For Syracuse Men’s Basketball, it’s Now or Never

Friday, Feb 26, 2021 at 6:29 pm by Sports Editor

CitrusTV Men’s Basketball Reporter

By Patrick Gunn

Elvis Presley’s classic song, “It’s Now or Never,” features the line “Tomorrow will be too late/It’s now or never/My love won’t wait.”

For Syracuse Men’s Basketball (13-7, 7-6 Atlantic Coast), replace “love” with “NCAA Tournament Hopes” and you’ve got a similar situation. The Orange have fallen out of the top-50 in the NCAA’s NET Rankings and are featured on only five of 110 brackets listed on the 2021 Bracket Matrix. In reality, Monday’s blowout loss to Duke probably bumps them out of the NCAA Tournament picture, and Jim Boeheim knows what the stakes are and where his team stands.

“We scored 71 points, I mean, I don’t know if we’re much better than that, to tell you the truth,” Boeheim said after the loss to Duke.

He added: “You’re not losing by two or three points. If you’re getting beat pretty, pretty good, you’re probably not good enough.”

Syracuse has struggled on defense in all facets this season. Don’t let its 41.7% field goal defense and 31.9% defense from three fool you, SU has gotten torched all season by teams moving the ball efficiently and finding open shooters. Case in point, the Orange have allowed their opponents to have 17.4 assists on 25.5 made field goals per game. Their opponents have assisted 68.3% of its baskets, and Duke assisted on 27 of its 34 field goals on Monday.

It also doesn’t help that Syracuse does not have a true center. Forward Marek Dolezaj has tried all season long to guard inside, but it’s hard to challenge players who are 30-50 pounds heavier in some cases. Offensively, Dolezaj is a mismatch for most centers, but his mobility has not helped him enough defensively at the rim. That’s a big reason why SU has a negative rebounding margin on the season.

Boeheim stresses that the team’s defensive struggles are not Dolezaj’s fault and that wings Alan Griffin and Quincy Guerrier have not played well of late. Indeed, there are moments when the two players are disengaged on defense, and you can never doubt the senior forward Dolezaj for his effort. With that said, Griffin averages 6.3 rebounds per game and Guerrier averages 9.3, while Dolezaj averages 5.3 despite playing more minutes. Again, that’s mainly because Dolezaj is playing out of position, with Bourama Sidibe being injured and Jesse Edwards, John Bol Ajak, and Frank Anselem not ready to play major minutes yet, according to Boeheim.

“He and Jesse, they’re just not ready to play right now,” Boeheim said.

Ajak has seen limited minutes of late, and Edwards did play a fantastic game against Miami, but Boeheim has sticked to his principles and kept Dolezaj in for 36.1 minutes per game while his young centers develop.

The front court depth has hurt Syracuse on defense, but also scheduling because of the pandemic as well. Syracuse has lost two games against Louiville and a home matchup with Florida State, along with a game against Wake Forest, of late. SU was able to make up a home game against Clemson, but Boeheim said that losing those games hurt the team’s resume.

“We could have had Louisville, Florida State, and we had those games at home,” Boeheim said. “And we didn’t get to play them, and those are big games to lose.”

Those missed opportunities hurt, but Syracuse has had its chances and failed, from its blowout loss against Clemson on the road to Monday’s implosion against Duke. At this point, all Syracuse can do is try to win out, starting with its next game at Georgia Tech (12-8, 8-6 ACC). Lose, and, well, “tomorrow may be too late” for SU this season. | @patgunner_