When you’re 17-0 and ranked second in the country, there isn’t a lot to be mad about. A lot is going right for the Syracuse Orange, but they also have some things they need to work on.
What is Going Well:
It is no surprise how good the Syracuse defense is and is first on the list because it is their strength. The Orange are eighth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just over 58 points per game. They also force turnovers at a high rate, as their opponents average 15.8 per game. They also average over nine steals per game and Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney are first and second in the ACC in steals per game, averaging 2.76 and 2.35 respectively. In their four ACC games, opponents have shot just 32.8 percent from three, which is a good sign for the 2-3 zone. The defense is what brought them to the Final Four last year and it could bring them there again.
2. Taking Care of the Ball
The Orange force a lot of turnovers, but they don’t commit a lot. They are 14th in the country in turnovers per game, averaging just under 10. They are also sixth in the nation in turnover margin, averaging 5.9 less turnovers per game than their opponents. Ennis sets the tone for this, ranking fourth in the country with a 4.14 assist to turnover ratio. C.J. Fair has also cut back on his turnovers. In 12 non-conference games, Fair averaged 3.5 turnovers per game. In the four ACC games he is averaging just two.
3. Help For C.J.
As Preseason ACC Player of the Year, we knew what to expect from C.J. Fair this season and he hasn’t disappointed, delivering 17.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. What we didn’t know is who else would step up, but he has gotten plenty of help. Tyler Ennis has stepped into the point guard role with ease, averaging 11.6 points and 5.6 assists to go along with those 2.76 steals. His name has been floated around by many as one of the best freshmen in the nation. He controls the pace for the Orange on both ends and takes care of the ball. Trevor Cooney has also improved mightily. His confidence has increased and that has resulted in a great offensive year for him so far, averaging 14.1 points on 43 percent three-point shooting. Jerami Grant has also provided a spark off the bench, averaging 12.6 points on 49.6 percent shooting from the field and is the team leader with 6.6 rebounds per game. He is ranked by many as a first-round draft pick in this year’s NBA Draft and is the Orange’s best NBA prospect. All of these players have helped take the pressure off of Fair and have helped bring this team to where they are.
What They Can Improve On:
1. Offensive Consistency
The Orange have had an up and down season on the offensive end. They didn’t start off too well, shooting 42.5 percent from the field in their first four games. In Maui and for the rest of the non-conference season things were different, as they shot 49.7 percent in that nine game stretch. That was the best stretch of their season so far, especially since they have come out cold in ACC play, shooting just 40.9 percent in four games. It is safe to say the Orange offense has gone on a roller coaster ride, and it will be interesting to see which offense will show up as the season comes to a conclusion. Cooney was shooting 50 percent from three-point range in the 13 non-conference games. In ACC play, he has shot 9-37 from beyond the arc, 24.7 percent. The Orange shoot just 35.8 percent from three, so Cooney could use some help from out there. The Orange will have to get in a groove on offense again if they want to make a postseason run.
2. Get the Big Men More Involved
The Orange have had three big men in the rotation all year. Rakeem Christmas, Baye Moussa Keita and Dajuan Coleman have all started games and Christmas and Keita have played in every game. Christmas gets the most minutes per game of the three with 20, and the three combine for just 7.1 shots per game. Christmas shoots 71 percent on the season, but he only averages 2.9 shots per game, resulting in just 5.3 points. Coleman and Keita average just 4.3 and 1.9 respectively. Coleman has fallen from the rotation and has only played in one of the four ACC games. Keita is more of a defensive player, but Christmas doesn’t get that many touches in the post. He needs to get open more and his teammates also need to do a better job of getting him the ball when he is. He has shown signs of a boost in confidence on the offensive end, putting up a 15 point game against Eastern Michigan. He can score around the basket and has proven he can stretch the floor and knock down some jumpers as well. Ennis has done a good job off the pick and roll, so maybe sending Christmas up to set that screen more often could be a benefit to both of them. The big men also need to rebound more. Keita and Christmas combine for a total of 7.3 per game. With the two of them getting the bulk of the minutes at the center spot, if they can get more rebounds that will take some pressure off the wing players in the zone to grab them. The big men have the potential to step up for the Orange, and if they do that will add a lot to a team that is already pretty good.