Don’t let the recent three-game losing streak by the Syracuse Orange fool you; they’re real close to playing like a Final Four caliber team. Even on the heels of that three-game skid head coach Jim Boeheim said that he still liked his team and believed in their chances heading down the stretch. Few coaches in college basketball are as honest when it comes their own team as Boeheim is, so when he says he still believes he has a good team, there’s reason to believe him.
Despite their recent slide the Orange have plenty going for them. They have one of the top defenses in the country, with intimidating size and aggression; and they play a style of defense that opposing teams are usually unfamiliar playing against, especially the non-Big East teams they’ll face in the NCAA tournament. Offensively, point guard Michael Carter-Williams has quietly begun to play his best basketball of the season, despite some mistakes at the end of games during the team’s recent losing streak, and his play gives the team the kind of guard play that’s needed to win in March.
As it stands right now, the Orange are good enough to play even with just about any team in the country and have a chance to win at the end of the game, as demonstrated by the fact that almost all of their losses have come in close games that could have been won if things were a little different. If Syracuse can get a significant increase in production and consistency from just one of their players down the stretch, it would give them the boost they need to defeat quality teams and give them a chance to make a deep postseason run.
On the Syracuse roster, there are three players that have a chance to step up and be difference makers at the end of the season. The first is senior Brandon Triche. Triche has struggled shooting the ball for the past month, but if he were able to break out of his slump and start playing with confidence he has the ability to be an offensive star and the go-to guy Syracuse offensively that Syracuse lacks. The second option is redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney. Cooney entered the season with the reputation as a more-than-capable outside shooter, but his shooting ability has yet to show up in games. Boehim will continue to give Cooney opportunities to play, and if he can ever start making shots and contributing points it would give the Orange a new element to their offense that they’ve lacked all season, and give their postseason hopes a boost. The third option is sophomore center Rakeem Christmas. Christmas has fallen well short of his potential at both ends of the floor this season, but if he were to become a viable option inside offensively or become a more consistent rebounder and intimidating shot blocker at the defensive end, he could become the kind of game changer at the center position that is rare in college basketball and that would give Syracuse a big advantage in March.
While it’s far from a certainty that Triche, Cooney, or Christmas will step up this March and become a difference maker for the Orange, the possibility is there. Syracuse isn’t as far away from competing for a spot in the Final Four as some people may think, and any improvement they make this late in the season will go a long way towards helping them get to where they want to be.