The Syracuse Orange are at the end of the road.
With Syracuse’s exodus to the ACC next season, the loss also marked the end of Georgetown (21-4, 11-3 Big East) traveling to Syracuse as a Big East rival.
Most importantly, however, the loss marked the end of Syracuse’s place on the perch of the Big East Conference.
The win comes 33 years after former Georgetown coach John Thompson lit the powder keg that is the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry with his announcement that “Manley Field house is officially closed,” after winning the last game to be played at the then-Orangemen’s home and halting their 57-game home winning streak.
The number 33 is also significant is it was the number of points scored by Hoyas forward Otto Porter, which equaled the combined output of the Orange starters.
Thompson’s son, and current Georgetown coach, John Thompson III, did his dad proud with a suffocating defense and a well-prepared game plan that saw his players weave in and out of the Syracuse zone with surgical precision.
All is not lost for Syracuse (22-5, 10-4), as it still controls its own destiny and can earn a share of the regular Big East crown by winning its final four games.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that, including tonight’s game at No. 17 Marquette, three of the Orange’s final four games are against ranked opponents.
After Marquette, Syracuse goes back home to face No. 10 Louisville and DePaul, then goes back on the road to close out the season at the aforementioned Georgetown.
If the Syracuse team shows up for each of these games that surged to a comeback win against then-No. 1 Louisville on January 19, the Orange could grab the division lead.
If, however, we see the Syracuse team that showed up against Georgetown, turning the ball over 16 times and shooting only 34 percent from the field, the Orange might not win any of the four.
Curing Syracuse’s ills starts with a glaring problem that revealed itself once again this season in the game against Georgetown.
This team can’t shoot threes.
With 12:09 left in the first half, James Southerland, the Orange’s three-point specialist, spotted up from about eight feet behind the arc and nailed a shot that put Syracuse up 12-4.
That shot proved to be too good, too early as Southerland fired up four more shots from way behind the arc, missing all four. He also missed a turn-around jumper in the middle of the key that could have been kicked out for an open shot.
Southerland would later redeem himself, hitting a three-point shot that capped an eight-point run to put the Orange ahead 23-21 at the half, but the damage was done. The Orange missed 13 three-point shots in the first half, many before the offense was fully set, causing short possessions and long rebounds that led to transition baskets.
The Orange shot 4-of-20 from behind the arc, but this isn’t anything new. Of the Orange players who have attempted more than 30 three-point shots on the season, only C.J. Fair and Southerland have respectable percentages, at 41.7 and 39.2 respectively.
Brandon Triche, Michael Carter-Williams and Trevor Cooney all shoot below 30 percent from beyond the arc.
To fix this, Syracuse needs to work to its strengths, which are its length and athleticism. Getting into a three-point contest only shows who is shooting better from three. Spotting up early in a possession and missing shots gives the defense a break and keeps the Orange from getting into an offensive rhythm.
Shooting too many threes also keeps the ball out of Carter-Williams’ hands. Carter-Williams is the No. 2 assist man in the NCAA with eight per game; at 6’6” he is taller than every point guard he faces and can give the ball to slashers at will.
Another problem the Orange are facing is allowing three-point shooters to get open looks, but not from the traditional sense.
Normally, to create open looks at the basket against the Syracuse zone, opponents must work the ball inside-out. This means placing a player in the key with his back to the basket to force the Orange to collapse their defenders, allowing for outlet passes if the forwards don’t come up from the baseline to help.
Georgetown filled the gaps of the zone but got most of its looks through passing the ball around the outside of the zone and through offensive rebounds that were kicked out to open shooters. Only Porter was successful at converting his long-range bombs consistently; the Orange would have been beat a lot worse, as Merkel Starks made only one of his eight three-point attempts.
A portion of the zone’s problems come from Rakeem Christmas, who was out of position all afternoon. When one piece of the zone is off, the whole becomes weak and players have to take up more of the court to compensate. This is not indicative of Christmas, but it is concerning.
Lastly, Syracuse is going to have to get its bench more involved in the offensive process. Jerami Grant moved into the starting lineup after DaJuan Coleman underwent knee surgery, leaving Southerland, Cooney and Keita as the only scholarship players left on the bench.
Keita logged 12 minutes, but attempted only one shot. Cooney played only four minutes and attempted two shots. Neither player scored. If not for Keita’s three rebounds and one blocked shot, neither would have been noticeable on the court.
Syracuse has some issues to clean up, but they aren’t unfixable. Practice can make perfect, or in the Orange’s situation, practice can make good enough to win.
For the Orange’s sake, Sunday’s practice better have been a barn burner.
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