Orange Watch: The pre-conference trials and travails of Syracuse basketball

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Dec 8, 2018; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse forward Marek Dolezaj (center) looks to pass the ball with Jessie Govan (15) guarding him during the second half of the Orange's 72-71 win over Georgetown at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Item: With three games left before ACC play starts an 18 game journey through nationally ranked teams and the challenge of winning on the road in some pretty prickly buildings, it’s obvious to Orange Nation that the hoop team could use a few doses of the football team’s secret formula – scoring points.

It’s a completely different atmosphere inside the Dome during the annual couple of games on the Syracuse basketball schedule that occur during the Fall/Spring Semester break.

No student section or band (the local Baldwinsville High School band is annually a terrific fill-in), often times an opponent with no cache to the fan base, in other words a stark contrast to the atmosphere of what the building will resemble when the likes of the Duke, Virginia, and even perhaps the Florida State team buses are parked outside on the loading ramp in the weeks to come.

When Jim Boeheim’s team saw the combined home winning streak with the football team snapped at 12 at semester’s end with its 68-62 loss to Old Dominion last Saturday in front of a “smaller” crowd of 17,585, the spotlight was not on the 62 points SU scored, and the potential 74 it did not, by missing 12 free throws against the Monarchs, but the fact that an unheralded team with a 7-3 record from Conference USA came into the building and took control in the second half to silence those on hand.

“They came out with a lot of intensity (after halftime),” backup point guard Jalen Carey said in a somber ‘Cuse locker room. “Like I’ve been saying, the physicality aspect. We missed a lot of free throws, a lot of 50/50 balls we should have gotten. We just change (a few) things around, we easily win by more than double digits.”

» Related: For Syracuse basketball, plenty of challenges remain in December

With those words, thankfully, we did not have a friendly legal wager on the game (in which the Orange was a nine point favorite at tip-off). But in all seriousness, Carey’s description of what has troubled his teammates as he learns his role from mentor Frank Howard is clear, without contributions from the eight players who will receive significant minutes this season; SU will have a hurdle to replicate the improvement necessary to make noise in the NCAA Tournament.

While the defensive intensity playing the zone can be adjusted practically by each opponent’s possession, the lack of offensive contributions, or even serving as threats of making contributions around the basket by big men Pascal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe (averaging a combined 3.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 25 blocked shots), has hampered the offense, especially with ball movement.

“He’s right,” forward Elijah Hughes said when asked about Jim Boeheim’s sour mood following the ODU loss, citing the need for a more balanced offense, one that increases its baskets off assists and demonstrates a semblance of an inside game.

“I’m not just a three point shooter,” Hughes continued, although the numbers paint a completely different picture. His team-high leading 63 shots hoisted from beyond the arc are 12 more than anyone else, necessitating the need for him to follow his own advice.

“I’ve got to get in the middle and make plays and get guys threes, and also attack, get myself to the foul line. (Overall) for myself, not to be stagnant.”

The Orange knows the formula to prepare for the ACC includes the ups-and-downs of wins at Ohio State and unexpected losses to Old Dominion at home and Connecticut on a neutral court.

Asked specifically what he was going to do in two days of practice prior to Tuesday night’s next challenge of meeting unbeaten and Top 15 ranked (last week) Buffalo at the Dome (8:00 p.m. ET / ESPN2-Sirius XM), Carey replied, “Practice a lot of free throw shooting.”

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Brad Bierman
About Brad Bierman 553 Articles
Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.