Item: For the second time in three seasons, Syracuse basketball is 5-5 after 10 games. It’s also the third time in five years that the Orange has dropped five games before the end of December, a trend that’s not sitting well with the fanbase.
In this era of college basketball, it’s almost impossible to ignore a taxing early-season schedule with so many neutral court tournaments at warm resort settings and not-so-warm locales bidding for top draws, the made-for-TV inter-conference “Challenges,” and one-off events like the Jimmy V Classic.
There’s only so many games that can be scheduled against mid-majors and smaller schools, and even matching up with an experienced smaller school can be rife with obstacles in any given season.
That’s where things stand for this year’s Syracuse squad with three new starters. The upset by Colgate, being blitzed twice in the Bahamas, losing to Top Ten Villanova on a neutral court, taken down late by a longtime rival Georgetown, offset against escaping with wins that looked like defeats at home against Indiana and on the road at Florida State.
“This has been an incredibly tough stretch for these guys. We’ve had five practices in 15 days and we need some more time in the gym,” Jim Boeheim said after the latest loss Saturday in D.C. against the Hoyas. “They’ve fought as hard as I could ask them to fight, but they’re worn out, they need this week to get back and get some practices in.”
In a sense, there is a reset to the season. A week between the next game against 1-8 Lehigh Saturday in the Dome (6:00 p.m. ET/ACC Network), followed by a step-up game against 8-3 Cornell Dec. 21, before a return to ACC play the rest of the way beginning Dec. 29 at home against Georgia Tech.
One head scratching aspect to us so far is why haven’t the top three reserves played more minutes, outside of foul trouble? It seems there’s missed opportunities for those players to get better overall, buckle down on defense in four-five minute stretches, and it would allow the starters to be remain fresh for crunch time. Each game has showed some improvement from Frank Anselem, Symir Torrence and Benny Williams (in that order), but only Anselem played in both halves against Georgetown, the trio accounting for only 19 minutes of game action.
“We’re ten games in now, I think it’s a good sample size to project where you’re going,” Anselem said after the Georgetown defeat and with a current season average of 2.4 points/rebounds per game. “Moving forward we kind of have an idea of where we want to be (record-wise). Losses like (Georgetown) you learn a lot from, take a look at the film, see what you have to work on, I think that’s going to be good.”
What has been a postgame theme in all ten games is the defensive effort, or lack thereof. The coaches know it, the players know it, the opposing teams know it.
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“We’ve struggled all year inside defensively,” Jim Boeheim repeated last weekend. “We’ve made some changes, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what defense you’re playing, you’ve got to play it. We’re not playing good enough, we’re not physical enough, and we’ve got to be better defensively, by a mile.”
So, moving on from the gloom and doom there’s games to be won. In what’s shaping up as not a particularly strong ACC this season there’s just one ranked team (No. 2 Duke), and only one other team receiving poll votes (North Carolina) this week.
“You just got to keep going. I mean we’ve been here before,” Buddy Boeheim offered in a downcast SU locker room in D.C. “Last year we started off with some tough losses, you just have to keep going. Ended up making the Sweet 16 last year, so you never know what can happen. We know this is a good group, we believe in each other, that’s all that matters.”
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