Temple, The End Of Conference Play And Defense
I hope everyone is having a great holiday season. Conference play has really flown by – it’s hard to believe that the first league action of the season comes in less than a week when SU squares off against Rutgers. I’m not going to spend an entire post previewing Alcorn State because it’s just so low a quality of opponent (thanks, Gotham Classic organizers!), but I will touch on that and other things in this edition of notes.
- The Temple loss stings, and I won’t go through every aspect because it’s been covered in other spaces, but I do want to spend a little time discussing which problem areas seem like one-time occurrences and which ones seem like more prolonged issues. Many people have touched on SU’s free throw disaster on Saturday, claiming that it did them in. While it was abhorrent and the Orange have had well-chronicled struggles at the line as long as Boeheim has been head coach, I don’t see it being a consistent problem. Even after a lousy day at the stripe, SU is still 9th in the Big East in free throw percentage, and one percentage point (or about four makes) is all that separates them from being 6th in the league. That still wouldn’t be exceptional, but it’d be good enough in my mind. Too me free throw shooting isn’t nearly as big a problem as…
- …Interior defense. The guards let up way too much dribble penetration on Saturday, but the last line of defense is just as culpable. It hasn’t really been a problem against some of the athletically inferior cupcakes SU has played to date, but against even a high mid-major team like Detroit, the Orange gave way too much. If it wasn’t back door cuts against Detroit, it was dribble penetration against Temple. For a team that plays exclusively zone, SU has let up a ton of points in the paint against higher-level competition, seemingly near 2007-2009 levels. The Orange have done a good job defending the perimeter for the most part, but against Detroit and Temple, the Orange gave up more than one point per possession, and Arkansas wasn’t far behind. Jim Boeheim has a significant challenge to work through here because Dajuan Coleman, the team’s best big man on offense, has trouble running the floor and isn’t quite where he needs to be defensively, and the best defensive big, Baye Keita, struggles on offense – though he seems to be back where he was freshman year as he’s held onto the ball more often than not and converted more close looks. SU’s defense has been progressively worse its last three games, so it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
- The last problem area I’ll touch on from the Temple game is Michael Carter-Williams’ play. To me, it wasn’t his missed free throws as much as it was his uncharacteristically selfish play, a sign of his inexperience in a central role. With time, MCW can grow into a role where he can be relied on to score more than his average, and we’ve all seen flashes, but I don’t think that time will come until February or March. He hasn’t had that much time to develop, but he also has more reliable teammates. Maybe he was just pressing, as Saturday was his first time running the point in a situation where his team needed to come back. As I said, it was very uncharacteristic of him, but until he’s tested again, all you can do is hope that he learned from what happened.
- The Orange will be able to get the bad taste out of their mouths tomorrow night against Alcorn State, a team so bad that I doubt Syracuse would spend its own money to bring them in. They’re so inferior that a good performance won’t quell the doubts I have about the team, and I’m confident in saying the same thing about SU’s next opponent, Central Connecticut State, but if they can start to build some better habits, it will be a good sign moving forward.
Maybe it’s for the best that the Orange don’t face stellar Big East competition until a date with Louisville on January 19, because I think we all can agree that there are some significant holes the team needs to plug. I’m still high on the team in the long run, but while I don’t believe in the “good loss” theorem, it will be interesting to see how the team recalibrates.