Syracuse, mired in its worst losing streak in five years, will try to sure up its defense when it faces Connecticut on Wednesday.
Connecticut (17-3, 5-3 Big East) suffered a 79-78 double overtime loss against Louisville on Saturday. Several hours after that, the Orange (18-4, 5-4) lost 76-70 to Marquette.
It was Syracuse’s fourth straight loss, the first time since Jan. 16-29, 2006 that it has happened. The Orange has not lost five straight games under the Jim Boeheim era. The last time Syracuse lost that many games in a row was the 1969 season.
“We are not used to losing,” guard Brandon Triche said. “We just have to eliminate our mistakes and get better.”
The mistakes Triche is referring to come mostly on the defensive end.
Syracuse has allowed opponents to score 80.7 points per game during its losing streak. During its first 18 games, the Orange didn’t allow any opponent to score more than 80.
There are several reasons for that.
The most glaring has been Syracuse’s center play. Freshmen Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita have struggled in Big East play, getting pushed around by more experienced opponents.
When the Orange lost 74-66 to Pittsburgh on Jan. 17, forward Nasir Robinson — who came in averaging just 7.5 points per game — scored 21 points. Several of his scores came in the early going against Melo and Keita as the Panthers raced out to a 19-0 lead.
In Saturday’s 76-70 loss against Marquette, it was more of the same. Forward Jae Crowder feasted on the inside to the tune of 25 points as Marquette never trailed in the game.
“They will get better,” Boeheim said. “I just don’t know if it will be soon enough.”
The same can be said for the Orange’s perimeter defense. Syracuse has been allowing too many open 3s over the past four games. Pittsburgh, Villanova, Seton Hall and Marquette have gone a combined 33-for-69 from 3-point land during that stretch.
Specifically, it’s been the top of the zone that has allowed opponents to penetrate to the soft spots of Syracuse’s defense. Guards Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters and Triche have not been as active during the last four games.
“Our defense is playing badly,” Triche said. “I have to try to get in there and get rebounds, keep guys in front and get after shooters.”
But it isn’t just about one player when it comes to Syracuse’s zone.
For the Orange to be successful, SU will need to communicate and have better chemistry.
“We have to get back to trusting each other on the defensive end,” Jardine said. “We stopped believing in the zone which got us to this point.”
Wesley Cheng is the Editor in Chief for The Juice Online.