Last week, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team was ranked number one in the country and 25-0, but things weren’t as good as they had been all year. They had two close calls the week before, but a big shot by Tyler Ennis in Pittsburgh and a late layup from C.J. Fair against North Carolina State saved their undefeated season. Then, 6-19 Boston College came to town and shocked the country by earning their seventh win against the Orange in overtime. A Boeheim ejection and a heartbreaking loss to Duke later, the Orange found themselves with their first two losses on the season. Even Maryland gave the Orange a run for their money on Monday. So now we wonder, what is wrong?
I think the quick answer is the pressure. The Orange have been getting everybody’s best game all year. They were the last major conference team to be undefeated and teams were gunning for them for weeks, that’s tiring, especially for guys like Ennis and Fair, who play almost the whole game every time the Orange take the court. Fair has played 591 minutes of a possible 610 in ACC games, that’s just 19 minutes of rest, and five of those came against Maryland on Monday (almost 97 percent of the minutes). Ennis has played in 94 percent of those ACC minutes. The value those two bring to the team is irreplaceable, but they must be getting tired.
From a statistical standpoint, the answer has to be their offense. This is no high-powered offense that the Orange have, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, but their efficiency has been down which causes for some problems. Over the most recent five-game stretch, the Orange have shot 105-280, 37.5 percent, from the field, which is seven percent less than they shoot on the season. They have also been ice cold from three-point range, making 18 of their 66 attempts during this stretch (27.2 percent). Their 58 points per game in the last five, compared to 68.8 on the season, pretty much sums up a nightmarish stretch for the fourth ranked Orange.
Normal fans look at these stats and probably think “Wow, this team is going downhill fast!” My job is to think outside the box, and in this case, I’m not too worried about the Orange because they are in pretty good company believe it or not.
Remember the 2012-2013 Syracuse Orange? Yeah, that team with somebody named Michael Carter-Williams, a sharp-shooter in James Southerland and Brandon Triche, a guy who started every game of his Syracuse career. Those guys went through a similar rough patch at the end of the regular season. Starting on February 23rd, 2013, that Orange team lost four out of five games, starting with a loss to Georgetown and ending with a loss to, yes, Georgetown, where they scored just 39 points in the last game of the regular season. This stretch that they had is extremely similar to the one that this year’s team is currently enduring, take a look at the stats:
2013-2014 Offense 2012-2013 Offense
FG 105-280 107-281
FG% 37.5 38
Points 58 57.4
Turnovers 8.6 13.6
3 FG 18-66 20-96
3P% 27.2 20.8
The field goals and field goal percentage category stuck out to me the most as they are so close in the amount of shots taken and made. They both also scored around 58 points during their rough patches, and neither shot well from beyond the arc. On the bright side, this year’s team is a little better from beyond the arc and doesn’t turn the ball over quite as much.
Not only are the offenses of these two teams similar during their bad streaks, but the defenses are both pretty good and compare pretty well too down their poor offensive five-game streaks.
2013-2014 Defense 2012-2013 Defense
FG 98-243 98-254
FG% 40.3 38.9
Points 58.8 61.4
Turnovers 13.4 13
3 FG 36-98 34-109
3P% 36.7 31.2
Again, the comparison in the field goal categories is pretty incredible as teams struggled to hit shots and score against the Orange. This year’s team has a small advantage in scoring defense, but both teams caused around 13 turnovers by their opponents. The difference is this year’s team isn’t quite as good at defending the three. Last year’s team finished the season holding their opponents to just 28.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc, while this year they are allowing 34.3 percent. Both teams have lacked in the steals department during these stretches as well. This year’s team is getting only 6.2 steals per game the last five compared to 8.3 on the season, while last year’s team managed only six steals during their rough patch and averaged nine on the year. Despite this, this year’s team is taking strides towards becoming the great defense that last year’s team was.
Both teams have relied on one main three-point shooter each season. This year it is Trevor Cooney and last year it was James Southerland. Cooney is currently struggling mightily, as he is shooting 27 percent from the field in the last five games, including an 8-33 mark (24 percent) from three. Southerland also struggled when the Orange lost four of five games last year. He shot 30.7 percent from the field and made just 11 of 38 three-point attempts (28.9 percent). Both of these stretches were concerning, but everybody knows the potential of each from long-range, so things can turn around quick. Southerland got hot in the Big East tournament, making a tournament record 19 threes while shooting 57 percent from beyond the arc. All shooters go through rough patches, so Cooney could break out of his slump at any moment.
So, why am I making this comparison? Well, both teams have gone through bad parts of the season towards the end of the year, but in college basketball it is important to get hot at the right time. The 2012-2013 team got hot in the postseason, making a run to the Big East Championship game and the Final Four. They won seven of their last nine games in the most important part of the season and their 2-3 zone defense stifled offenses more than it had all year. The stats show a lot of similarities between both offenses and defenses at the end of their season, so I think this year’s team is currently bracing themselves for a great run. If they can get back on track on the offensive end, I think they will be a top contender for the ACC title and they could have a chance to make it back to the Final Four for the second straight season.