Syracuse passed its first major test of the season with a 75-67 victory over previously unbeaten Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational. The matchup against a major-conference opponent gave a taste of the season to come and provided three key takeaways.
1. Syracuse’s offense works best with Dajuan Coleman in the game. Although he played just 16 minutes, Coleman made his presence felt early with several baskets and key rebounds. He finished with 9 points and 4 rebounds, 3 of which were offensive.
Boeheim has said made it clear that Coleman’s poor defense keeps him off the court, but Coleman appeared to be in better defensive position on Monday. Defense aside, Syracuse’s offense noticeably struggled with Coleman out of the game.
Coleman had effectively attacked the Minnesota zone by receiving the ball in the post and drawing defenders. He would the pass the ball to the wings down low or kick it back out to open guards. With Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas at center, SU failed to get the ball into the post. This forced the guards and forwards to try to score off the dribble.
2. Rebounding is a strength of the Orange. Syracuse grabbed 14 offensive boards on its way to scoring 19 second-chance points against Minnesota.
The Gophers played a small line-up, but SU may not face a team all seasons that will be able to match the size of Coleman, Christmas, Keita, CJ Fair and Jerami Grant.
It’s no secret that Syracuse often gives up second-chance points because the two-three zone leaves SU’s defenders in poor rebounding position. The Gophers managed to snag 12 offensive boards, but this year’s Orange will be one of Boeheim’s best defensive rebounding teams.
3. The loss of Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche is going to hurt SU’s perimeter defense. This point has been made about 1,000 times already, but Minnesota’s 3-point shooters helped reinforce the point.
The Gophers finished 9 of 22 from behind the arc (40.9 percent), which is just a tad more than the 37.7 percent the Orange has given up from distance overall on the young season. Last year, Syracuse’s opponents shot just 28.3 percent.
Although it’s a myth that a team needs to light it up from the outside to beat the 2-3 zone, it certainly doesn’t help. Take a look at the chart below, which plots opponent’s 3-point percentage against Syracuse’s margin of victory or defeat, and you can see Syracuse does slightly worse the better its opponent shoots from distance.
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