It’s tough to ridicule a 6-loss team, especially as we’re nearing March and they’re almost guaranteed at the very worst a four seed, but the Syracuse Orange just don’t look like a team to be taken serious this season.
I don’t want to be too big of a prisoner of the moment, and I know Monday night’s 74-71 loss at No. 22 Marquette – which was a quick turnaround after Syracuse’s 57-46 loss against No. 7 Georgetown – could be more of a sign of how good the Golden Eagles are than how less than great the Orange are. With that considered, I feel Syracuse has shown more quit than grit this season, and I think they’re one of the nation’s leaders in “they could be victims of the NCAA Tournament upset of the year.”
Prisoner of the moment would also be writing this through the lens that Georgetown and Marquette are clearly peaking above the rest of the Big East, which in turn could mean that Syracuse has time to revert to their early season form. I mean, they could, but even when the Orange were a top-five team they had ugly losses to unranked opponents in Temple and Villanova.
Which is more why I’m writing this.
As good as the Orange have looked in some wins this season, most notably against then No. 1 Louisville, they’ve shown their vulnerabilities in not being consistently good from the perimeter, as well as not having a go to guy in the post. On offense, Michael Carter Williams tries to do a little too much, and flip flops between allowing his teammates to get into the flow of the game and playing hero ball, which really hurts both the lanky but extremely talented sophomore and some of his other fellow starters, most notably, senior Brandon Triche.
With the ability to both score and distribute – he never really found his backcourt niche – Triche has shown flashes of brilliance and put the team on his back for stretches, but also gets frozen out of the offense and plays indecisive as a result of it. The ball is in Carter Williams’ hands for too much of Syracuse’s possessions, which isn’t poor offensive strategy as neither C.J. Fair nor James Southerland are necessarily go to scorers, and I truly believe that Rakeem Christmas means well, but that’s not a phrase you like to use about athletes.
Both Fair and Southerland have shown the ability to handle the scoring load at times, but both really flourish in the mid-range game, which tends to come when Carter Williams focuses more on involving his teammates than attacking the tin.
The inconsistencies on offense have caused Syracuse to lose in close stretches, most recently, Monday night against Marquette where the Orange scored just six points over an 8-minute stretch, which started at about the ten-minute mark in the second half. Throughout the drought, the Orange watched their 7-point lead swing to an 8-point deficit, and their wasn’t a person watching the game who didn’t feel like the road team was running in quick sand, watching an irreparable meltdown.
Does Jim Boeheim have a very talented team? Of course, they’ve been ranked in the top-10 for the majority of the season. But the Orange have been watching their Big East lead dwindle over the past couple of weeks, which is the wrong time to be playing your worst basketball.
At the beginning of the season it seemed that Carter Williams was sharing the ball and the offense was flourishing. Maybe the absence of Southerland over a 6-game stretch last month really stifled the progress of Boeheim’s game plan, but the Orange seem to be rattled easily, and don’t have an answer for the clutch.
I’m sure they’ll still have a shot at winning the conference, but when they’re backs are against the ropes because they can’t keep up with a three-point bombing mid-major, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.
For hoops, hip-hop and other random sports and pop culture commentary, follow Jared Mintz on Twitter @JaredMintzTruth