When the final buzzer blew on November 16, the Syracuse men’s basketball team walked off the court at Madison Square Garden 2-2 for the first time since 1987. Ugly displays at both ends of the court against UConn and Oregon left fans wondering if the team had regressed from last season.
But here we are three weeks later and the Orange is 7-2 and back in the Top 25. There are still question marks after SU required Tyus Battle heroics to avoid a home loss to a Georgetown team most picked to finish in the bottom third of the Big East. But I’m here to tell you Syracuse is fine.
The Orange’s adjusted offensive efficiency is 4 points per 100 possessions better than last season. At 111, it still has a ways to go to reach the heights of SU’s best teams (e.g. 118.5 in 2010), but there’s no reason to think SU won’t improve.
The biggest reason is that Syracuse has gotten good shots. The team is only shooting 29 percent from 3, but most of those have been good shots. Oshae Brissett is shooting 5 percent worse than last year and Frank Howard 21 percent worse. Buddy Boeheim, who led the Nike AAU circuit in 3-point shooting at over 50 percent, is only shooting 21 percent.
These percentages will eventually revert to the mean. When they do, look out. As more threats outside pull defenders further from the basket, SU’s scorers will have more space to get to the basket for easy 2s.
Since Howard returned from injury, this process has already begun. During his absence, the Orange’s effective field goal percentage was just 42 percent. In the last 5 games with Howard at the point, Syracuse’s eFG has been 54 percent.
At the other end of the court, SU’s adjusted defensive efficiency is the best it has been since 2013. The Orange hold opponents to a 46 percent effective field goal percentage, and, despite UConn’s hot outside shooting, 31 percent from 3.
We can expect the defensive to also improve as the freshmen gain experience and Howard returns to full strength.
So, if Syracuse is doing just fine, what can the team improve? Here are some ideas:
In addition to Howard’s horrific 3-point shooting to start the year, 80 percent of his shots have come from beyond the arc. He needs to get to the basket to get his offense rolling.
Brissett leads the team with 13 put-backs this season, but he’s shooting just 25 percent on those attempts. He needs to finish better at the rim.
Elijah Hughes’ true shooting percentage is almost identical to Battle’s (57 vs. 58 percent) and much better than Brissett’s (49 percent) but his usage is less than both. He should be getting more shots.
Marek Dolezaj is one of SU’s best passers and has wreaked havoc at the high post. He should get the ball in a facilitation role more often.
Although it has felt like SU has shot many more 3s than they typically do (they are shooting 8 percent more 3s than last year), the Orange only ranks 124th in the country in 3-point attempt percentage. SU could shoot even more from the outside as their shooters start to regain their form.