Well, that sure made the next couple months a lot more interesting.
Wednesday night’s 70-55 victory over Miami put a different stamp on the remainder of Syracuse’s basketball season. The first win of the year over a power conference foe in seven tries, especially after miserable efforts against St. John’s and Boston College, creates the feeling that the remainder of the season may just have more at stake for the Orange than simply avoiding the first losing season in Jim Boeheim’s career.
It also raises some questions to watch the rest of the way.
Are the aggressive Tyler Lydon and Andrew White III just fleeting images or will they be permanent additions to the Orange roster?
Both of SU’s top scorers were atypically assertive at different stages of the game.
White III looked for his shot early as the Orange offense got him a pair of open, in-rhythm jumpers in the night’s first couple minutes. The graduate transfer also tied his previous season high of seven rebounds in the first half and finished with ten boards, including a couple yanked from the air to keep them from opponents. If this aggressive attitude, especially his urgent defense and glasswork, are permanent adjustments to his game, both he and the team should flourish.
With the Orange needing more offense in the second half, Lydon showed several facets of his game. He opened the latter session with a slick spin and drop-step for a dunk, then added a fake and lay-in for two more points a couple minutes later.
When Miami closed within a single point, Lydon took over the game with 11 points in under five-and-a-half minutes. By no coincidence, Syracuse went on an 18-5 run in that time to take a 14-point lead with seven minutes and change left.
Lydon drove to the rack from the top of the key, drained a three while trailing in transition, dunked a loose ball, stuck a jumper, and added a pair of foul shots, giving the Hurricanes a little bit of everything. That barrage left Miami out on their feet and Syracuse fans (and likely coaches) wondering if Lydon can display that kind of killer instinct at all times.
Lydon also showed he is the best option in the middle of the zone. His combination of experience and athleticism meshes the best of DaJuan Coleman and Taurean Thompson. It also reminds of Syracuse’s best lineup last year when Lydon was a super-sub.
So, we’re going to a short rotation again, huh?
Yep. With the way SU took care of the Hurricanes with only five players soaking up all but 6:33 of the team’s 200 minutes of on-court time, it’s hard to argue with the results.
The five who ate up the minutes Wednesday night were active defenders throughout, save for some arms hanging low in the second half. They hustled as a team, helping recovering teammates and closing out on shooters in a fashion not previously seen this season. In short, there was pride in their defensive effort. And while the results were not perfect, they were far better than what the team had put forth earlier in the season.
Why Thompson starting over Coleman?
Thompson’s versatile offensive game and athleticism gives the Orange a dimension of upside Coleman does not. Boeheim lets Thompson play until he makes an unacceptable mistake, then lifts him. If Thompson is scoring early, the Orange get that bonus.
Make no mistake, there is no joy in demoting Coleman. With everything he has gone through in his time with the Orange, sitting him now feels like an insult. That said, it is a move to help the team, both now and down the line as it nourishes Thompson’s long-term development.
And Roberson is back in good graces?
With Lydon at the five and Roberson by his side, the Orange benefit from Roberson’s experience and energy on the floor while he only has to play a simple, familiar role, the energetic terror on the glass who sprints to the offensive end at every opportunity.
Wednesday night, Roberson finished with only nine points and six boards, but was an energizing force for both the team and the Carrier Dome crowd. Barely 30 seconds after checking in, Roberson dunked on a pick-and-roll, jolting the Dome. Two trips later, he scored again going to the bucket, making the team and crowd fully engaged.
Lydon and Roberson are not the biggest frontline and will get knocked around by certain opponents, but they are the biggest handful for them at the same time.
And his replacement in the doghouse?
It seems like Frank Howard is buried on the bench until circumstances change. His cameo late in the first half was the only proof he had his jersey on under his gray warm-up shirt and Boeheim’s comments in his post-game press conference made it sound like Howard would be his next door neighbor on the bench for a while.
While it does not look like Howard will get much burn, the coaching staff has to ensure the demotion does not turn his confidence to ashes. Howard is a likely contributor at some point this year, as Gillon has been hot-and-cold all season, including in the win over Miami. Howard is also the only point guard on the roster next year and him choosing to follow Kaleb Joseph out the door would simply result in another point guard with no experience in the zone replacing him, either a late addition to the incoming freshman class or a fifth-year transfer.
Howard still has a spot on this team. He just has to rebuild himself to claim it and needs the team’s help to do so.
So, is the Miami game a long-term change for the fortunes of the Orange?
That’s the biggest question and Saturday’s visit from Pitt will certainly put Syracuse to the test. The Panthers, especially senior forward Jamel Artis (averages of 16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in three games vs. Syracuse last season last season), have been known to rip up the 2-3 zone and hammer SU on the glass in recent years. If the Orange can keep the defensive energy up and continue to aggressively attack the boards, even a tight loss will bode well for the immediate future.
And a win would do even more.