When Shooting Guards Can’t Shoot
With just three games to go until the Orange head down to Manhattan for the Big East Tournament, Syracuse sits at 27-1, in the driver’s seat for a top seed and with its second conference title in three seasons almost a formality. A different player is stepping up every game to play a key role, whether it’s throughout the game or just to deliver the dagger. The team is riding a seven-game winning streak, and two of the final regular season three opponents have postseason prospects that can be described as dicey at best. Factor all that in and the odds are pretty decent that the Orange will close it out with 30 wins before they even get to Madison Square Garden, something that’s never been done in program history. It’s a great time to be a ‘Cuse fan.
Still, some problem areas persist (though certainly not many), and some tweaks need to be made if the Orange want to push beyond the Sweet Sixteen and into the Final Four for the first time since 2003.
SU’s rebounding issues aren’t exactly new. All season, the Orange have been atrocious on the glass, especially defensively. While the team has shown signs of life in this area with strong performances against Louisville, St. John’s, and UConn, those outings have been in the minority when it comes to cleaning up misses, especially on the defensive end. This late in the season, it’s tough to see this problem going away, and one has to wonder just how far the Orange can advance in an environment where the competition stiffens by the game. While a drastic turnaround doesn’t seem likely at this point, there’s another weakness that is much more fixable.
The team needs a lift from its guards. Aside from his performance in the team’s win over UConn, Dion Waiters has lost his shot over the last month. Even if you include that game, he’s shot a measly 35.5% from the floor in his last eight times out, well below his season average of 47.6%. In fairness to Waiters, this is his first season playing a prominent role in the rotation and fatigue may be setting in, but the more likely scenario is that this is just a slump. I’m not spelling doom, because as poorly as Waiters has shot it, recent history indicates that he can not only snap out of the funk. Last season, Waiters endured a frosty 14-57 skid over ten games in the middle of the season to finish 23-41 from the floor in his last six games, capped by a team-leading 18 points in the Orange’s season-ending loss to Marquette, so one encouraging sign is that there’s a precedent here. Let’s hope he turns it back around soon.
Brandon Triche, meanwhile, is in the midst of one of his patented hibernating periods. Since the Orange exorcised the Pitt demon back on January 16, Triche has shot better than 50% in just one game, and it’s been six weeks since the junior hit more than two threes. We know he can run hot and cold – not unlike Andy Rautins in his first three seasons – but while playing time has been inconsistent, he hasn’t exactly done enough to prove that he should be out there more often. He’s still an incredibly value player in cases where SU needs to hold onto a close lead, though – he leads the team with an 86% free throw clip.
While a remaining slate of a feisty South Florida team, the talented Huskies and the always-tough Cardinals isn’t your run-of-the-mill tuneup set, the Orange have some loose ends still to sew up. While it’s tough to say with any confidence whether the Orange will become even an acceptable rebounding team, it may not matter if the tandem of Triche and Waiters start hitting shots again.