Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim probably didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to go undefeated in conference play. But after six games in the Orange’s inaugural Atlantic Coast conference season, that’s exactly where his team finds itself.
Ranked No. 2 in the nation, Syracuse (19-0, 6-0 ACC) has started its season by winning at least 18 straight games for the third time in the past four years. What’s most impressive, though, is Syracuse’s start to conference play. The Orange sits alone at the top of the league standings, a half game up on fellow newcomer Pittsburgh and the Virginia Cavaliers, both residing at 6-1.
The six wins have come in a variety of ways. There was a low-scoring defensive slugfest with Miami followed by blowout wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina. At home against Pitt and on the road vs. Boston College and Miami saw Syracuse blow leads and needing second half rallies to secure the win. Not only has the Orange been getting contributions from multiple players, but it’s also winning key statistical battles.
Here are a handful of reasons Syracuse stands atop the ACC hill so far this season:
Ennis plays like anything but a first-year player. Through the first six ACC games, the frosh is averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 assists. He had six steals in the win at Boston College and another four at Miami (along with five rebounds), in addition to pulling down four boards against UNC. But his biggest contribution has been one trait that doesn’t show up in the box score. Poise. With less than two minutes to play against Pitt, Ennis gave SU the lead for good with a clutch, driving lay-up. He did the same at Miami with less than five minutes remaining. No matter the game situation or the amount of time left, Ennis just doesn’t get rattled. If Syracuse is to make a deep NCAA Tournament run, it’s a safe bet at least one of those games will come down to a last-second possession. The Orange will be best served to give Ennis the ball and get out of his way.
While Grant has made a habit of showing up on ESPN with a thunderous put-back dunk seemingly every time Syracuse takes the court, his contributions have been much more than the “oh my God, did you see that!” factor. The talented sophomore has scored in double figures in five of the six ACC wins. But it’s his work on the backboards that stands out. He leads the Orange with 6.6 rebounds per game and is the team’s best offensive rebounder. Grant led Syracuse in rebounding in four of the six league games – two of which he grabbed double figures in boards.
Grant isn’t the only one getting after it on the glass. Despite playing its patented 2-3 zone defense, the Orange has managed to outrebound its opponents in five of the six ACC games. The lone exception was when Pitt dominated the Orange on the backboards, 35-24. Syracuse has corralled 8.6 more total rebounds (along with 4.8 more on the offense end) in the other five contests.
The Orange has taken care of the ball exceptionally well during ACC play, with 23 fewer giveaways than its opponents. The only game Syracuse didn’t commit fewer turnovers than the competition was at Miami, where each squad only had five.
Syracuse has been cashing in at the charity stripe, too. The Orange converted more free throws in four of the six games while making the same amount (13) as Pitt. In three of those games the Orange had more makes than its opponents’ attempts. Syracuse was a combined 29-of-35 vs. Miami and at BC to ice those wins.
Teams won’t lose many games if they don’t let their opponents score. And Syracuse has been extra stingy during ACC play. Through six games, the Orange is surrendering only 51 points per game. Miami (in the Dome) and Carolina were both held under 50, and no team has scored more than 59.
If Syracuse continues to excel in the areas listed above, its win streak is sure to stretch beyond 19 games. Not too shabby for a conference newbie.