By Michael McAllister
The Orange come into the NCAA tournament as a #1 seed and lofty expectations. However, there have been many analysts and experts questioning this team. If Syracuse is to make a deep run and advance past the sweet 16 for the first time since 2003, they must correct some areas of their game. Outside Shooting
Syracuse shoots under 35% from beyond the arc on the season. That's not a terrible number, but it's not great either. If you take out Waiters ridiculous 7/10 night against Cincinnati in the Big East tournament, the Orange are shooting barely 30% from beyond the arc in the last five games. They had a night earlier at Louisville where they were 1/15 from the outside. They've struggled. In fact, the only Syracuse player shooting over 37% from deep is Michael Carter-Williams who will likely only see limited action going forward. James Southerland, who started the season incredibly hot, has seen his three-point percentage drop to 31% on the year. Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph have both been inconsistent all season.
If Syracuse is to advance, it doesn't have to suddenly become a 50% three-point shooting team. Rather, they must be smart about their shot selection from the outside. It's about not settling for open shots, and only taking them when their wide open. If the shots aren't falling, attack the rim more. Get Southerland and Triche going, and they can open things up. Rebounding
It's been well documented how poor Syracuse has been on the boards this year. We all know that. Fab Melo is their leading rebounder and he's not even grabbing six rebounds per game. Against West Virginia earlier this season, they were out-rebounded by 16. Against Georgetown, it was an 18 rebound margin including giving up 20 offensive boards.
What's strange about this team is some nights they crash the boards very well and you think they've turned a corner. Then they will be dominated on the glass the next game. It's perplexing to say the least. They have size, they have athleticism, yet they don't grab rebounds. Part of that is the nature of the zone as box-out assignments aren't as specific as in a man-to-man scheme. However, there's never an excuse for giving up as many offensive rebounds as they have.
Against Connecticut, one of the better rebounding teams in the Big East, Syracuse won the rebounding battle in two of the three games. So the potential is there. The main point isn't to win the battle on the boards, it's to not be dominated on them. Specifically, on the defensive glass. The more offensive rebounds and second chances the Orange give up, the more likely they are to allow lesser opponents to hang around. Half-Court Offense
When teams have slowed the game down on Syracuse, they have struggled to be efficient in their half-court sets. Too many times the Orange players are stagnant, and force bad shots. They just haven't looked comfortable.
We all know Syracuse is at its best in transition, in the open court. The athleticism and unselfishness of this team allows them to flourish in those situations. But teams will slow the game down and play zone against Syracuse to force them to win in the half-court. Look down the road at a potential matchup with Wisconsin, who plays the most painfully slow paced game of anyone in the country. That could be a problem for Syracuse.
The key in the half-court are the guards. Scoop must get the offense into their sets, keep the ball and players moving. Dion is very good at creating his own shot. When he drives, defenses collapse leaving open players on the outside. If defenses fail to collapse, he can take it right to the rim. That's when the Orange offense is at its best in the half-court. When the guards are in attack mode. There will be at least one game where the Orange must solve that puzzle in order to advance.
Listen, we all know how good this Syracuse team is. Their defense might be the best in the country. They have athleticism and length all over the court. They are deep, talented, and focused. But just like every team in the country, they have flaws. Fixing those flaws could be the key to a special tournament run.