Scouring The Orange For (Legitimate) Concerns
The onslaught of criticisms aimed at Syracuse’s profile – from the perceived lack of adequate travel in the non-con to the specific opponents (some of which are out of the school’s control) – never seems to lull, but the frequency seems to have hit peak levels as of late. Though I greatly respect Doug Gottlieb as an analyst who uses details and has a passion for the game you can easily pick up if you listen to his radio show or guest spots, I also believe some of the arguments he makes are intended more to draw emotional reaction rather than be weighed heavily in a discussion. Gottlieb isn’t the only one who does this, but I think he’s the best example. I also sometimes wish people wouldn’t be so quick to take the bait, since that only keeps the engine running, but people are free to do as they wish and I won’t try to argue otherwise.
Along the way, there have been more reasonable writers (Mike DeCourcy sticks out the most in my mind) who have defended Syracuse’s scheduling methods. Recently, DeCourcy cited Ohio State, Syracuse, Duke and Kentucky as teams that have conquered the public perception that they don’t challenge themselves enough in non-conference play to earn high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Oftentimes, those teams get chances to topple good non-conference teams in some kind of neutral court event or inter-conference challenge, but mostly, they’ve made up the perceived gap like any great team should – by winning tough games in their respective tough conferences, in addition to beating the teams they’re supposed to beat. It’s not that tough to grasp.
So the Orange are undefeated five games into conference play. They’ve steered clear of the injury bug and any potential distractions brought on by the Bernie Fine investigation. The level of depth on this team is so obscene that the margin of victory when leading scorer Kris Joseph scores 10 or fewer is right around 30 points – granted some of those games are against competition so lacking that gaudy margins are practically expected, but it’s a testament to the completeness of the team. To boot, the Big East is devouring itself at a faster rate than usual. All of these factors are paving the way for SU to do some pretty historic things. So is there anything that fans should be legitimately concerned about?
If you really pressed me, I might be able to come up with more reasons, but my only gripe (and even then, it’s not that big a gripe) is that the team can get a little complacent after building up monstrous leads. I have to point out one thing before I elaborate – I fully understand that SU has looked terrific. The only loose end is that there’s a trend of lapses that could prove more damaging against the better teams that college basketball has to offer. In Providence, the undermanned Friars surprised the Orange by hitting half their shots in the second half and six of their 11 threes on the night. SU needed its best shooting night of the season to put that game in the win column. At home against Marquette on Saturday, the Orange let up 47 points in the second half, including a 19-8 run over the first six minutes. Another spurt, this one an 8-2 stretch in just over one minute later on in the second half cut an Orange lead that had ballooned to 23 earlier in the game all the way down to three. Most recently, after SU cruised to another huge lead in Philadelphia, Villanova let loose for a 17-9 run over eight minutes to open up the second half. The Orange appear to value the ball less in these situations and take their feet off the gas pedal just a bit. Fortunately, the Orange had a big enough cushion to withstand these few miscues, and in all three games, the team eventually woke up and removed uncertainty.
SU’s attack is potent enough, and perhaps the conference weak enough, that there’s a small chance the team won’t crumble in a game until it reaches postseason play. As I suggested before, an exercise like this is admittedly nitpicky, and I readily admit that I’m somewhat grasping at straws. It’s hard to find many faults with this team. After every game, I’ve come away with reinforcements to the idea that the Orange have everything necessary to make a title run and be successful – outstanding guard play, stout defense, experience, a bench the likes of which is rarely seen, let alone utilized, in a Syracuse team – the works. But if you’re looking for something beyond the usual eye-roll-inducing noise, and something that can be backed up with facts, staying focused for the full 40 minutes on a consistent basis is one goal I would like to see the Orange conquer from here on out. Luckily, there’s still plenty of time to work out the few kinks that let opponents back into the game.