Syracuse offers little reason to think it can turn its season around

first_img Published on January 22, 2017 at 11:31 pm SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The scene inside Syracuse’s locker room was one that’s played out many times already this season.Team managers zipped up equipment bags as players quietly shuffled in and out, providing the only steady noise in a silent room. Eventually players spoke to reporters in hushed tones, trying to conjure reasons for another convincing loss in a season checkered with them.Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim lamented SU’s defense, while his team praised Notre Dame’s talent and acknowledged they played a step behind in the 18-point loss on Saturday. But really, these explanations have threaded their way through the entire season. Against North Carolina. Against Boston College. Against St. John’s.The same reasons continue to surface, and so does the same result.“We know (this season is) a disappointment,” point guard Frank Howard said. “We’re not going to sit here and act like it’s something that it’s not.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textWith a winless record outside the Carrier Dome and a bruising 8-5 non-conference record, pretending would be difficult. Syracuse’s (11-9, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) season has been marred by inconsistency, and the outlook is grim near the midway point of conference play. SU is more than one marquee win away from the NCAA Tournament conversation, but it had two shots at one this week against No. 9 UNC and No. 15 Notre Dame.The results can be summed up in one number: 49. That’s how many combined seconds the Orange led against the Tar Heels and Fighting Irish. For the remaining 79 minutes and 11 seconds, Syracuse exhibited the clumsy and inconsistent traits that have left little hope for change in the remaining 11 regular season games.“There’s still time to turn it around,” freshman Tyus Battle said. “We know what we’re capable of.”In both the UNC and UND games, SU scored on its first possession and never held an advantage on the scoreboard afterward. Both games featured brief runs where SU cut the deficit to single digits, or even one possession, but then faded away just as quickly. Both games illustrated that the Orange is far from matching up evenly with the ACC’s best, let alone pulling off an upset.For 41 years, Boeheim’s teams have all finished with winning records and qualified for the NCAA Tournament or NIT (when allowed). This season could very well be one of firsts.If Syracuse does fail to make a postseason tournament, it won’t be for lack of opportunity. Six ACC teams currently rank in the Top 25 and SU still has five games remaining against that bunch. Two already flew by in the past week. Then there’s Clemson and Wake Forest, ranked as the 34th and 36th best teams, per Kenpom.com. That offers the Orange two more chances for quality wins, rounding out a list of games against No. 10 Florida State, No. 12 Louisville (home and away), No. 16 Virginia and No. 18 Duke.“We’ve still got a lot of big games,” freshman Taurean Thompson said, “so I’m just looking forward. What’s in the past is in the past.”But the conversation about upcoming chances has to ground itself on what we know about the opportunities Syracuse has already had. In addition to Notre Dame and North Carolina, SU’s already lost handily to presently ranked Wisconsin and South Carolina, not to mention losses against less heralded teams like St. John’s and Connecticut.Weaknesses have appeared in nearly every facet of SU’s game. Each contest seems to highlight a different need of improvement, including overall defense, point guard turnovers, offensive and defensive rebounding, 3-point defense, reliance on Tyler Lydon and more.It seems nothing can click at the same time, and the Orange is getting consistently burned for it. Every team has its weaknesses, but it’s increasingly apparent that Syracuse has too many.“Look at last year,” Thompson said when asked if Syracuse could turn its season around. “I think they were 9-9 in conference. So that’s my motivation.“…Last year they did it. So why can’t we?”Thompson’s sentiment is likely one shared by the optimistic slice of SU’s fan base. Last year’s team endured its fair bit of criticism and doubt, only to parade through March and land in the Final Four. But the comparison isn’t completely right.Last year SU featured a reliable nucleus of Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson and Lydon coming off the bench. This year it’s been Lydon paired with a revolving door of cast members, most of which have proven to be one-way players.Thompson and Tyler Roberson provide the ideal example. The 6-foot-11 freshman likes to shoot and has been an offensive boost in the post, but poor defense has plagued him all year. Conversely, Roberson was removed from the starting lineup largely because of his offensive inefficiencies while still providing steady defense.Then there’s White, who’s scored more than anyone on the team but has become too one-dimensional at times with his 3-point shooting. Topping it off is a tug-of-war between Howard and John Gillon at point guard, each appearing frustrated at times with Boeheim’s short leash. As a group, the mixed and matched lineups have struggled to play together.“You want to win, and you don’t take losing lightly,” White said, “but I use the word disappointed lightly.“Because usually when you’re disappointed (and it’s) within your control, you go out and do something about it.”So far, Syracuse hasn’t. There are few indications, if any, that it will.Connor Grossman is a senior staff writer at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @connorgrossman. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more