Unless Syracuse basketball shores up defense, no chance at Big Dance

Syracuse basketball has lived on the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble in recent years, although to the team’s credit, when the Orange does get into March Madness, it often does some damage.

But first, the ‘Cuse has to earn a berth. I hate to start off 2022 with a heap of pessimism, but the Syracuse basketball defense is really struggling, and the Orange needs a lot of quality wins to boost its potential post-season resume.

Yet the ‘Cuse, to date in the 2021-22 campaign, hasn’t shown the capacity to consistently play even an average level of defense. I’m not hating on my beloved boys in Orange, however, the reality is reality.

What’s more, as Syracuse basketball arrives at Atlantic Coast Conference competition in earnest, this conference isn’t looking all that great, which to me suggests that even if the ‘Cuse gets on a roll, it won’t be able to notch a sizable number of impressive triumphs.

Syracuse basketball has two pivotal ACC clashes coming up.

There have been signs here and there reflecting that, perhaps, the Orange zone defense was improving. The ‘Cuse only allowed 60 points and 67 points, respectively, to Florida State on the road and to Villanova in New York City.

More recently, Syracuse basketball crushed Brown and then held another Ivy League member, Cornell, way under its scoring average in 2021-22.

This past Saturday, though, as we all embarked on a new year, the Orange gave up 41 points in the second half to Virginia in a 74-69 setback on the Hill.

Losing to the Cavaliers isn’t an awful thing. UVA might not be terrific at this juncture in 2021-22, but Virginia is still a strong program. However, entering this ACC battle, the Cavaliers were averaging barely above 60 points per encounter on offense.

And Syracuse basketball (7-6, 1-1) put forth a performance on defense in which UVA connected on 52.6 percent from the field, according to ESPN statistics. The Cavaliers also scored significantly more in this win than they have, on average, produced in 2021-22.

That’s concerning to me as it pertains to the ‘Cuse. It was encouraging that Syracuse basketball held its own on the glass versus Virginia, but through 13 games, the Orange defense is allowing a sub-par 75.6 points per affair.

We recently examined which ‘Cuse squads have allowed the most points in a single season during head coach Jim Boeheim’s tenure, and unfortunately the 2021-22 Orange is not faring so well from a historical perspective.

In the coming days, Syracuse basketball travels to red-hot Miami and then to Wake Forest. Both the Hurricanes and the Demon Deacons have proven pleasant surprises in the ACC at this juncture.

If the ‘Cuse doesn’t make progress on defense – and fast – then I could foresee Syracuse basketball dropping each of these road contests, falling to 1-3 in conference play and seeing its overall record dip below the .500 mark.

The 2022 Big Dance, already a long shot, would then seem to be pretty much out of the question for the Orange unless the team goes on a massive success streak.