I’ve given up trying to figure this team out. They have to be the most inconsistent team in college basketball. But for this team that’s not meant as an insult. Another word that could be used in place of inconsistent would be versatile.
What I mean is that this team is very good in every facet of the game but might not be great in any single aspect. They win games in which they are out-rebounded. They win games in which they are out-shot. They win games in which they miss free throws. They win games after blowing big leads. They win games after slow starts.
Recently I thought I had solved the puzzle. I thought I had found the one constant throughout every single game. Through the first 30 games of the season not once had Syracuse turned the ball over more than their opponents. That streak ended in the final regular season game against Louisville. And of course, the Orange won again.
Syracuse turned the ball over 15 times compared to 13 for the Cardinals but a big run in the middle of the first half combined with strong defense throughout led the Orange to their 30th victory of the season. Trailing 15-9, Syracuse went on a 17-1 run to take over the game. It was by no means perfect basketball. Both sides were sloppy throughout the stretch and the Orange only made 6 of their 12 shots. The difference though, was the pace of the game. Up until that point, Louisville had managed to slow the game down and limit the Orange from getting transition buckets. A few turnovers and long rebounds allowed Syracuse to push the tempo and extend the lead.
James Southerland was a huge boost off the bench during the key run. Not only did he have 7 points but also added a block and a couple rebounds while playing solid defense. But one of the biggest reasons for the run and for the victory was the Cardinals’ inability to knock down the 3-point shot. This is not a typical Louisville team. The Cardinals rank 12th in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage and are making just over 6 per game. All of those numbers are the worst marks ever since Louisville joined the Big East in 2005.
During the stretch run, Louisville missed three wide open 3-point attempts. By my count they were 0-for-11 on open good looks. For the game they were an abysmal 2-for-23. This is a completely different game if a few of those drop in. Instead, Syracuse was able to pack in the zone, prevent penetration by the guards and give the bigs little room to work. You would think with the zone packed in that Syracuse would have an advantage on the glass but those who have watched Syracuse know better than that. The Orange were out-rebounded 37 to 29.
The accomplishments of this team are many. They went undefeated at home. They finished with the best Big East regular season ever. They are one win away from the school record for wins. But this is just the beginning.
After the game, Boeheim talked about how he approaches the season, “I told them there’s really four phases to a basketball season. You go through the first non-conference games in the first phase. They did what they needed to do. The conference season. They’ve done everything you could ask them to do. Now, we get ready to go to New York and try to play as well as we can play in New York. And then the NCAA tournament after that.” With that said, Syracuse is only halfway through their season and as many records as they break they will be remembered for what they do in the next month. It’s been an amazing season and let’s hope the next month makes it even more special.