So, Where Do The Orange Stand Heading Into Conference Play?


With the first ACC matchup of the season looming, a plethora of questions still surround this Syracuse team.

Syracuse Orange
Syracuse Orange /

Syracuse Orange

While they have certainly improved as a unit over the past few weeks, rebounding from a 1-3 slump to build a there-game winning streak, consistency has certainly been an issue, and the squad has failed to shape a true identity for themselves so far.

The early stages of conference action should provide us with a barometer of where this team truly stands in the grand landscape of college basketball, giving us a look at how this team performs when the pressure is finally amped up.

Currently, the team remains a mystery to many pundits, with some (such as ESPN’s Jay Bilas) believing that this is a group capable of returning to the Top 25, and others (such as ESPN’s Jeff Goodman) still unconvinced as to whether this is even a tournament-caliber group.

Head coach Jim Boeheim, who pronounced the Orange “nowhere near good” following their narrow victory over Louisiana Tech almost three weeks ago, told, “We finished the year playing very well the last few games. We’ve come through this about as well as we could expect at this stage of the year. We’re playing much, much better and looking forward to conference play.”

Shooting guard Trevor Cooney, whose play has improved tremendously over the past few outings, offered that “I think we’re taking the right steps heading into ACC play. Better steps than we were a couple weeks ago, which is good. We want to continue taking the right steps.”

A major factor in the Orange’s success over the past four games has been their enhanced shooting, which plays a significant hand in their confidence levels as well.

This facet of the team’s performance was improved through extensive film study, as the players noticed that their lethargic attitude on the offensive side of the ball, failing to move or make their defender work, was playing a hand in their shot selection.

However, you have to wonder, if these looks stop falling for the likes of Cooney or Michael Gbinije, where will this team turn to for perimeter scoring?

Down low, Rakeem Christmas has been the team’s most reliable performer, turning in consistent efforts night in and night out. If he can maintain his aggressive offensive play while remaining a force to be reckoned with on the boards, the Orange will have the low post advantage in most matchups.

Said Cooney, “When we’re moving and attacking and getting in the paint and getting the ball in to (Rakeem Christmas where he can make plays, we’re a good offensive team. When we come down and everyone is cluttered up and we’re not able to get any lanes we’re not a good offensive team.”

At the power forward position, the Chris McCullough-Tyler Roberson situation remains a question mark, as the freshman’s minutes have dwindled considerably lately, while the usage of Roberson has become a priority for Boeheim. This conundrum will be an intriguing one to keep an eye on as conference play commences.

Certainly an advantage for the Orange is their soft schedule at the outset of ACC competition, as they play just one opponent with an RPI above 83 (Georgia Tech) over their first seven games.

The lack of a Duke or Virginia at the start of conference play allows the team some wiggle room in order to find their true identity and establish some consistency before the going truly gets tough. While the Orange should, in theory, take care of these teams, the likes of Florida State, Georgia Tech or Boston College can not be taken lightly, and are certainly capable of pulling the slight upset.