressive is that Syracuse has put up these numbers with one of the toughest schedules in the nation (19th hardest). Five teams featured a top-35 offense, one of which (Oregon) the Orange forced 19 turnovers on and won by 20 points.
It’s been a team effort for sure, but Judah Mintz and Maliq Brown’s pick-pocketing abilities stand out the most. The pair each average over two steals a game, tied for second-most by any player in the ACC. Brown’s relentless effort and knack for the ball earned him plenty of minutes well before Naheem McLeod went down with a season-ending injury.
If there’s one weak spot in the defense thus far, it’s rebounding. While Syracuse’s rebounding rate took a minor dip from a year prior (-1.7%), it would’ve been much worse if not for Justin Taylor (5.4 rpg) and Quadir Copeland’s (5.3 rpg) added presence on the glass. Benny Williams has shown flashes off the bench but ultimately needs to be more consistent with McLeod out.
However, with all other defensive measures above par, the Orange have more than enough juice to fend off opponents for 40 minutes.
“We only got out-rebounded by four, but since our three-point defense was so good, I thought that traded off in that scenario,” Autry said postgame in a win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
And he’s right. Holding teams to an under 30% clip from three through 17 games is pretty good. The last time SU did that, it made the Final Four in 2013.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier with 14 more conference games on tap- starting with Miami’s high-powered offense tomorrow. But if there’s one thing to take away so far, it’s how much Autry has developed Syracuse’s defense in less than a year.