Wednesday night’s overtime loss to Boston College left a lot of Syracuse fans shaking their heads, or worse, and for many good reasons.
The Orange held a pair of 13-point leads in the second half and had to come from behind to force overtime. The Eagles are next-to-last in the ACC standings, having only defeated the team in last place in the conference before knocking off SU. The Orange held the lead in the final minute of regulation, then had two chances to win, but could not covert either. Syracuse also led in the final minute of overtime, but could not hold on then, either.
And, frankly, the last few games have been a far cry from what SU fans have become accustomed to over the course of the season. The Orange mostly cruised through the non-conference portion of the schedule, winning eight of those 13 games by double figures and the closest margin in any game was five points. The recent portion of the schedule has been a drastic change, especially with two last-second wins and on overtime defeat.
While the Orange had won the four previous games before the BC matchup, their last five games have been close, with the exception of a 13-point win over Clemson. Syracuse has scored an average of 58.6 points per game in their last five outings, which seems anemic after they rolled up 91 points in beating Duke before this stretch started.
However, the lower scoring output is in line with what the Orange have done in ACC play. SU’s second-highest scoring output in conference action is 72 points against Virginia Tech. In fact, the Orange have topped 60 points only six times in 13 conference games.
A large part of that is Syracuse’s opponents play slowly against them, either as a rule or because they are struggling against SU’s 2-3 zone. As a result, the Orange are among the teams with the fewest possessions per game in the nation. SU also plays with the lowest number of possessions in conference play, a clear tie to why their points scored mark is so low.
That offense, which seems so anemic in terms of points scored, still averages 1.14 points per possession on the season, good enough to tie for 26th in the nation in that stat. Even with the stronger competition in ACC play, they also average 1.11 points per possession, good for second in the conference.
That said, this year’s team does not shoot as well as many Syracuse teams in that past. The team averages 42.1 percent on field goals in conference play, which is not good. In fact, there are only three teams worse in that stat than the Orange and they have combined for one more conference win (13) that what SU has (12).
SU does, however, fare quite well in comparison to the stereotypical Orange team at the free throw line. While they have not gotten to the stripe as often as some other teams, Syracuse is second in the conference in free throw percentage at 72.9 percent. The only starter under 70 percent on the season is Jerami Grant, who is at 68 percent. Grant is improving as the season has moved along, making 73.3 percent at the line in the last ten games.
There is one significant individual concern on the roster, though.
C.J. Fair has been in a shooting slump in the last seven games, which includes his excellent 28-point outburst against Duke. In those seven outings, Fair has shot 44-of-113, a 38.9 percent mark, and in all ACC games, the senior is shooting just over 40 percent. He was making a shade over 46 percent in non-conference play.
Is Fair tired? Maybe. He has been on the bench for 12 minutes in 13 conference games and seven of those minutes came in the win over Virginia Tech in the second ACC matchup.
However, the six-overtime game against Connecticut echoes when the question of Syracuse players re-surfaces. The Orange won that game the day after a win, then beat West Virginia in overtime the following night before faltering in the second half against Louisville on the next night. SU has only twice had just one day off between games in conference play, so the expectation is that the coaching and training staffs are managing the players well (and the team had no real problems winning three games in three days to grab the Maui Invitational early in the season).
In short, with the reduced number of possessions in games, there is less margin for error and every basket – and 3-point shot, in the case of Boston College – holds much more value. This meshes with Syracuse’s style, as Tyler Ennis and the rest of the team value the ball and the group tends to focus on what is working to take advantage, whether it’s Grant having a size advantage in the late minutes against Duke or Trevor Cooney’s hot hand against Notre Dame.
There is nothing in the last five games that suggests a trend that the Orange is having problems they cannot overcome. They do, however, have to maintain their defensive effort to be successful and they can always reflect on last year’s experience to know how that can turn out.