Syracuse Basketball: Factors That Will Make or Break the Orange in 2014-15

Don’t look now, but the Syracuse basketball season is right around the corner. According to power forward Chris McCullough, the team will get back to work Friday.

There are several questions surrounding this year’s Orange team that will determine how far the team goes. If the freshmen adjust quickly, the team has the potential to make some noise in the ACC. Let’s take a look at a few of the factors that will make or break the Orange this season.


The Offense

This is where it will all start and end for the Orange. If they can muster more than, say, 65 points, they will give themselves a good chance to win. They averaged 68 a game last year, but in their losses they were putting up numbers like 59, 56 and 53.

The uncertainly this year, though, lies in whom the points will come from. Trevor Cooney returns as the only player who averaged double figures last year. After Cooney, Rakeem Christmas is the highest returning scorer at 5.8 points a game.

We still don’t know what to expect from Cooney after he fell off during the second half of last season. If his shot is falling, it will be a big boost to the offense. He also needs to mix in an off-the-dribble game, since opponents will be loading up on the perimeter to shut him down.

Players like Michael Gbinije, Tyler Roberson, Ron Patterson and B.J. Johnson will also need to play a bigger role this year. Except Gbinije, the rest of that crew didn’t see much of the floor last year, so we don’t know what they will provide.

And then there’s the freshmen. Both Kaleb Joseph and McCullough have a lot of upside, but you never know how fast new players will acclimate. They both project to be starters, so they will have a big role early on.

The defense is always going to be there for the Orange. Jim Boeheim has mastered teaching his system, and with an experienced anchor in Christmas, the 2-3 zone should be able to keep teams in check. It will just be a matter of the Orange offense beating the opponent’s defense.


The Schedule

Like last year, Syracuse has another tough slate of games ahead of them.

Before January, trips to Michigan and Villanova await as well as a home tilt with St. John’s. When the calendar turns, the ACC road will travel through North Carolina, Duke, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Syracuse will also host Duke, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Virginia.

The trip to Michigan, in particular, is dangerous for the Orange. Not only is the Crisler Center a tough venue, but the Wolverines are custom-built to beat Syracuse. Michigan likes to bomb it from deep, and it can hit it regularly.

As a team, Michigan was seventh in the country from three last year. Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. both hit better than 40 percent, and Spike Albrecht was at a respectable 38.7 percent. If the Wolverines make it rain in Ann Arbor, Syracuse will leave with a loss.

The schedule makers again didn’t do Syracuse any favors. If the Orange struggle to find their offensive footing, it could be a long and tough road to March.


The Pace

We already discussed how the Orange offense is a big question mark right now. One way they can get easier shots is to run off of turnovers.

Boeheim did tell Donna Ditota of that the Orange were “going to try to push it more.” Boeheim also said a lot of it depends on how fast Joseph matures. If he can lead the break without making too many mistakes, the Orange can have a potent transition game.

With Christmas and McCullough cleaning the glass, Cooney spotting up on the perimeter and Roberson and/or Gbinije filling the lanes on the wing, Joseph will have plenty of options to choose from. Joseph himself can also be dangerous on the break, as his quickness and athleticism can be too much for a defender to handle if he catches one backpedaling.

The Orange need all the help they can get on offense. If they can create some easy opportunities in transition, it will help immensely.

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Durant signs another deal, this time Orange Leaf (Yahoo Sports)

Thunder forward Kevin Durant said Thursday that he has signed a partnership deal with Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt. Durant will own an undisclosed percentage of the company, his first such partnership since he joined the Roc Nation agency founded by Jay-Z last year. Orange Leaf, based in Oklahoma City, has 321 stores in 40 states, four in Australia and 69 under construction. Reese Travis, CEO of Orange Leaf, thought he was on the right track when he chose to pursue Durant as the company’s first brand ambassador.

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Durant signs another deal, this time Orange Leaf

Durant signs with Orange Leaf, cashes in on famous MVP speech during busy summer



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Syracuse Basketball: Ranking the 5 Greatest Shot-Blockers in Orange History

One of the key components to Syracuse’s 2-3 zone is the center. The middle man is the captain of the defense, calling out rotations and making sure the other players are in position and the defense works as a unit.

Perhaps the main job of an Orange center is to protect the rim. Syracuse teams, especially lately, have relied on their defense to shut the opponents’ offense down. It’s easier to do that when you have someone erasing shots inside.

Let’s take a look back at some of Syracuse’s best shot-blockers. We’ll count down the top five based on statistical output across a career as well as season-by-season accomplishments.


All stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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Syracuse Basketball: The Truth About the 2014 Syracuse Orange

The No. 7 Syracuse Orange put a little air in its flat tire with a Sunday afternoon dismantling of the Florida State Seminoles, 74-58.

