I am not a big believer in moral victories. You play the games to win and nothing else. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something in defeat. Syracuse’s 76-60 loss to Kansas was the ultimate measuring stick to see if and how this young team can compete in the ACC.
The short answer is yes, they can compete. The 16-point margin is a little deceiving since the game was within single digits with four minutes to go before Kansas, the No. 2 team in the Nation, stepped up and put it out of reach for the Orange. And even more telling, the Orange put together an impressive 16-2 run after trailing by 21 points early in the second half, coming within seven points of the Jayhawks.
They never gave up despite being down big against a much better opponent that is eighth in the country in scoring and 20th in points allowed. Kansas is a strong two-way team making such a run even more impressive.
As coach Jim Boeheim said after the game, “Kansas was averaging 90-something points per game. Our defense wasn’t the problem.”
Well, great! Kansas is among the best of the best, and our defense was pretty good against them. We should be able to translate that into more ACC victories than expected, right?
Problem is, stopping people only wins you games if you can put the ball in the hole on the other end.
This Syracuse offense is bad. Not mediocre. Not subpar. Just bad.
And I think it’s probably even worse than we think when you factor in our first six games (before the Kansas game) were at home and against teams that are 21-25 on the season, with only one being from a major conference.
As it stands, the Orange is shooting 43.3% on the year (241st), 27.7% from 3-point range (332nd out of 351 teams), scoring 72.3 points per game (233rd), and dishing out just 12.9 assists per game (238th).
Now, while you may think that paints a pretty bleak picture for the prospects of succeeding in ACC play, I actually look at this with a half glass full mentality. We have the defense, the offense will come.
It can take freshmen time to acclimate to the collegiate game. Especially, with coach Boeheim’s zone. For that reason alone it’s rare for freshmen to get significant minutes, unless you have out of this world talent like Carmelo Anthony, or more recently one-and-done guys like Malachi Richardson, who still sometimes struggled to get minutes.
Due to the makeup of this year’s squad, coach has no choice but to rely on 4 freshmen for meaningful minutes. On offense they just aren’t ready, but I am impressed with their defensive acumen.
As the season progresses, the offense will improve. Oshae Brissett is shooting an awful 31% from the field and an even worse 25% from downtown.
He is also leading the entire team in minutes played, which is unheard of for coach Boeheim. The last time a freshman led the team in minutes, a pair of them did 15 seasons ago. Those two freshmen led the team to a National Championship.
Anyway, I can’t imagine those terrible shooting numbers will continue.
Tyus Battle, the sophomore leader, was shooting 42.8% from behind the arc through the first four games. Then he hurt his back and has shot 20% since bringing his season shooting down to 31.7%. He shot 36.6% last year, and I expect once his back heals more, he’ll find himself shooting at least as well if not better.
When the shots start falling, the ball will move more freely and crisply. With it, the assists and scoring will both increase dramatically.
So while a 16-point loss is a bummer on any night against anyone, we can walk away from this one knowing that this young Orange team has fight and potential. I for one am excited to see what they can do, starting with a classic matchup against UCONN on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.