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On Sunday, Syracuse picked up just its second Atlantic Coast Conference win of the year, defeating Pittsburgh 80-72. The Orange tied a season-high with 13 made 3-pointers, a mark they previously hit in their first conference victory over Clemson on Dec. 11.
But outside of the two ACC wins, Syracuse’s first year after the departure of head coach Quentin Hillsman and 13 players has been filled with ups and downs — most recently, downs. Before Sunday’s win, SU had lost six straight games after starting the season 8-4.
Here’s our beat writers’ report card for Syracuse’s season so far at the midway point of SU’s ACC schedule:
Anthony Alandt: B
You have to take into account the fact that acting head coach Vonn Read implemented a 5-out offensive system during the season. This team didn’t have much depth going into the year, and Priscilla Williams’ decision to redshirt, along with long-term injuries to Eboni Walker and Jayla Thornton, certainly didn’t help. But being the X’s and O’s guru that Read is, he adjusted on the fly, leaning more into Syracuse’s fast lineup and catapulting it to 31st in the country in points per game.
Claim that the Central Connecticut State game was an outlier, sure. But one also has to acknowledge that this is a streaky team. The six-game winning streak showed how potent this offense can be at times, and it’s not all doom and gloom like some of my counterparts believe.
Alex Cirino: B-
Aside from inheriting a transformed Syracuse roster, Read has had to learn to adapt with his personnel, which on offense has meant putting players in different roles. The team has adjusted to it the best that it can. The Orange have been outsized and outmatched inside in almost every game this season, they don’t have a designated center, but they have adapted well, playing to their other strengths like speed and 3-point shooting.
It hasn’t been a flawless system, the speed has only worked to a certain extent, but it has brought out the best in the players that drive the system. Teisha Hyman has recorded double figures in all but four games this season, Chrislyn Carr was a strong shooter throughout Syracuse’s nonconference slate, and when Najé Murray drives the Orange’s 5-out motion offense, they can be dangerous.
Anish Vasudevan: C
Read has brought a variety of sets from his array of “basketball bibles” that he’s published. One system that has transformed Syracuse’s speed on offense into an effective scoring attack is the 5-out. This worked against nonconference opponents, opening shooters like Murray from 3 with drive-and-kicks.
But the momentum from nonconference play came to an abrupt stop against ACC defenses, who forced the Orange to shoot early in the shot clock and used their size against the smaller SU players. Syracuse simply stopped making shots — the looks from deep were good, but the ball wouldn’t go into the basket. Pittsburgh was an improvement, but the Orange can’t shoot 20% and 15% from 3 like they did against Georgia Tech and Notre Dame.
Maya Goosman | Digital Design Director
Syracuse lacks size — the Orange pulled down more defensive rebounds than Louisville, but that’s been the highlight of their prowess down low. SU’s perimeter and transition defense, however, has been stellar at times and fundamental to keeping games close. It is 20th in the country in steals per game, led by Hyman and Murray. Off the bench, Alaina Rice provides an option that disrupts opponents at every level.
Sure, once teams slice through the 2-3 zone, things can get ugly quickly (see the two straight games against Boston College and North Carolina). But that doesn’t happen every game, nor does it happen throughout games that end up as blowouts against the Orange. Their aggressive defense has been hit or miss, but good enough for that B-.
Syracuse has accepted the fact that it will be outmatched physically in almost every game this season, and most likely every game it is set to play from this point on.
While Syracuse leads the ACC in steals per game, its scoring defense sits dead last. The Orange’s starting five hasn’t put up a consistent defensive game in months, as SU is either outrebounded or allows a significant number of points inside each game. The Orange don’t have enough depth to work around that, and it has cost them late in games, especially throughout their six-game losing streak.
Given the size of Syracuse’s team, defense was likely the biggest issue to tackle strategically. But it found a system in the full-court press that helped, like the 5-out did on offense. The trio of Hyman, Chrislyn and Murray at the forefront has been key, creating steals when necessary and controlling the game clock for the Orange.
Still, when opposing offenses get past the press, SU is left motionless. Georgia Tech was able to do this the best, setting up players in the post and finding holes in the Orange’s 2-3 zone. Steals can lead to transition offense, but the biggest change needs to be inside to figure out how to mitigate opponents better.
This grade is nearing an incomplete. Syracuse hardly plays its bench outside of Rice. Read said earlier this season that he’s not worried about his five starters — all of whom average 30 minutes per game or more — tiring out. Unfortunately late-game play from SU doesn’t back up his statement. Of course, the injuries on a team full of players Read is unfamiliar with doesn’t help the depth issue. But there needs to be someone on the bench to go to when players fall into foul trouble or start taking off plays because they’re exhausted.
Read doesn’t usually give his bench a chance, effectively hamstringing himself to the success of five players, some of whom can be prone to foul trouble or streaky play.
Syracuse was within four points with seven minutes left against No. 20 Notre Dame, and then it conceded a 14-4 run. At that same point against No. 3 Louisville, the score was even until the Cardinals went on a late tear and beat the Orange by 13. In both games, four SU starters played at least 35 minutes, and only one bench player was used.
It’s a team that has just 11 active players, with two — Thornton and Walker — absent since the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. The late-game fatigue has plagued Syracuse, especially against its toughest opponents where a complete, experienced bench may have led to upset wins. But Read’s system relies on his starting five’s strengths, something that hasn’t gotten them too far in ACC play.
The only reason the Orange don’t have a complete failing grade in this category is because of Rice. Rice has been the only player brought off the bench after the losses of Walker and Thornton, and she’s repeatedly created sparks when Alaysia Styles or Christianna Carr need a break.
But having just one player come off the bench creates a lot of problems for Syracuse’s play on both sides of the court. By the third and fourth quarter, players are visibly tired on the court, especially against physical ACC defenses. The Orange need to find more than one option off the bench, which could come from using players like freshman Nyah Wilson or sophomore Ava Irvin.
Points in the paint
Syracuse knew it didn’t have height going into the season, even with a fully-healthy lineup. It’s unfortunate because Styles and Christianna are really talented, and have done their best in the first season they’ve been forced to play inside on offense.
Read has done his best to craft schemes around the obvious weakness, and at times the team has thrived down low, with guards frequently driving and operating well inside. But the reality inevitably catches up with Syracuse.
There’s a reason Read opted for the 5-out motion offense: to keep the ball on the outside as much as possible. Syracuse was able to rely on its 3-point shooting for a good chunk of its nonconference games, even during its loss to then-No. 3 Louisville when it shot 47.1% from deep.
But the reason the Orange can’t go inside is because of their inability to rebound. SU ranks in the bottom-50 in total rebounding rate, per HerHoop Stats, and have conceded multiple putback layups and second-chance points inside. Styles has pulled her weight inside, leading SU with a 50.3% field goal percentage, but she is playing out of position and the support hasn’t been enough.
In the paint, the Orange have been able to score effectively offensively by having Chrislyn and Hyman drive inside for quick layups. But the issue lies on the other side of the ball, where Syracuse allowed 50 points in the paint in losses against North Carolina and Boston College.
Styles does her best to try and guard opposing bigs, but when she goes to guard a specific player, that opens backdoor cuts behind her, leading to more points in the paint for opposing teams. The only way to fix this is if the Orange actually change their defense to a man-to-man or another system, which will likely not happen by the end of the season.
The post Report card: Grading Syracuse’s season midway through ACC play appeared first on The Daily Orange.