After a dozen games, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim finds himself in a position he has not been in for quite some time. Following the Orange dispatching Long Beach State on Sunday afternoon, the head coach spent a large portion of his post-game press conference lamenting the state of the SU defense, and rightfully so.
While SU bounced back from a less-than-stellar performance in the first half, the 49ers showed the Hall of Fame coach that there is a lot of work to be done, picking apart the defense for nine assists on their dozen field goals after intermission even though that was the half with better defensive effort. The 49ers employed a common strategy against the 2-3 zone: passing the ball to the free throw line area, then looking for entry passes to baseline cutters. Even though they’ve seen this offense frequently in the past, the Orange looked completely unprepared for the 49ers to execute this.
In each of the last four years, the Orange finished in the top 20 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings for adjusted defensive efficiency. This year, they stand 30th in that rating.
The problem, however, is that their schedules were much tougher over those full seasons than what SU has faced to this point of the season. In each of those seasons, they have faced a schedule that ranked 51st or higher in strength of schedule. So far this season, their schedule is 140th in the nation.
Clearly, the going is get a lot tougher for Syracuse. Thus, Jim Boeheim’s urgency.
The head coach knows that, while the offense has improved in recent weeks, teams like Virginia, Duke, and Louisville are looming with their shutdown defensive units that will make scoring a lot harder to come by than against some of the non-conference schedule’s lesser foes.
So, the response is to be fighting fire with fire and matching defensive stop for defensive stop.
But is the young roster up to the challenge?
Rakeem Christmas has played a ton of minutes in his career and Trevor Cooney logged almost 1,100 minutes as a first-time starter last year.
Beyond those two, Michael Gbinije has played 318 minutes this season, which is almost as many as he had in his SU career coming into the season. B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson, and Tyler Roberson have already each played more minutes this season than they did as freshmen. And Kaleb Joseph, well, it’s almost literally a whole new ballgame for him.
So, while Syracuse University currently has classes on hold for winter break, there will be a lot of instruction going on in the Melo Center for its basketball team. And Professor Boeheim will not grade on a curve.