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Syracuse Basketball: Concerns from the Colgate Loss and Looking Ahead

Bill Russell recorded 11 points and 23 rebounds in a 23-point victory at the Philadelphia Warriors. The United States under President John F. Kennedy had banned all imports from Cuba amidst the missile crises. The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team lost to the Colgate Raiders. That was February 24, 1962. Up until Saturday, November 20, 2021, the Orange had not lost to Colgate since then.

On Saturday afternoon in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse jumped to an early 17-2 lead against Colgate. However, the Raiders would go on to outscore the Orange 98-68 to earn a resounding 100-85 win against its in-state opponent. For the Orange, many flaws got exposed.

Defense

Let’s start with the defense. Allowing 100 points to any college basketball team is bad, but to give up that number to a Patriot league team––albeit a very good one––is embarrassing. The Orange were too slow rotating against the passing of Colgate. The Raiders were well-coached and executed tremendously against the 2-3 zone of the Orange. It seemed like every time you looked up there they were making good passes to force the ‘Cuse to scramble, leading to a three-point make. Colgate went 18-43 (41.9%) from beyond-the-arc. Their three-point barrage also led to easy layups given that the Orange were forced to extend further from the paint to play the shooters. The Raiders doubled the Orange in assists, 26-13.

Rebounding

Another concern for Syracuse is rebounding. The team has grabbed only 50.9% of total rebounds through three games. That mark ranks just 147th among all D1 teams. Even more worrisome is that its opponents have merely been Lafayette, Drexel, and of course Colgate; certainly not a good sign come ACC play where the opponents are better and stronger. When you combine the departure of last season’s leading rebounder Quincey Gueirrer transferring to Oregon, last season’s starting center Marek Dolezaj graduating, and current centers Jesse Edwards and Frank Anselem not possessing physically strong frames, it makes sense that the Orange have struggled to rebound. Syracuse needs to make a concerted effort to rebound the basketball.

Syracuse Orange center Jesse Edwards (14) drives to the hoop. The Syracuse Orange basketball takes the Colgate Red Raider. Nov. 20, 2021. Dennis Nett

Zone Issues

Obviously Jim Boeheim has run the 2-3 zone for forever, so I trust that he believes in that defensive philosophy. However, I have doubts about how effective the zone can be when the Orange are trailing by multiple possessions late in the 2nd half. Both statements can be true, and Saturday’s meltdown kind of exposed the worst case scenario of that idea. Syracuse threw out a desperation trapping full court press that was executed horrifically, leading to multiple uncontested layups/dunks to push to Colgate lead. I can chalk it up to it being early in the season and the players not being used to that defense in a game situation, but it wasn’t a promising look.

Offense

Offensively, I’m not too concerned with this team. Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard are flame throwers from beyond-the-arc (Girard is shooting 81.3% from distance this season) and so they are a threat to go on quick runs at any time. Cole Swider, the Villanova transfer, plays fundamentally sound and his three-point shot is bound to be more accurate sooner rather than later. At the same time, there are some red flags. Centers Jesse Edwards and Frank Anselem cannot create their own shot and often fadeaway or avoid contact when they shoot.

My Anthropology 121 classmate Benny Williams, the 4-star recruit from IMG Academy, is clearly still quite raw. His shot is not pretty and he doesn’t seem too comfortable putting the ball on the deck, at least not at the moment. Meanwhile, Symir Torrence, the transfer from Marquette, has played like a downgrade at the back-up point guard position when compared to Kadary Richmond, last season’s backup PG who transferred to Seton Hall. Torrence is averaging just 2.3 PPG on 21.4% shooting and the eye test has not been good for him, notably when he drives and takes a shot in the paint.

One consistent factor in the 8-man rotation has been Jimmy Boeheim, the Cornell transfer and older brother of Buddy. He offers something that Dolezaj offered to the Syracuse teams of the past: a big man who the offense can run through for some possessions. This guy brings a level of poise to the team, a guy who will rip through and drive if his defender is up on him, a guy who can make layups and turnaround touch shots with either hand, and even a guy who can step out and knock down the three.

Looking Ahead

I still believe in this team. Torrence can become a reliable point guard off the bench, that Williams will develop more confidence and become a willing rebounder and general x-factor, that Swider will find his shot, that Edwards and Anselem will play stronger, and that Buddy Boeheim will takeover games when the Orange need him to. I also believe that an embarrassing early season loss can help a team come together. Finally, I believe that the zone will get smarter more active as the season progresses.

Upcoming Tourney

All this believing will begin to translate into some form of reality on Wednesday when the Orange take on VCU in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas. The Rams already have two losses on the seasons and they have been brutal losses: a 14-point defeat at home to Wagner and a 2-point defeat also at home to Chattanooga. VCU has yet to score more than 57 in any of their four games, as they rank 237th in offensive efficiency, per Kenpom. Furthermore, only 15.6% of their offensive possessions end in an assist, which ranks 233rd in the country. The Syracuse zone should see substantial improvement against VCU. Should the Orange win that game, they will likely see defending national champion Baylor in the semifinals. UConn, Auburn, Loyola-Chicago, and Michigan State are on the other side of the bracket.

The 2021 Men’s Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament Bracket

Weak ACC

Syracuse was projected to finish 7th in the ACC in the preseason. Based on how the ACC has fared in the non-conference so far, the Colgate loss was almost an ode by the Orange to the rest of the conference: Virginia has already lost at home to Navy, and then for good measure got trounced by Houston on national television. Pitt lost by 15 points to the freaking Citadel Bulldogs in addition to losing by 15 to West Virginia.

BC has dropped two games to URI and one to Utah. Miami lost to in-state opponent UCF. Florida State saw that and decided to one-up Miami, as they got outscored 43-25 in the second half to Florida en route to a 16-point loss in that in-state matchup. Louisville lost at home to Furman. Georgia Tech lost at home to Miami of Ohio. Clemson surrendered a 16-point lead to St. Bonaventure and lost by three and then fell to West Virginia two days later.

The only strong teams in the conference at this point in time are Duke and Virginia Tech. Even North Carolina, who has some nice pieces, got outmatched by ranked teams in Purdue and Tennessee. The point is, the ACC is wide open and Syracuse should be in the mix as a top 5 or 6 team in the conference.