It wasn’t for the faint of heart as the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team narrowly escaped the Louisville Cardinals by winning 94-92 inside the JMA Wireless Dome on Wednesday night. The Orange went up two with 3.8 seconds left after a controversial Quadir Copeland layup attempt was ruled a goal-tend. Louisville missed on a three point attempt on the final play and Syracuse was able to get out of Dodge in its first game following Benny Williams’ dismissal from the team.
Chris Bell erupted for a career high 30 points and six rebounds on 8-10 shooting from outside. It marked the second 30 point game of the season for Syracuse as Judah Mintz scored 33 points against LSU. Mintz scored 21 points in this game, JJ Starling added 19 while Copeland and Maliq Brown stuffed the stat sheet.
Syracuse improved to 11-1 at home on the season, but still would have significant work to do to get back on the bubble territory for NCAA Tournament discussion. For now, Syracuse will look to sustain positive momentum after an intense couple of weeks.
To the takeaways.
Meet the new Syracuse, same as the old Syracuse
It must be February because Syracuse basketball is playing 2-3 zone and has whittled the rotation down to seven players — only this time it’s based more on necessity rather than choice. With Chance Westry and Naheem McLeod sidelined with injuries and Williams released, the rotation has been tightened. Kyle Cuffe also received his first DNP of the season.
With the rotation facing a force majeure, Adrian Autry certainly won’t be able to play with the depth he had anticipated in the preseason. If this is what the rotation is going to look like the rest of the way the Orange might not be able to play with pace to the degree it would like, either.
The rotation has tightened for Syracuse and the plot has thickened.
Marek Maliq Magician
Where would this team be without Maliq Brown? His production might be quiet at times, but there’s no denying its significance. Brown had a five-by-five game, finishing with 11 points, nine rebounds, five assists, six blocks and five steals. He took just four shots and made them all and finished 3-4 from the free throw line.
With the center position significantly limited, Syracuse can’t afford to replace Brown’s value. Peter Carey is his backup at this point and he played just five minutes against Louisville. McLeod is out for the year and Mounir Hima has played just 13 minutes total in conference play. There’s limited availability behind Brown now with Williams freed from his responsibilities, unless Autry decides to burn Will Patterson’s redshirt.
Zone in, rebounding out
Syracuse was already forced to play small at the center position and now without Williams the rebounding faces a significant headwind. Syracuse was crushed on the glass for the third straight game, surrendering a 40-21 rebounding edge against the Cardinals. Louisville scored 23 second chance points.
The Orange came into this game last in the ACC in rebounding margin, so competing on the boards will be difficult regardless of what defense the Orange play. But it’s hard to think it will improve with Syracuse playing small at both the center and power forward positions the rest of the way. Whether the 2-3 zone was matchup specific against a bad shooting team or whether it’s strategy to preserve a short rotation and ward off foul trouble remains to be seen.
Either way Syracuse will have to try to make up for the rebounding limitations in other areas. Hot shooting will be hard to rely on, but Syracuse won the turnover battle 17-10 against the Cardinals.