Syracuse basketball needs more Jekyll, less Hyde

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Syracuse needs more consistency

The ACC portion of the schedule has gotten off to a bumpy start for Syracuse. The Orange stand 3-3 in conference play with the victories coming at home and the losses in road action. With six conference members currently ranked in the national polls and SU holding the second-worst overall record in the ACC, making postseason play of consequence (either the NCAA or NIT Tournament) is going to require some heavy lifting.

A simple look at home/road splits in conference play points to some simple evidence as to why the team has had a distinct Jekyll and Hyde feel to it:

  • Offensive FG percentage: home – 51.3 percent, road – 41.7 percent
  • Defensive FG percentage: home – 37.7 percent, road – 52.7 percent
  • Offensive three-point FG percentage: home – 40.9 percent, road – 34.4 percent
  • Defensive three-point FG percentage: home – 37.3 percent, road – 44.3 percent

And one more for my friends in the #FreeThrowsMatter squadron:

  • FT percentage: home – 87.8 percent, road – 77.4 percent

Maybe we throw that hashtag in the trash where it belongs because SU could have made every ACC free throw and would still be 3-3. Anyway…

Looking at what has transpired thus far, the split with Boston College is only good in that Syracuse was able to rebound from their ugly road loss. The Eagles currently stand #167 in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings coming into Wednesday (all listed rankings following will be from there, as well). With a top-heavy remaining schedule, BC is probably not going to improve that standing by much, if at all.

The good news about SU’s road performance is North Carolina stands at #6 and Virginia Tech is at #45. For comparison’s sake, the Orange, who just could not get over the hump in their game against the Hokies, are at #53. VT will need to bottom out to become a bad loss.

At home, SU handled Miami, who sits at #32, and dominated Pitt, who is at #62. The Hurricanes should fit somewhere in the middle of the pack of the ACC when it’s all said and done, but the Panthers may be in a freefall, having dropped four in a row. The Orange will need Pittsburgh to get it together, except for when they meet at their house next month.

What’s very concerning the rest of the way, though, is that the Orange have only played well with a friendly crowd behind them. The Carrier Dome faithful were solidly vocal from the tip against Miami and enjoyed every little bit of the 30-2 first half run that SU hung on Pittsburgh. The Orange also took control of the BC game late in the first half, much to the pleasure of the masses in the seats. Without that level of backing, though, SU has been a lot less impressive on the floor.

» Related: Road win against North Carolina proving to be challenge for Syracuse

Saturday is a trip to Notre Dame, who is #22 and sits atop the ACC. The Orange will also head to Clemson (#28) and Louisville (#9) before the season wraps up.

Wins over Notre Dame and Clemson, while not being “page one” news, would go a long way toward making the SU resume look a little more NCAA-worthy.

Unfortunately, that road portion is the easier half of the schedule for Syracuse, as the best teams yet to come to the Carrier Dome are Florida State (#18), Virginia (#5), Louisville (#9), and Duke (#11). Even Wake Forest (#41) comes north for this season’s matchup as a team on the rise.

The upside of that schedule is that the Orange have plenty of options to get quality wins in front of a raucous home crowd. I’m pretty sure you can imagine the accompanying downside.

Even if the Orange claim a brand name win or two on the road, they’re going to need two of the four toughest home games in the win column, simply to help get themselves to .500 in the ACC at the end of the season. Reaching 9-9 in the ACC will be required for Syracuse to get a sniff at an NCAA Tourney at-large bid, especially since that would only get them to 17-14 overall.

Ten teams in Pomeroy’s top 45 means that SU will also have a very good chance at an opportunity for a quality win in their first ACC Tournament game.

But how will they get those elusive quality wins, on the road or not?

Tyler Lydon yelling at his teammates on the floor at North Carolina, while not necessarily a good look on the surface, at least showed someone on the floor cares. That had been lacking on the season, especially on the road.

Andrew White needs to be better at the one thing he has been mostly good at this season – offense. White is shooting 34 percent from the field in losses and 47.4 percent in victories.

John Gillon needs to be better, period. Even with improved play in ACC wins, he is still shooting under 35 percent from the field (10-of-29) in those games. Granted, that is worlds better than the 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) he has posted on the road in conference.

Tyus Battle’s emergence as a third scoring option is promising, but needs to become a consistent source of production. The freshman has scored at least seven points in his last nine games and has cracked double figures in the scoring column six times in that span, including the last four outings.

The pieces are there. They just need to put the full picture together.

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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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