A roller coaster is fun and exciting, with massive highs followed by steep drops that keep you guessing at every turn. In just nine games this season, Syracuse resembles one of these popular rides.
While the Orange clearly boast a much higher ceiling than a year ago, this group has shown an ability to bottom out worse than at any point in recent memory.
Believe it or not, this inexperienced group is playing some of the best offense seen at Syracuse since Tyler Ennis left town following an incredible 25-0 start in 2013.
SU hit 97 points twice already this season. In truth, the opposition was not great, facing Bucknell and Georgia Tech in those two contests. However, it shows the Orange’s incredible potential for scoring the basketball.
Those 97 points against the Yellow Jackets were the most Syracuse has ever scored against an ACC opponent in regulation. (Syracuse scored 100 points against NC State in 2017, but that game went to overtime.)
Last season, the Orange topped out at 95 for its season high, reaching it in last year’s overtime win over Duke.
While the higher ceiling is all well and good, it is the low floor that is worrying.
It seems to show up in games against better opponents as well. Last season, Syracuse’s season low for points was 53, not surprisingly against Virginia.
The Orange opened this 2019-20 campaign with a pitiful 34 points when facing the Cavaliers. That was the fewest points SU scored in a game since 1945. That’s right, FDR was the president the last time Syracuse had produce such a dreadful offensive showing.
In short, the Orange is volatile. Predicting what will happen next is difficult due to a lack of consistency.
Syracuse could drop 85 on Georgetown on Saturday, winning by 25 points in the process. But this is a roller coaster-type season, so the Orange could also lay an egg against the Hoyas and lose by 25.
The main reason for this uncertainty is because of the youth on the roster. Entering the season, players not named Elijah Hughes or Marek Dolezaj had started a combined seven games for the Orange. That level of experience is difficult to win with.
That’s why we are seeing games where the team steps up for a massive night, or falls apart in a lifeless defeat. There has been little in between.
As it turns out, this group simply does not know how to win tough. At least, not yet.
My theory is Syracuse has the ability to just keep rolling if left unchecked. When teams like Seattle, Bucknell and even Georgia Tech fail to offer an early counter punch, Syracuse will blow by them.
As soon as there is some resistance from a team like Penn State, Oklahoma State or Iowa, everything crumbles.
I will keep saying this as well: Syracuse will improve as the year goes on.
That does not mean the Orange will reach the tournament, or win every game we expect it to. Last year’s team barely reach the NCAA tournament even with all the experience it had at its disposal, and that included a loss to Old Dominion in the Carrier Dome.
However, this team will get better. Quincy Guerrier and Howard Washington will hopefully find their shot. Joe Girard III will continue to learn how to be disruptive in the zone.
Syracuse is likely to throw an unforeseen upset into the mix as well. It seems to happen every year.
The difference between this group and most other teams Jim Boeheim has coached is the level of variance from game to game. Outside of Hughes, it is hard to locate a constant.
Sometimes that will lead to incredible shooting nights like the one we saw at McCamish Pavilion. Other times, it will result in the humiliation of back to back blowouts at MSG.
In the end, maybe its just best to avoid betting on the Orange for a while. This team is clearly as hard to predict as any in college basketball. In the mean time, make sure you buckle in for this roller coaster ride.