Syracuse Basketball: A New Year is here, but is it the same 'Cuse?

Syracuse basketball put forth a solid non-conference record, but the Orange needs to grab some high-quality wins in ACC play.
Syracuse basketball put forth a solid non-conference record, but the Orange needs to grab some high-quality wins in ACC play. / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

Coming into the New Year, I had high hopes for Syracuse basketball. They finished up non-conference play 9-2, with their only losses coming against Gonzaga and Tennessee.

Wins against Georgetown, LSU, and Oregon showed a team poised for a breakout. The Orange lost their first conference game against Virginia but continued their strong play with a win against a respectable Pittsburgh team.

Truthfully, things appeared to be looking up, especially with key bench pieces like Quadir Copeland and Maliq Brown stepping up. Copeland had a career night against Pitt, scoring a career-high 22 points, while also falling a rebound short of a double-double.

Brown looked the part of Mr. Consistency, scoring 13 or more points in his last three games heading into the game against Duke, while also being the Orange's best threat on the boards.

It's a New Year for Syracuse basketball, but is it the same 'Cuse?

The true test for this young but talented Syracuse squad was January 2 against the detested Duke Blue Devils. In the early going Syracuse kept pace with Duke. Every time Duke tried to pull away, the Orange responded, finishing the 1st half down a mere two points, 35-33.

'Cuse's defense, which flourished in the 1st half, suddenly collapsed in the 2nd half, while the Blue Devils' offense exploded. Led by Jared McCain, Duke shot a perfect 8 for 8 beyond the 3-point arc and finished the half shooting a scorching 75%.

Turnovers were a major issue for the Orange as they finished the night with 17. Duke scored 26 points off turnovers, which helped elevate them to the 86-66 win. It was a tough loss, but not one without some bright spots. Brown finished the night with 26 points, adding to his case of becoming a starter. Superstar guard Judah Mintz tallied 18 points and 6 assists, though did have 5 turnovers.

So where does that leave the Orange? Are they a tournament team, or are they resigned to the status of a March Madness afterthought? Will they continue the trends of the last few years under Jim Boeheim's tenure, or will Adrian Autry regain ground the Orange have lost?

I think conference play is going to be the deciding factor down the stretch. Sure, wins against LSU, Georgetown, and Oregon were huge, but the Orange need a few tier 1 and tier 2 wins to prove themselves capable and worthy of an at-large bid.

Thus far, according to's tier system, the Orange have been blown out in every tier 1 game (0-3), are 2-1 in tier 2 games, and are undefeated in tier 3 and tier 4. A strong resume, no doubt, yet still underwhelming with no signature wins to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack.

It's still early, though, and 'Cuse will have more than enough time to improve their resume in ACC play. As of January 4, the Orange have seven Q1 games left on their schedule and five Q2 games left. Just five of their remaining games are listed in the 3rd and 4th quadrants.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, I'll give you a quick rundown. Each game played in college basketball is tiered based on the quality of the win (or loss). These tiers take into account home-court advantage and the quality of opponents and are many times used to assess a team's resume going into the NCAA tournament.

If the Orange can nab 2 or 3 Q1 wins, have a winning record in Q2, and win out in Q3 and Q4, they have a very real chance for a tournament bid. This would put them roughly in the 20-win range. Anything short of 20 wins would be pushing it, making a realistic bid unlikely.

Realistically, the Orange have to make some changes to get to the 20-24 win range. Firstly, they really have to figure out who they are on offense. The offense runs through Mintz, that much is certain, but beyond that, it changes game to game.

One second the offense is flowing well, the next each possession feels rushed and someone is forced to chuck up an ill-advised shot. The struggle to run the offense efficiently and effectively hurt the Orange significantly against Duke when they rushed the offense and continually turned the ball over.

The dribble-drive offense works well with explosive players like Mintz and J.J. Starling, but the Orange have struggled to shoot, limiting the overall success of the offense. Further, 'Cuse's inside-out game has been limited. Brown has surged as of late, but the Orange don't really have any big playmakers inside the paint who can open up the floor for shooters and the lanes for Mintz and Starling.

Another issue the Orange must address is their ability to play hard, or simply just play well, the entire 40 minutes of the game. It feels like every time they lose to a strong opponent, they hold it close for much of the game, then fall apart as their opponent adjusts. In these games, their opponents typically shoot well against them. Improving their perimeter defense would drastically improve their defense as a whole.

This team has it in them to be successful, and I fully believe that it is a New Year for the Orange.

Next. Syracuse Basketball: 5-star PG, top-25 overall player, setting official visit is huge. Syracuse Basketball: 5-star PG, top-25 overall player, setting official visit is huge. dark