Syracuse basketball has become fun again, but are they good?

Syracuse basketball is finally fun to watch in 2020, but the question remains are they good? We explore that question and some here.

Syracuse basketball has been fun. They have been fun because winning is fun. Good teams are fun. So if winning and being good is fun and Syracuse is fun the math points to Syracuse being good.

Against Pittsburgh, an eight-point win doesn’t necessarily feel “good,” at home, but it actually was quite good.

The Orange struggled from deep again making only 5 of their 21 attempts. They also did not get stops as consistently in the second half when the Panthers shot over 50 percent from the field after being held to under 30 percent in the first half. On top of it, all Syracuse’s leading scorer Elijah Hughes was held to only 10 points as well.

Those numbers don’t sound good at all, but that is the point.

Syracuse, just a couple months ago, lose this game; even against a team like Pittsburgh. The example is Oklahoma State. As of the January 27 edition of the NCAA Net Rankings, Oklahoma State is the 76th team, Pittsburgh is 77th. Against Oklahoma State Syracuse went 8-for-31 from three and couldn’t get stops in either half and were blown out.

Examine these two box scores the only difference is who can be relied on with Elijah Hughes. As noted Hughes did not light the world on fire against the Panthers but the ACC’s leading scorer netted 28 against Oklahoma State with only one assist.

The next leading man that night was Joe Girard III with 12. Relying on the freshman as the constant number two option was not an ideal scenario for the Orange, everyone knew that’s a lot to ask for and others would have to step up and share the load.

That is exactly what is happening now.

Girard III is still capable of producing 20 on any given night but he is now just one of several options the Orange has behind Hughes. Buddy Boeheim is not just becoming a capable second option but is blossoming into a reliable one-two punch with Hughes.

During the five-game winning streak, Boeheim has averaged 18.6 points a game himself. This is even with his own 10 point performance at Notre Dame when he couldn’t connect from beyond the three-point line. Boeheim is now up to 16.2 points a game this year which is good for a tie in 5th at the conclusion of Sunday’s games in the ACC.

Boeheim being a legitimate top scorer in the ACC is an incredible leap.

A year ago Boeheim only averaged 17 minutes a game and now that is about identical with his scoring average. Per 100 possession comparison of the two-season for Boeheim is the amount of attempts he is taking from inside the arc and the efficiency he is shooting beyond it.

During his freshman campaign, Boeheim averaged roughly the same amount of three-point attempts, 9.7 in 2018-19 and 10 in 2019-20. Boeheim is hitting a significantly higher percentage, now just over 40 percent on their year. His freshman year he was able to connect 35 percent of the time which is good, but now 40 percent is closing on the elite territory, including the volume he is taking them.

The looks Boeheim is getting have been even better beyond the arc with easier opportunities. Defenses are being forced to honor the drive as Boeheim continues to improve off the bounce.

This has resulted in 2.5 more shots inside the arc per 100 possessions this year. Boeheim is not just settling for midrange shots even though he has been a building threat from there. Boeheim is getting to the basket and finishing amongst bigger defenders or capitalizing when those defenders have been pulled away from the basket on switches or to guard another growing offensive threat, Marek Dolezaj.

The third guy to make an offensive lead lately is Dolezaj. Dolezaj seemed to more of a facilitator on the offensive end of the floor but lately, the junior from Slovakia has been looking to call his own number when opportunity calls for it.

Against the Panthers, Dolezaj only recorded double-digit field goal attempts for the third time on the season. Dolezaj took 11 shot attempts Saturday, scoring 17 points. Dolezaj being able, not only add a scoring element to his game but almost more impressively how efficient he has been.

While the three-point shot has not been there Dolezaj this year, 17 percent on the year, he has almost eliminated it from his current repertoire. Last season Dolezaj averaged almost two three-point attempts a game, this year he is averaging less than half an attempt. This is even with his field goal attempts going up by two a game. Per 100 possessions Dolezaj has more than doubled his two-point field goal attempts and is averaging almost 18 points.

This season Dolezaj has scored 203 points on 128 field goal attempts or 1.59 points per field goal attempt. In comparison, Hughes is a 1.30 and Boeheim is 1.15 points per field goal attempt. Those are both quite good meaning how great Dolezaj has been at picking his opportunities.

To help Dolezaj’s case he has been the best at getting to the line for the Orange. He has taken 99 free throws this year, which leads the Orange. In the past five games, Dolezaj has taken 34 field goals and 28 free throws. Dolezaj is also getting in a rhythm at the line hitting 23 of them at 79 percent clip.

One of the plays in Saturday’s contest against Pittsburgh was with about 11 minutes in the first half. A switch put Pittsburgh freshman 6-foot-5 freshman Gearld Drumgoole Jr. on Dolezaj in the post. Dolezaj made a quick move to get around and shoot over Drumgoole Jr. and connect on the bucket plus the foul. These opportunities have come more frequently as both Bourama Sidibe and Quincy Guerrier have evolved their own roles.

Guerrier and Sidibe are not the same position or type of player but they are needed to combine for at least 40 minutes for the Orange so they don’t have to give any time without their size and interior presence.

On Saturday they did that with 47 combined minutes as coach Jim Boeheim was able to play them together for an added bonus. Together they logged 14 total points on 6-for-9 shooting and 16 rebounds. Sidibe clocking a pair of blocks and each used the most of their fouls with four apiece.

Sidibe and Guerrier won’t be counted on to score nightly but anything they can add in points or rebounding or just as a deterrent inside is big, no pun intended, for the Orange.

Hughes was the constant early, but now Syracuse has multiple pieces coming together to add the support they lacked early. Those pieces are humming now as well-oiled winning machine.

Next: Syracuse Basketball: Top 30 Players in School History

They will have a pair of tests this week going on the road against Clemson before hosting Duke Saturday. Extending the winning streak and preventing any losing skids will prove Syracuse just might be both fun and good.

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