Versatility, Adaptability Key Successful “Revenge Tour” for Syracuse

Saturday, Jan 25, 2020 at 10:12 am by Sports Editor

By JD Raucci

Syracuse Men’s Basketball Beat Reporter

Just about two weeks ago, the Syracuse basketball season was hanging on by a thread. The Orange were just 8-7 and were 1-3 in ACC play, including 0-3 at home in conference play with losses to Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame on its ledger.

It didn’t look like things were going to get any easier, either. SU was gearing up for its second matchup of the season with the defending champion Cavaliers. Even more, the Orange had to go on the road and try to beat UVA in Charlottesville, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since 2007.

The game was essentially a must-win that not a lot of people gave the ‘Cuse much of a chance to win. It’s funny how things change in a matter of two weeks, though. Isn’t it?

Jim Boeheim and company pulled off a stunning upset of the then-No. 18 team in the country and have since rattled off another three wins in a row, including an 84-82 win over Notre Dame on Wednesday night. In fact, during its first four-game ACC winning streak since the 2016-17 season, Syracuse has avenged each of its three home ACC losses from earlier in the season.

While simply pulling off these wins – all of which are Quadrant I victories – is an impressive feat in and of itself (SU has improved from 84th in NET Rating to 69th during the stretch), what might
be even more impressive is the way that the Orange are winning these games.

For a large part of the beginning of the season, the only way SU was having any kind of success was living and dying by the three-pointer, and relying on Elijah Hughes to provide pretty much all of
the clutch offense for the team.

Both of those factors have still played a significant role in the Orange’s successful revenge tour. During the win streak, SU is shooting 35% from deep, and Hughes is averaging 20 points per, but they haven’t had to rely entirely on him to pick up the wins. They’re finding unique and different ways to win on a game-to-game basis. They are showing the ability to adapt to the situation presented to them.

Let’s take the Virginia win as an example. For much of the year, SU has struggled mightily on defense. But, when faced with the possibility of their season slipping away from them, the Orange went out and put together one of its best defensive performances of the season, holding the Cavaliers to just 55 points on 31% shooting.

The UVA game was also the first time the Orange showed that they could win a close game. They executed down the stretch instead of folding after building leads as they did in both home losses to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.

In subsequent wins over Boston College and Virginia Tech, SU found a new way to flip the script from its early-season performances, proving that they could win games without Elijah Hughes being the star of the show. Both contests saw Buddy Boeheim dominate to the tune of 24 points per game on 51% shooting, including 45% from beyond the three-point line. Even Buddy’s individual outings showed signs of improved versatility and adaptability as the coach’s son flashed the ability to be more than just a sharpshooter. He has added a lethal fadeaway free-throw line jumper and a quality finishing touch around the rim to fill out his game.

“I thought I played really well,” Buddy said after the Boston College win, “I started off poorly, wasn’t making my shots, wasn’t being aggressive, and I had a couple turnovers. But I really turned it around, getting to the rim, making pullups. I thought I made a couple turnarounds. That’s something I’ve been working on a lot.”

And it’s not just Buddy who’s noticing his impressive stretch.

“He’s coming into his own as that prolific kind of guy,” Elijah Hughes said after the Virginia Tech win, “He can get in the lane. He can get to the foul line. He even got an offensive rebound and got to the foul line. I’ve never seen Buddy do that, but it was really big for us.”

Game one of the winning streak saw SU win a grind-it-out defensive battle while games two and three became the Buddy Boeheim show. That brings us to game four, the most recent win over Notre Dame on Wednesday night in South Bend.

To be quite honest, the beginning of this game was a bit of a turn back to what SU had looked like early in the season. They shot the ball extremely well from the outside in the first half (46.7%), but struggled to defend Notre Dame big man John Mooney on the interior (13 points). Also, they were led by an early burst from star Elijah Hughes (15 first-half points).

Knowing that you might ask how that Notre Dame win fits into the larger theme of the Orange becoming more versatile and adapting at a higher level during this four-game win streak. That’s
where the second half of the game against the Irish comes into play.

After coming out scorching in the first half, Syracuse went ice cold from deep in the second and hit just one of its 11 shots from beyond the arc. The Orange still couldn’t get a stop on the defensive end, so they had to find a way to keep pace with Notre Dame. They did that by doing something they’ve struggled with not only this year but over the past few seasons.

Syracuse pounded the ball inside on the offensive end and was helped along by a few impressive performances from Bourama Sidibe (12 points, 6-6 FG), Quincy Guerrier (nine points, five rebounds) and Marek Dolezaj (nine points, six rebounds, three assists). In total, the Orange notched 36 points in the paint on the night, tied for the second most interior points they’ve scored this season (36 against Boston College, 40 against Bucknell).

Once again, that’s a complete change of pace from what Syracuse typically does on the offensive end. SU is taking almost 46% of its shots from beyond the three-point line this season, and Jim Boeheim certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of it, especially from Sidibe.

“He was good tonight,” Boeheim said, “He found his places, found his spots. Marek was looking for him. People are not guarding him very much. They’re leaving him. He’s got to find those spaces and get rebounds. If he can get us some points like he did tonight, that’s big.”

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned about the 2019-2020 Syracuse basketball team over the last two weeks or so, it’s never to count them out. For a long time, the Orange looked like a flat, one-dimensional team that’s best chance at a postseason berth would be the NIT.

With this four-game winning streak, the outlook has changed a bit for SU. A trip to the NCAA Tournament is far from a guarantee as the schedule stiffens. Still, if the Orange can continue to adapt to the game at hand and find ways to be a versatile basketball team that can win in multiple ways, the Jim Boeheim and company may have something fun on their hands. | @JDRaucci