There are two games on the books for the Syracuse Orange and it’s clear there’s a long road ahead for this team. Yes I know they’ve played four games, but are we really counting wins over Kennesaw State and Hampton? Those were just additional exhibition games, right?
The real season started in New York at Madison Square Garden. What’s usually a must-see event for all alumni in the Tri-State area, ended with a depressing, sparsely attended, not-even-worth-leaving-work-early-for, three-point victory in the consolation game against Iowa.
So what’s wrong with this team? Growing pains were expected, but losing to California on Thursday in the Mecca was not part of the plan. If you watched both games this weekend you undoubtedly saw these four major flaws:
1. Sloppy passing from everyone, but most notably Kaleb Joseph.
The ball did not move crisply, at all, for the Syracuse offense in either game. This one didn’t show up in the box score as the Orange only had 25 turnovers combined in the two games, and Joseph had just four in each contest, but the eye test speaks volumes. I suppose an argument could be made that Joseph threaded the needle throughout the game, but I’m thinking it was more a case of serious luck that a dozen passes weren’t picked off. His dribble was high, his passing sporadic, and his decision making questionable. There certainly is potential, but Joseph looked frazzled under the Garden lights, the opposite of Tyler Ennis.
2. A staggering inability to hit the broadside of a barn:
Anyone count how many air balls ‘Cuse shot? It was ugly. This one IS backed up in the stats as ‘Cuse shot 7-32 from the three-point line over the weekend. 21.8%!!!!! The scary part is that the looks weren’t terrible, but the actual shots sure were. Out of all the flaws, this one will be the toughest to fix as this team just doesn’t have the talent on the outside. Coach Jim Boeheim better figure out how to get Chris McCullough (a bright spot of raw talent) and Rakeem Christmas more looks inside if the Orange is going to find ways to score.
3. The Zone is open, come on in.
There was a time when the middle of the zone was a proverbial no man’s land. Big men shuttered at the thought of having to cut through and be swarmed by the long arms of Boeheim’s 2-3 Monster. Not so much anymore. Both Cal and Iowa had little trouble entering the ball to their bigs and working from there. Cal shot the lights out from the outside, thanks in large part to David Kravish. The big man consistently caught the ball in the middle and found his wings en route to five assists, a career high for the 6-10 senior. Iowa, in a losing effort, found similar success as center Adam Woodbury has plenty of room to knock down wide-open foul-line jumpers. In order to succeed in ACC play, the zone is going to have to be much tighter, and a lot more active.
4. Who’s the man?
Seriously, who is the man for the Orange? Your guess is as good as mine. It could be Trevor Cooney – streakiness and all – but Boeheim doesn’t trust him enough on defense to play him at the end of close games. Christmas has stepped up his game, but he’s not a go-to type of guy. McCullough has the talent, but he’s raw. Joseph is not Ennis (is it too late for Tyler to ditch the NBDL and come back?) Last year Fair, Ennis, and even Grant could all be counted on to get a bucket when needed. Who can be counted on this year?
The good news is that it’s early. There’s time to tinker, fix, and figure it all out. It’s going to be a longer road than usual, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it’s the bright lights of the NCAA tournament, and not a trip back to MSG for the NIT.