Well, that was...interesting.
The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team kicked off exhibition play against Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Crimson Hawks in a game full of ups and downs for the home team. The Orange got off to a slow start, trailing 22-10 after the first media timeout. Coach Boeheim was not pleased with the sloppy play and in their brief break, but must have said something that flipped a switch as the Orange went on to win their 2016-2017 debut 83-65.
This was a game packed with evidence for where this season has the potential to go. But without smooth play, this team won’t be booking their flights to Phoenix come March just yet.
Tyus Battle is going to be good. Very good.
Syracuse’s so-so start was reversed once their second unit came in, and Tyus Battle is the player who started it all. Making his collegiate debut, Battle impressed early and often. Coming into the season, critics were wary of Battle’s one obvious flaw: a consistent jump shot. That all changed Tuesday night.
Right off the bat, Battle hit the first of his four three-pointers of the night. From that moment, it was pretty clear the kid was ready to play. Battle played with a different level of energy and confidence than anyone else on the court. He was flying around on defense getting steals and making his presence known on opposing shooters. If that jump shot of his hits like it did tonight, Battle won’t only be the best freshman on this team, but he could challenge the competition across the nation.
Rebounding might be an issue
While the Orange did out-rebound the Crimson Hawks by 12, there was a noticeable challenge when it came to grabbing defensive boards in the first half. The Hawks grabbed six of their nine offensive rebounds in the first half leading to the Orange’s unsteady start. Syracuse was caught watching the ball instead of using their strength and size to their advantage.
The Orange were lucky that this wasn’t a particularly tough opponent, but come showtime when they are playing the Dukes and Louisvilles of the world, luck might not be on their side. The Orange have the size in the backcourt to out jump their opponents, but when it comes to their bigs, boxing out is going to be the key.
Boeheim is experimenting on defense
To most people’s surprise, the Orange opened up in a man-to-man defense. Yeah, you heard that right, man-to-man defense. Boeheim is famous for his deadly 2-3 zone, but Tuesday night was an opportunity to experiment for the veteran head coach. The first couple possessions showcased this new man-defense, but once the Orange fell into an unexpected deficit, it was time for Boeheim to go back to his bread and butter.
Still, it wasn’t the same old zone the Syracuse faithful have grown used to. Boeheim had his group press, and if the opponent beat it, they would fall back into their 2-3 zone. The press was inconsistent to say the least. There were countless times when the Crimson Hawks threw a lob pass that led to an open three, which they luckily missed the majority of the time. However, as the game progressed, the press forced steal after steal that led to crowd-hyping dunks. Boeheim is up to something here, let’s just sit back and enjoy as the master tactician decides his defensive philosophy for the season.