Is this the part where I laugh nervously because I wrote something that appeared in this very space last week to warn Syracuse fans about Old Dominion and Buffalo?
I know you’re heated about the Orange being 7-4. They were supposed to be good, really good this year. The five returning starters of consequence from last season were returning, Elijah Hughes and Howard Washington would be able to play, and some freshmen were getting added to the mix.
And it’s not working out like you hoped, so you’re displeased. Trust me, I’ve seen many of the tweets, emails, and message board posts.
But, it’s not that bad. Yet.
By Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, Buffalo is the best team Syracuse has played this season. The Bulls sit at #24, one spot ahead of Ohio State.
Those other three teams SU has lost to? Also, not that bad. Oregon is #38, Old Dominion is #70, and UConn is #78.
Oregon is the highest-rated team in the Pac-12. While the conference appears destined for a down year as a whole, there are still enough competitive (“NCAA bubble”) teams that the Ducks could very easily get an NCAA Tourney berth.
ODU was picked third in the pre-season Conference-USA poll, which is not ideal, as they usually only send one team to the NCAAs. Then again, the Monarchs have won 25 games in three of the last four seasons, finishing in Pomeroy’s top 100 each time they achieved that plateau, so they’re still a pretty good bet to make the NCAA Tournament.
Connecticut is the fourth-best team in the American right now, meaning they’re probably a bubble team, too.
In short, none of those losses are that bad, but I did use the word “yet” earlier.
Last season, SU finished tied with or ahead of four teams in ACC play (Wake Forest, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh). They had three home-and-home series against those teams last year, as well as one single matchup. In those seven games, the Orange went 4-3.
I mention that because those same four teams look like the bottom feeders of the conference again and Syracuse gets six matchups with them. You see where I’m going with this. There is no way they will emerge through those six games unscathed.
But, it should get better (aside from the snarky instant retort of “well, it has to”).
Frank Howard looked physically better against Buffalo than he had in any previous game, so maybe he’ll come around with over two weeks before the first ACC game (St. Bonaventure is not the team they were last year). While Howard has never been a great shooter, his 3-for-5 from deep Tuesday night suggests his legs are finally underneath him.
Maybe Tyus Battle and Hughes commit themselves to driving more instead of settling for stepback jumpers and threes. They are both shooting over 50 percent inside the arc on the season, including above 66 percent at the rim, while making a third of their threes. Both are shooting under 40 percent on jumpers inside the arc and nearly 38 percent of Battle’s shots fall under that classification.
Oshae Brissett needs to finish better inside. The centers need to bring something on offense. Marek Dolezaj theoretically will make a free throw this season.
So, maybe it’s not over this season. It’s not going to be mostly a cakewalk to March with a few slugfests against the conference elites. It’s gonna be hard and aggravating and frustrating and everything else it has been the last few years.
So, it’s Syracuse.