Realizations on Syracuse basketball’s 0-3 ACC start

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Syracuse is off to a rough start in conference play

In light of Tuesday night’s overtime loss to Clemson that dropped Syracuse to 0-3 in ACC play and appears to threaten their postseason hopes, it is time for Orange fans to come to a few realizations:

First, step away from Twitter.

I know that Twitter is an ugly place where people get to call out others by name even though I’ve never been on the receiving end that kind of treatment (although that may change shortly after you finish reading this).

The amount of hatred for everyone associated with the program, save for Jim Boeheim, during and after a loss is stunning. Don’t worry, Boeheim will be back on Saturday. And I am certain some segments of the fan base will rip the Hall of Famer for some things that happen on Saturday night against North Carolina, whether it be not using his bench or not calling a time out or not switching to man-to-man defense.

To read it on Twitter, the program has fallen from greatness and will never be able to come back, Mike Hopkins will ruin the program after Boeheim officially retires, and, well, let’s not get into the players.

Second, understand that the standards for Syracuse basketball are almost impossibly high.

You can debate where SU’s basketball program stands in history and, while there is wiggle room, the answer usually ends up with the Orange hovering around the back end of the top ten, maybe down to number 15.

Here’s the thing: Regardless of the year, the “current version” doesn’t always reach that level. Or did you already forget last season’s 18-13 team? Or the previous year’s 28-6 group… that was #1 and 25-0 at one point before face-planting?

What about the 2007-2008 team that needed a pair of NIT wins to crack the 20-win barrier? Oh, and that team made it two consecutive NIT trips for the Orange.

In short, every program has a down year. The year after winning a second national title at North Carolina, Roy Williams guided them to a stellar 20-17 record. They had to reach the NIT final (that’s four wins) to get to 20 victories.

At Kentucky, Calipari won a title, then went 21-12 with a first-round NIT loss at Robert Morris. That’s not a typo, that’s AT Robert Morris. The team that normally battles Syracuse for the NCAA attendance title was not granted a home game in the NIT.

Duke and Kansas both have double-digit loss seasons and NCAA Tournament flameouts on their resumes.

UCLA is averaging 13 losses a season the last six years.

Indiana is half a decade from three consecutive 20-LOSS seasons.

And those are the college basketball’s bluebloods, the programs better than Syracuse.

The third part hurts most of all.

I’m an SU alum and fan. I still carry my student ID in my wallet.

» Related: Syracuse slips to 0-3 in ACC with loss to Clemson

It’s post-graduation purpose originally was a way to get discounted movie tickets, but now it means a lot more to me than a few bucks, and not just because I would get laughed at for holding it up at the ticket window.

The photo was taken on my second day on campus. And while I won’t say when that picture was taken, I will say that Adrian Autry and Mike Hopkins were on the Syracuse bench then – when they got rest during games.

(If you see me and ask, I’ll show it to you so you know what an 18-year-old dork looked like back then. You’ll see certain similarities to today’s dork.)

So, there’s no joy in saying that the third thing fans should do is realize this year’s team is not that good, or at least not as good as the general expectation level for Syracuse.

This team has a very hard time scoring consistently. The roar from the Carrier Dome when the Orange finally grabbed a second half lead against the Tigers can attest to that.

This group lacks great size, which hurts both in rebounding and by a lack of a shot blocking threat as the backbone of the 2-3 zone. The adjustment to take away the three-pointer from a Clemson group that shoots a lot of them leading to an array of back door dunks attests to the problems inside.

If you want to show your “true Syracuse fandom” and start defending the team now, that’s fine. But, first, you should answer the following question honestly:

How many players on this team can be counted on to play well in every game?

To me, the answer is one.

Michael Gbinije has scored at least 15 points in all but three games this season. He’s currently in a shooting slump (33.9% FG, 21.9% on threes in his last four games), but is still the only player who can be relied upon to score. And in that shooting slump, he is still averaging 4.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds a game, which falls in line with his season-long averages, not to mention bringing the ball up and running the offense, as well as hustling at the top of the zone.

Beyond him, who else delivers in every game?

In spite of scoring 13 points a game, Trevor Cooney shoots 35.2 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three. I’ve also seen and heard more than enough vitriol at Trevor Cooney to know you do not believe he can be trusted on a nightly basis.

Malachi Richardson had a great performance against Clemson and owning up to his missed free throw that “would have won the game” speaks to his credit. But, before his last two games, he was in a 10-for-57 slump on threes (17.5 percent) while taking a bunch of them. He’s also talented enough to be a strong rebounder in spite of being undersized and sometimes appears to lack the effort to do it.

Tyler Roberson’s effort and production get knocked enough that “plugged-in Robey” is now a thing. And on Twitter, Roberson got a lot of praise from various corners for his effort against Clemson. That effort resulted in four rebounds in 40 minutes of action. But, hey, he did score 14 points.

Due to a combination of his knee and game situations, DaJuan Coleman is yet to play more than 21 minutes in a game and three of his four double-digit scoring efforts have come against Colgate, Montana State, and Texas Southern. He also still averages 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes, so even if he could physically handle extra minutes, he probably would not be able to handle the whistles that would come with them.

After a fantastic start to the season, Tyler Lydon looks lost lately. He’s either timid or deferential, rarely looking to shoot. He’s also being manhandled down low. Listed at 6’8” and 210 pounds, Lydon simply cannot physically handle playing center in the ACC.

Of course, if you want to have Lydon not play there, you have to play Coleman or Chinonso Obokoh. You also then have to take Roberson or Richardson off the floor to slot him at the three. And that leads to further issues with spacing for the offense. And so on.

That last portion speaks to any substitution possibility with the team. If you want someone to sit, you have to put in someone else who is actually on the team. You can’t ask for Rakeem Christmas to get more eligibility to play center. You can’t reinstate Tyler Ennis’ three unused years of eligibility to run the offense or get Jerami Grant’s last two years refunded to make Roberson a six-minute a game bench guy.

The purpose of this is not to put Syracuse’s players on blast. They have more pressing things to be concerned with than my opinion.

It’s to reel in the fan base’s expectations for this team. It’s harder to do in light of last year’s down season, but it needs to be done.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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