Syracuse, the gang that couldn’t shoot straight
My working theory, and that of a lot of others, was that Syracuse’s offensive swoon that started in the middle of January would resolve itself once James Southerland returned to the lineup. The Orange actually claimed a couple of very good wins in his absence, but the team’s profound lack of shooting and depth on the back line of its zone was being exposed during the six games he missed due to eligibility issues.
Southerland has provided the missing shooting since he returned, having knocked down at least three 3-pointers in each game until this past week’s personal clunker at DePaul, but the Orange offense hasn’t returned. With today’s tepid 61-39 loss at Georgetown as the latest piece of evidence, Syracuse simply is incapable at this point of scoring consistently against NCAA tournament-caliber opposition.
Since Southerland’s return, the Orange have gone 0-5 against projected NCAA teams, with offensive efficiency ratings (in terms of points per possession) of 0.93 (UConn), 0.77 (Georgetown), 1.16 (Marquette), 0.82 (Louisville) and 0.67 Saturday in the rematch with the Hoyas. It doesn’t take advanced quant analysis to see how horrible that run against good teams is. The Orange were at 40 percent or below in *effective* field goal percentage (accounting for the impact of 3-pointers) in all but the Marquette game, as well. They can’t shoot and they can’t score.
Both Michael Carter-Williams and (more disappointingly) Brandon Triche are having terrible jump-shooting seasons. Triche has regressed as a senior and his sophomore cohort doesn’t have a trustworthy shot if you keep him from getting to the basket. They don’t get anything off the bench, either. Freshman Trevor Cooney is the third high-volume Orange perimeter shooter who is under 30 percent from the arc for the season. Syracuse is a very good offensive rebounding team, but they don’t get to the free throw line a ton for a team that grabs so many second chances. More often, they just reload and miss another shot.
This doesn’t seem fixable at this point. The word is clearly out on how to defend the Orange, zone or man, and they don’t seem to have the personnel or the ability to do anything about it. They have lost seven of their last 12 games and look lost against anyone decent. A team that looked like a very legit national title threat two months ago appears headed toward a very mediocre NCAA seed and a season ending with a whimper.