What’s going to happen against Pittsburgh tomorrow?
A 30-point win? Plausible. A 30-point loss…wouldn’t be the first time this season. A 44-40 win or a 105-100 double OT loss..yup, both believable. In a season of ups, downs, and currently ups again, it’s a challenge to predict which Syracuse team will show up for any given game. There are hundreds of possibilities, and none of them would surprise me.
It’s been an interesting campaign to say the least. This over-hyped squad was supposed to be the deepest, most well-rounded squad Jim Boeheim has ever had. The season started with nine players seeing double digit minutes, and in some cases 15 minutes a piece. The last three games have seen just six players receive meaningful minutes, and a seventh, Frank Howard, played a total of 19 minutes in those games.
Those games also happen to be a part of a five-game winning streak that have vaulted the Orange back into the NCAA Tournament picture, after being declared dead in the water just three weeks ago.
And who can blame the talking-heads and experts for taking that stance? While this five-game streak featured two victories over top 10 teams, this same Orange group lost to St. Johns, UCONN, Boston College, and Georgetown. Of those four, only the Hoyas are over .500 (and only by one game at 13-12.)
This same team that scored 100 points or more three times, including a thrilling OT win at NC State, also managed to score only 50 points on two occasions this season. This same team that held Virginia and South Carolina, two top ten teams, to 62 and 64 points respectively, also gave up 93 and 96 points to sub .500 St. Johns and Boston College.
So, what changed? What turned this barely .500 squad, that had lost 9 of 16, into a team that no one wants to have to play in the NCAA?
Sure, coach Boheim seems to be done with his extended bench experiment, which is allowing his key guys more time to produce, but this is still not a good defensive team. I’m arguing against myself, but South Carolina and Virginia, while top-quality teams, aren’t offensive powerhouses. Virginia Tech, UNC, Notre Dame, NC State, and Clemson all put up over 80 points against the 2-3 zone.
Despite so much time and effort put into both practicing and discussing the vaunted defense, Syracuse has been winning with its over-looked, thrown together offense. An offense that has finally gelled as the season has progressed.
Tyus Battle, John Gillon, Tyler Lydon, and Andrew White III are all capable of creating their own shot and making plays for each other. All four have upped their scoring in ACC Conference play. All four have taken turns being the hero and leading the way.
After such a turbulent stretch through December and January, it’s hard to trust this team, but offensively, they are finally fulfilling their potential. It is not hard to imagine any of those four guys going off for 30 points on any given night, which gives the Orange more offensive firepower and a larger arsenal of weapons than I can remember. And it does make sense that this core group of two transfers, a freshman, and a Sophomore would need time to figure it out and learn how to play with each other in meaningful games.
It also wouldn’t be shocking if they all failed to show up like they did against UCONN earlier this season. But, given this most recent run, that type of output is looking more and more like a thing of the past, and this current offensive juggernaut is what we should expect going forward.
And while the offense is clicking, the Orange can play with the best in the nation. They still can’t guard anyone, but the beautiful thing about this team is they may not have to.
With confidence at a season-high, a victory over Pitt seems likely. Follow that with a win on Monday against #4 Louisville at the Carrier Dome, and the Orange will be in an amazing situation. They will have gone from being a pre-season top-25 team, to being in danger of finishing under .500 for the first time in Jim Boeheim’s tenure and completely written off for the NCAA Tournament, to being back on track for another 20-win season and having a strong case for a bid. Wow.
It’s been a wild ride, and it’s not even close to over. No matter what happens, it’s been confusing, frustrating, and most recently, a lot of fun!