Awarding superlatives to Syracuse men’s basketball after nonconference play

first_imgBiggest surprise is that Tauren Thompson, Geno and Sidibe won’t play an ACC game— Tim Barclay (@tim_barclay_) December 31, 2017 Facebook Twitter Google+ Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerBiggest disappointment: 3-point shootingSyracuse’s strength was never going to be its outside shooting, after losing its most potent weapons from last year’s team that loved to let it fly from beyond the arc. After beating Georgetown in overtime on Dec. 16, Jim Boeheim said, “Today, the 3-point line worked for us, which is highly unusual.”Even though its 3-point makes have fallen from 8.8 per game last year to 5.5 this season, Syracuse hits just 30 percent, ranking 320th in the nation’s 351 teams. This mostly falls on freshman forward Oshae Brissett, Howard and Battle, as they’ve taken 85 percent of the team’s 3s. The Orange has shown it can succeed without the 3-pointer — gritty wins against Maryland and UConn masked 3-for-18 and 4-for-16 performances from deep, respectively — yet the weakness has shown it can also sink the Orange. When Syracuse searched for answers to a stagnant offense against St. Bonaventure, the team couldn’t generate a spark, making three of 19 attempts from 3.Boeheim knew this team wouldn’t shoot from 3 as much this year, but it’s unlikely he knew the team would struggle this badly. Before the season, he said: “This year’s team, we may not be able to shoot as many 3s and be as effective from the 3-point line (as last year). So, we’ll have to adjust and find some other way to attack.”That’s still true. — Sam Fortier Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerBiggest flaw: Lack of dynamic offenseSyracuse has made it through the nonconference schedule with only two losses, but its apathetic offense has been concerning throughout.Three players — Battle, Howard and Brisset — account for 50.5 of SU’s 72 points per game, about 70 percent of the scoring. The three shoot a combined 39 percent from the field, though. The Orange also has more turnovers (168) than assists (164) on the season. Even after wins against weaker opponents, like when the Orange beat Colgate on Dec. 9, players said that the ball movement wasn’t great.The Orange has had issues with standing and watching. Particularly, Syracuse’s big three scorers have become prone at various points this season to playing isolation basketball. The Orange ranks 312th out of 351 teams in average possession length (18.5 seconds).To top it off, the Orange doesn’t have many dependable options outside of those three, and the team’s 3-point shooting (30 percent) is the worst in the ACC. Against teams like Buffalo, Eastern Michigan and Georgetown, SU can sneak by with what it’s been doing. Improvements need to come moving forward. — Tomer Langer The end of nonconference play last season could not have come sooner for a Syracuse team that had already lost five games. This season, SU (11-2) enters Atlantic Coast Conference play in much better shape. Depth will be a question mark in conference as the Orange has dealt with the departure of Geno Thorpe and injuries to Bourama Sidibe. But Syracuse enters conference play in a much better spot than last season.Syracuse men’s basketball beat writers Sam Fortier, Matthew Gutierrez and Tomer Langer award superlatives to the Orange midway through the season.Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerMVP: Tyus BattleAdvertisementThis is placeholder textThis one’s fairly simple, as Tyus Battle is far and away Syracuse’s best player and the one carrying the team on most nights. His 20.1 points per game leads the team and is third in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Alongside point guard Frank Howard, he’s helped Syracuse create a lock-down defense at the top of the zone, and his 1.7 steals per game rank ninth in the conference.Perhaps most importantly, Battle has been the Orange’s go-to guy in the clutch. His corner 3-pointer against Maryland with one minute left gave Syracuse a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Against Georgetown, he hit a 3-pointer with 1:32 to go to cut the Hoyas lead to two as Syracuse eventually forced overtime. Battle scored eight points in the additional five minutes.As Syracuse’s schedule toughens up, it’ll need Battle to keep meeting, or even exceeding, this level of play. — Tomer Langer Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerBiggest X-factor going forward: Bourama Sidibe’s healthJim Boeheim hinted that freshman center Sidibe could still medically redshirt after he didn’t dress in Syracuse’s win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. Sidibe is crucial to the two-man rotation with redshirt junior center Paschal Chukwu that gives the Orange two legitimate rim-protectors keying the team’s defense, which is the 21st-best in the nation, according to, and relies on its shot-blocking and steals. Remove Sidibe, whom star guard Tyus Battle has repeatedly praised for his shot-blocking, and the Orange are without an irreplaceable piece.Before the season, Boeheim said he wanted to split Chukwu and Sidibe 20 minutes each, and for the first seven games that combination worked. Then Sidibe got injured, played 10 minutes against UConn and sat out three of the next five games while combining for 16 minutes total against St. Bonaventure and Georgetown in the two he did play. If Sidibe can’t go, that forces the Orange to lean heavily on Chukwu, who is in his first year back from an eye injury, and play smaller when Chukwu heads to the bench, most likely with thin freshman Marek Dolezaj anchoring the center of the zone.A smaller lineup puts Syracuse out of its element, because the Orange has only three guards after Thorpe left the team and struggles to shoot from the outside, hitting 29.8 percent of its 3s, one of the nation’s worst rates. To maintain its length and defensive presence, the thing that has helped Syracuse win games so far, the Orange needs Sidibe.  — Sam Fortier Comments Published on December 30, 2017 at 9:23 pm Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerMost pleasant surprises: Emergence of Frank Howard and Marek DolezajThis is a tie between freshman forward Dolezaj and junior point guard Frank. Start with Dolezaj, the native of Slovakia, who has at Syracuse’s most unproven position provided much-needed depth. He averages 5.8 boards, 4.8 points and stretches the floor with his jump hooks and mid-range game — he knocks down an efficient 52 percent of his shots from the field. Dolezaj is as smooth as they come, a natural almost always aware of where he is on the court and where he can set up teammates off-ball. That’s a big plus for SU.Howard, meanwhile, has effectively run the point as a floor general for the Orange. He’s tied for second on the team with 15.2 points and averages 6.2 assists per game, while playing solid defense at the top of the zone with his length and activity. But the biggest number to watch has been his turnovers. He averages 4.1 per game, not bad for a guy who handles the rock and initiates the offense. Whether Howard continues to take care of the ball and run the offense in conference play remains to be seen, but he has commanded the point guard position given to him. — Matthew Gutierrezlast_img

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