Syracuse basketball is playing its best ball of the season – let’s keep that going

As 'Cuse has won three straight, Syracuse basketball is playing its best ball of the season, at just the right time.
As 'Cuse has won three straight, Syracuse basketball is playing its best ball of the season, at just the right time. / Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2023-24 regular season winds down, Syracuse basketball is arguably playing its best ball of the current campaign, and exactly when it needs to the most.

The Orange (19-10, 10-8 in the ACC) defeated Virginia Tech this past Tuesday night by 13 points in the home regular-season finale for the ‘Cuse.

Now Syracuse basketball, with two games remaining before the upcoming ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C., will travel to Louisville on Saturday night and then Clemson on Tuesday evening.

I’ve said it ad nauseum of late – should the Orange win both of those road affairs and move to 21-10 overall and 12-8 in conference competition, it will have put itself in a solid position to hear its name called on Selection Sunday for the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

More than wins and losses, though, what’s encouraging from my perspective is that the ‘Cuse, with its relatively young 2023-24 roster consisting primarily of sophomores, seems to be coming together at precisely the right time.

The Orange isn’t perfect. Its post-season resume is good, but not great. Its NCAA NET ranking, to me, is absurdly low. But in any event, you want to be playing at your highest level of the season heading into March, and that’s where the ‘Cuse appears to reside.

Syracuse basketball, by and large, is competing as a cohesive unit.

The Orange’s strengths and weaknesses aren’t overly complicated. On the positive side, the ‘Cuse is an ultra-athletic squad that thrives in turning its foes over and then getting easy buckets out in transition.

The team’s defense, whether in man-to-man or zone, isn’t spectacular, but it’s not awful, either. Rebounding is often a concern.

So, too, is manufacturing points in half-court offensive sets. The Orange, additionally, isn’t a great shooting team, whether from the field as a whole or beyond the arc.

In humble opinion, the biggest thing for the ‘Cuse is to play at a consistent level on both ends of the floor, and for both halves of a game.

In recent games, Syracuse basketball has jumped out to large leads, only to see its opponents go on big runs. That being said, I acknowledge that the sport of college basketball is all about runs for either group.

There have also been occasions where the Orange has started out slow, dug itself a sizable hole, and struggled to come back and prevail.

But to reiterate, how the ‘Cuse has performed of late is encouraging. Syracuse basketball has won three straight and five of seven.

The recent road loss to Georgia Tech was bad. Falling at home to Clemson when the game was tied late proved unfortunate. Yet the Orange also beat top-10 North Carolina on the Hill, along with N.C. State on the road. The most recent result, that triumph over the Hokies at the JMA Wireless Dome, was solid.

From an efficiency standpoint, per KenPom, the ‘Cuse lately has seen its adjusted offensive efficiency improve, while its adjusted defensive efficiency has declined.

But over this most recent stretch, Syracuse basketball has held its own on the glass in various contests. The Orange has shot the ball well in several games, while also owning advantages in fast-break points and points off turnovers, two key areas for SU.

In those five most recent victories, Syracuse basketball has scored at least 84 points every time out. Since the ‘Cuse is inconsistent with its defensive performances, it likely must “out-score” its opponents, so to speak, and dropping 84-plus points per meeting is good.

Individually speaking, sophomore point guard Judah Mintz was fabulous against Virginia Tech. Sophomore guard J.J. Starling has come on strong for a while now.

Sophomore big man Maliq Brown is Mr. Reliable. Sophomore forward Chris Bell wasn’t great versus the Hokies, but he’s had multiple other stellar outputs shooting from deep.

Over his last two games, sophomore wing Justin Taylor has proven solid. Sophomore wing Quadir Copeland often stuffs the stat sheet.

It’s great that sophomore center Peter Carey is back after missing a few contests due to being in concussion protocol, as he provides important front-court depth.

Redshirt sophomore guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. provided a spark off the bench last Tuesday evening in the win over Virginia Tech.

Look, if Syracuse basketball gets hammered on the glass or doesn’t shoot well, it’s a problem. But the Orange is gelling at a perfect time, and if the ‘Cuse can land an invite to this spring’s Big Dance, it would be a dangerous out.

I say this because Syracuse basketball has terrific guards, an excellent long-range shooter, and an ability to create tons of turnovers. Brown needs to stay out of foul trouble, but I for one wouldn’t want to be matched up with a potentially double-digit-seeded Orange in March Madness.

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