Real competition an acquired taste for Syracuse

I wanted to see Syracuse play against better competition. I wanted to see how they would respond. Through the first four games, the Orange had an average margin of victory of 32.5 points. You don’t learn much about a team from wins like that against opponents like Colgate and Fordham. Virginia Tech was going to be a real test. And through the first half Syracuse did not respond well. But luckily they played the 2nd half and the Orange responded to pull out the 69-58 victory.

The offense in the first half looked like a herd of deer in headlights. They looked nervous with the ball possibly because they were finally playing against a team that could play defense. It was no longer all lay-ups and open jumpers and the Orange had to work for their points. The ball movement was slow and the shot selection was even worse. Before making 3 of their last 5 baskets, they were just 9 of 25 from the field. This was a team averaging 90 points per contest and they had just 20 points with under 2 minutes remaining in the first half.

Despite the horrid offense they trailed at half by just 2 points, 29-27. What kept them in the game was solid defense and Kris Joseph. Joseph had 12 of the first 23 points and at times looked like the only competent player on the offensive end. He was able to drive to the basket at will and avoided charges that plagued him last season. Aside from a couple defensive lapses that allowed Erick Green to get some open looks from deep, the Orange limited the Hokies to poor shots.

It seems like at the beginning of the past 3-4 seasons fans have talked about how deep the Orange will be. How they would go 10 deep and overwhelm the opposition. This year even Boeheim was saying it. But in the 2nd half of this game it was back to a typical number of 7 players in the rotation. Rakeem Christmas started the game but played just 3 minutes, Michael Carter-Williams clocked in with 2 minutes and James Southerland played 6 minutes.

None of those 3 played in the 2nd half. But I can’t blame Boeheim. He was playing the guys he knows he can trust. It just doesn’t make sense to play Christmas against this team, or for that matter many teams. He’s not quick enough to play the forward position in the zone and he’s not good enough to steal time from either Fab Melo or Baye Keita. I’m sure Boeheim would like to get his bench playing time but with the Orange trailing for the first 27 minutes of this contest, he wasn’t about to put in unproven commodities (despite those in the crowd calling for Southerland).

With the tighter rotation Syracuse was able to correct their offensive woes. The biggest difference was pushing the ball off of turnovers. In the 1st half they scored 8 points off of 8 Tech turnovers. In the 2nd half they had 14 points off 6 turnovers. They converted every single turnover into points and usually of the easy variety via dunks and layups. After that 9 of 25 start, they hit on 19 of 33 to finish the game.

Aside from the transition points, they scored with dribble penetration and smart passes. Dion Waiters, Joseph and Brandon Triche were all able to get to the rim and usually made a smart decision whether to pass or try to score. Usually, when I look at the box score it’s Joseph who is the one that quietly puts up 16 points and 8 boards. But last night Joseph had a team-high of 20 and 10 rebounds that was very noticeable. It was Triche who poured in a very quiet 18 points.

Now the Orange have gotten a taste of some real competition. Let’s hope after a big Thanksgiving dinner they’re still hungry to face Stanford on Friday (pretty sure that’s the cheesiest thing I’ve ever written).