Syracuse (27-4, 14-4 ACC) used its superior athleticism to outrebound Florida State (18-12, 9-9) by a 43-24 margin and close out the regular season with a road win in an attempt to make losing four of its last five games a distant memory.

The Orange will enter the ACC tournament as a No. 2 seed, which means they will receive a double bye and play their next game on Friday, Mar. 14, in Greensboro, N.C.

After looking like a lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a 25-0 start, the then-No. 1 Orange faltered with losses to Boston College and Duke, squeaked by Maryland and then fell to Virginia and Georgia Tech.

In what could be called an offensive breakthrough for Syracuse, the Orange scored over 70 points for only the second time since Jan. 7 and are hopeful that this game indicates a righting of the ship.

Three weeks ago, the Florida State game looked like a blip on the radar on the way to an Orange ACC title, but then Syracuse lost its scoring touch and a little of its magic. In victories against the likes of Duke, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State, the Orange kept their cool under pressure and pulled away with close and sometimes miraculous wins.

Over the past two weeks, the Orange used the final minutes of their games to erase the good work of the previous three months of games.

That luck changed at the 11:27 mark of the second half on Sunday. Florida State brought the Seminoles to within one point off an Okaro White jumper and made the score 47-46. That sinking feeling of the Orange letting another inferior opponent stay close began to creep in, but two straight three-pointers by Trevor Cooney put Syracuse up seven to keep the game at a safe distance.

This begs the question: Which is the real Syracuse? Is it the team that handed Villanova its first loss on Dec. 28? Is it the team that beat Duke in an instant classic in overtime at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 1?

Or is it the team that crumbled when Virginia stepped on the gas just over a week ago?

There is no easy answer, but the facts say the Orange are both.

With a healthy Jerami Grant, a Trevor Cooney who is making his threes and a team that plays inspired defense, Syracuse can play with any team in the country.

But when Cooney’s shots aren’t falling and Tyler Ennis makes ill-advised passes and the defense is out of position, among other things, Syracuse can be had teams that are not even on the same level.

This is the problem with Syracuse: It too often plays to the level of its opponent. The Orange expect to win every time and allow teams to dictate pace and slow down the game. This allows opponents to play the percentages with Syracuse and helps hot-shooting teams stay close.

The Orange are the same team that they were when they started the season 25-0 and they’re the same team that lost to Boston College. Some nights they have it and some nights they don’t.

Syracuse needs success in a handful of areas of their game to be victorious. They need their perimeter shooting to fall to keep defenders honest and keep the lanes free of traffic. They have to rebound well. They have to stay out of foul trouble and, most importantly, they have to remain healthy.

On the other side of the coin, Syracuse has immense talent and also needs a handful of areas of their game to go wrong in order to lose games. Syracuse can survive bad shooting nights because their defense is excellent. They can survive foul trouble even with an inexperienced bench because they have the length and ability to fill holes when need be.

Above all, Syracuse can rely on its hot hand. When Fair gets going, he gets fed the ball. When Cooney and Ennis are hot, they make their impact felt often. And when shots aren’t falling from anyone, Grant can come up with impossible putbacks.

The point is that every one of those four players can and has put the team on his shoulders. Syracuse is not a scoring juggernaut, but for the most part, it hasn’t had to be. It has only needed to be opportunistic, which is exactly the ability of the team. None are superstars every night, but each can star when the moment comes.

It would be easy to write that we will find out what type of team Syracuse is when it starts the ACC tournament, but that would be lazy. The Orange will play a 7 p.m. game against North Carolina State, Miami or Virginia Tech on Mar. 14. Whether the Orange win or lose, we already know everything we need to know.

Back in November, I predicted this team of youth and talent either had the ability to get right back to the Final Four or the ability to get bounced around and end up in the NIT.

A very unsatisfying but optimistic look at the season, I know, but that is exactly the Orange of 2014.

Unsatisfying, yet optimistic.


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Syracuse Basketball: The 5 Most Impressive Orange in 2013-14 Regular Season

The Syracuse basketball team is hurting. Losers of four out of five, the Orange (26-4, 13-4 ACC) are watching themselves slide further away from the top line in the NCAA tournament bracket.

The latest loss, at home to Georgia Tech, was especially painful. It was Senior Day for C.J. Fair and Baye Keita, and it was an opportunity to get a much-needed easy win over an underachieving team.

But it was anything but an easy game. Jerami Grant sat out, and the Orange missed his activity inside and his ability to score.

But Syracuse has bigger fish to fry in the postseason, so it’s better to make sure Grant is 100 percent for the stretch run.

