The Syracuse Orange have made the NCAA Tournament pretty regularly over the last few seasons. They have even qualified for a Final Four and a Sweet Sixteen in the last few years. But even with that postseason success, there is a growing sentiment that the team is on the decline. Is that the case and, if so, what are some of the reasons that the school is having a hard time?
One of the most consistent things about Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse teams is that they are not packed to the gills with one and done players. While they have certainly had their share of players who have made the leap to the pros, they are the exception rather than the rule. However, the team has been losing some talented pieces that could have made them an elite team over the last few years.
A high-profile example of this trend came from a player who wasn’t even officially with the program yet. Darius Bazley left what looked like a commitment to the Orange to join the NBA G-League. His departure from the incoming recruiting class not only hurts the team heading into next season, as Bazley was the number 13 player in the ESPN100 rankings.
Then you have players like Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett. Both have plenty of talent and Battle may be applying it at the next level, while Brissett has elected to stay with the team. Battle and Brissett both averaged over 38 minutes per game, putting them each less than two minutes per game away from playing the entirety of each game. They also averaged a combined 34 points per game, which means that losing even one of them would is bad news for the Orange. With Bazley backing out, Brissett made the right move to stay in Syracuse, but Battle is another player who will leave for greener pastures.
As for those one-and-done players from Syracuse, not many have worked out. Since Carmelo Anthony strolled into town, won a title, and left for the NBA, players who have left Syracuse early have found moderate success at best. Even Anthony is looking for a chance at redemption now after some bad years on the court as a professional.
For the Orange, defense has been the calling card in recent years. It has been fascinating to watch the team struggle at points throughout recent seasons only to flummox tournament opponents with their 2-3 zone without any issue. But the offense in Syracuse has been bleak, which has not only made it more difficult to win big games, but has made Syracuse an unattractive destination to play basketball.
Too often, Syracuse saw their games play into the 50s or 60s rather than the higher point totals they used to produce. College basketball metrics site KenPom had them listed as outside of the top 100 teams in the sport in offensive rating in the 2017-2018 campaign. As a result, according to Betway before the start of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Syracuse was near the top of the list of the biggest longshots from a power conference. There is nothing wrong with this approach as long as it is winning games, but the team’s win totals haven’t been as high in recent years, which has made them a bubble team in recent NCAA Tournaments.
There are many who think that Syracuse will be better going forward, which remains to be seen. If the Orange can recapture the magic on the offensive end of the floor, they are certainly capable of reaching an elite level once again. If not, they may have to replace Jim Boeheim sooner than they thought. Perhaps Mike Hopkins could make a return to the program?
All of that remains to be seen, of course, and is purely speculation at this point. What is not speculation, though, is the fact that Syracuse as a program should never have to worry about whether or not they are getting into the tournament. Lately, though, that has been exactly what has happened. That will need to be repaired in short order, or the Orange will risk falling further down the ladder in the college basketball landscape.