After four, generally impressive, victories by the Syracuse Orange, the one glaring weakness has clearly been three point shooting. It hasn’t been just bad, it’s been atrocious. As a team the Orange is shooting 26.6% from downtown, ranking 313th out of 347 Division 1 teams. No, that wasn’t a typo. At this point we know this unit will struggle from the outside.
How bad are they? Take super sub James Southerland out of the equation, and the rest of the team is shooting 18.2% which would be dead last in college basketball.
The three players in the Orange’s backcourt rotation are shooting a combined 5-for-34 (14.75%). Logic dictates that Michael Carter-Williams, Trevor Cooney, and Brandon Triche will improve on their horrible starts, but the question remains to what degree?
Maintaining this level of shooting will make it easy for opposing defenses to clog the lane and create little to no space for the much improved front court to operate.
Speaking of which, we now know that Rakeem Christmas is the player we saw at the end of last season. In fact, he’s better. Christmas has improved his offensive game dramatically, building on the momentum of last year’s NCAA tournament. If someone other than Southerland can start knocking down some outside shots, Christmas will get even more opportunities to show off his nice touch around the paint.
And from these first four games, we know the paint is going to be the Orange’s strength throughout the season. Syracuse is hitting 54.6% of its 2-point attempts, good for 34th in the country. A huge part of that are the big guys, Baye Keita, DaJuan Coleman, and Christmas knocking down 62% of their opportunities, almost exclusively within 10 feet of the rim. We know that if they get opportunities, points will be scored.
We also know that with those same three guys on the other end of the floor, other teams are going to have a hard time getting to the hoop. In fact, Syracuse’s defense is blocking the eighth most shots in the nation at 7.50 per game, and grabbing 28.5 defensive rebounds per game (27th).
That same defense is pretty good at the top and on the wings as well. With 14.25 steals per game (tops in Division 1), we know the 2-3 zone is going to be very effective this year. And we know this thanks to an opening game win over #20 San Diego State.
The Orange has been consistent whether the opponent is top tier or not. With 12 steals, 10 blocks, and 32 defensaive rebounds against the Aztecs, the Orange set the tone for the season on the defensive end. The team also shot just 1-for-4 from downtown, unfortunately setting the offensive tone as well.
We don’t know after four games if the Orange will improve its outside shooting, but if it does, then we, and rest of the country, know the Orange can compete with anyone it faces this season.Matt Goodman