Syracuse Basketball: Virginia could prove to be a turning point in 2020

Syracuse basketball is in the midst of their worst season in quite some time.  However, there is still some hope, and it starts this Saturday.

We’ve made it to the half-way point in the 2019-20 college basketball season! For Syracuse basketball, there have been some ups and downs – albeit more downs – during the season.

For the moment, the Orange do boast an above .500 record (albeit barely), something they’ve accomplished for 49 years straight. Injuries, late-game calls, and everything in between have halted the ‘Cuse from being able to put their name in NCAA Tournament talks. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, but the Orange need to act quick.

At 8-7, Syracuse has done some things well.

An offense that struggled during some of the opening games has caught fire recently, scoring 70 points or more in six of the last seven games. The defense has been iffy all season but did play well the last time out against Virginia Tech, allowing just 67 points to the Hokies. Unfortunately for the Orange, that was the one game of those past seven that they didn’t put up at least 70, ultimately losing at home, 67-63.

Coming into the season, everyone expected the narrative surrounding Orange basketball to be about young players forced to play big roles. However, sophomore Buddy Boeheim, and freshman Joe Girard III, have complimented junior Elijah Hughes very nicely, as the trio average a few points shy of 50 per night, with Boeheim and Girard combining for over 27.

The post-play has even improved as well, with Marek Dolezaj averaging close to 10 points per contest, and Bourama Sidibe ripping down almost eight rebounds per game.

The main downfall of this season, however, has been injuries.

The five players mentioned above, plus freshman Quincy Guerrier, are the only Orange players who have appeared in all 15 games this season.

Jesse Edwards, Brycen Goodine, and Howard Washington have all been fighting nagging injuries, while Robert Braswell and Jalen Carey are sidelined for the remainder of the season.

What once started as a promising deep, young team, has now been reduced to a six-man rotation fighting mentally to not check out. In each of the past two games, three Syracuse players were forced to play all 40 minutes, as the bench has been practically cut to walk-ons.

The one plus (and negative) for Syracuse, has been the way the season has panned out as a whole for the rest of the country. The parity in college basketball may be the best it’s been in well over a decade, as the last team receiving votes in the AP Poll could not only beat whoever is ranked first but probably wouldn’t be that far off in the Vegas line as well.

Since there is parity, it gives the Orange a chance to stay in the mix longer. An 8-7 record during past years, when the Virginia’s, Duke’s, and Villanova’s were dominating the rest, would’ve stood no chance come March. However, with three-loss teams still ranked inside the top-10 this late into the season, a seven loss team isn’t too far off from getting back to a relative state.

On the flip side, Syracuse needs to act quick. Because the top teams can’t seem to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, mid-level teams are all earning respectable wins. ‘Cuse has had chances but has yet to pick up a really good quality win on their schedule, pitting them towards the bottom in this conversation.

And as North Carolina continues to struggle, it really doesn’t leave the Orange with too many more opportunities, as that game has gone from a potential quality win to just an average conference victory.

The upcoming game against Virginia can change that conversation though.

The Orange are currently on a tough two-game losing streak, where they held the lead at key moments during the second half, but went through scoring droughts and caught some bad luck from the officials, en route to a pair of losses. Now, with a chance to even the season series and pick up an incredible win against the 18th ranked Virginia Cavaliers, the Orange must respond.

Syracuse was embarrassed at home the first time these two met, which happened to be the first game of the season. The Orange were held to just 34 points from the field, shooting less than 25% from the floor.

However, since then, Hughes has stepped up and become one of the top scorers in the conference, while Buddy and Girard seem to have found a groove. Virginia lacks a dominant post presence as well, which would allow Dolezaj, Guerrier, and Sidibe to continue their nice play as of late, and try to knock off the Cavaliers.

If Syracuse is going to pull off this upset, they’re going to need to score the ball. Virginia only put up 48 during that first contest, as their offense didn’t look too hot either, but 34 is just plain dismal. A few threes here and there can help the ‘Cuse stay locked in this second installment, and potentially help the Orange to rise above to 9-7.

While a win here certainly wouldn’t lock the Orange into an NCAA Tournament berth, it would put them at 9-7 (2-3), with one really good win. This would allow for some breathing room and potentially lead to some momentum, as one win like this may be all the team needs to turn things around.

Next: Syracuse Basketball: Top 30 Players in School History

While a loss doesn’t necessarily knock them out, an 8-8 (1-4) record certainly doesn’t show great odds and could put head coach Jim Boeheim on the path to his first losing season on the hill in history.

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