If you told Syracuse fans at the beginning of the season the team would be 26-4 while starting a freshman point guard and a shooting guard who barely played last year, they would have been ecstatic. But as the season progressed and this team showed how good it could be, the record now seems a little disappointing.

But these players have still been turning in impressive performances all season, despite the recent struggles. Let’s have a look at the five most impressive Orange players from the regular season. We’ll dig deeper than just statistical output and look at how players responded to adversity and how they fit in to their roles.

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Syracuse Basketball: Orange Eerily Similar to Last Season, Which Might Be Good

The Syracuse Orange lost four of their last five games with postseason tournaments just around the corner.

In those five games, the Orange only managed 57.4 points per game. Their once-flashy offense, fueled by transition baskets, disappeared, and in its place, a half-court offense that struggles to get good looks at the basket.

I am not referring to this season’s Syracuse team, but last season’s team. That team, led by seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland and sophomore/NBA rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams, started the season 18-1, highlighted by a road win against then-No. 1 Louisville, which went on to win the national championship.

That team, after beating Louisville, went 6-7 the rest of its final Big East regular season, finalized by a 61-39 tail whipping on the road against its greatest rival, Georgetown, and entered its final Big East tournament with its tail between its legs.

That team decided that it wouldn’t get pushed around anymore.

From then on, it stopped worrying about scoring and remembered its comfort zone, rather its 2-3 zone. After beating Seton Hall and Pittsburgh, the Orange exacted revenge upon Georgetown with a 58-55 overtime win.

Syracuse, in its fourth game in four days, would face off against Louisville in the Big East final. The Orange had their way with the Cardinals during the first half and led 35-22, but they weren’t done there.

Four minutes and 10 seconds into the second half, the Orange raced out to a 45-29 lead and looked poised to win their sixth and final big East tournament title.

As luck would have it, the game imitated the season, and what looked to be a fantastic start turned into a lackluster finish with the Orange giving up a 27-3 run and losing the game 78-61. The Orange ran out of gas while the Louisville full-court press caused confusion. Syracuse’s shots ceased finding the basket, and Louisville couldn’t miss.

The loss, however, didn’t matter. The Orange had confidence again, and it would serve them well in the NCAA tournament.

In the NCAA tournament, the Syracuse defense came alive. The team that couldn’t stop anyone to close the season was all of a sudden stopping everyone. The Orange’s record-breaking defense carried them all the way to the Final Four and nearly got them to the championship game for what would have been their fourth game against Louisville.

Had it not been for a questionable offensive foul call against Brandon Triche in the closing moments of the game, Jim Boeheim might have already won his second national title.

But he didn’t, and just like the Orange did in the regular season and the Big East tournament, a hot start would end with frustration and thoughts of what could have been.

This season, in similar fashion, the Orange jumped out to their best start in school history. They continued their inspired defensive play of the NCAA tournament and did not lose their first game until two weeks ago, along with their No. 1 ranking.

Now, Syracuse is fighting the demons of last season. A hot start has turned into a whimper down the stretch, and Orange fans are left scratching their heads.

Losers of four games in their last five, the Orange have only a road game against Florida State, on March 9, to rid the bugs of the last two weeks.

Last season, the Orange inexplicably could not find the basket at the end of the season. This season, the Orange have struggled for almost the entire season to find the basket, averaging 68.1 points per game.

This year’s team isn’t as deep as last season’s, is far less of a threat from the outside and seems to have lost its inside game.

Trevor Cooney is struggling to get his stroke back, Jerami Grant is ailing with a bad back and the entire team is having trouble not turning the ball over in the closing seconds of close games. So what’s there to be optimistic about?

The Orange can look to last season.

Faced with similar failings, Syracuse went to its bread-and-butter defense. Each victory gave the Orange a little more confidence and a little more of an edge. With that, the scoring came, and as quickly as the Orange lost their mojo at the end of the season, they gained it back in the postseason.

Right now, the college basketball world looks at Syracuse as a team that can be had. It’s on the Orange’s faces, and their play isn’t doing anything to dispel the belief.

But all it takes is one little spark.

Jim Boeheim has been in situations like this long before most of us were a good idea. He knows that getting Jerami Grant back healthy changes this team. He knows that his defense guides this team. He knows that he has two All-American candidates in Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair to lead this team.

While the Orange lost four of their last five games, it’s worth noting that those are the only four games they’ve lost all season and that they didn’t get their 26 wins by accident.

Yes, this Syracuse team bears a lot of similarities to last season…and that might be a very good thing.


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Syracuse Basketball: Are the Orange Still the Best Team in the ACC?

The Syracuse basketball team continues to give its fans ulcers.

After following a 25-0 start with back-to-back losses, the Orange (26-2, 13-2 ACC) got back to their winning ways with a 57-55 nail-biter at Maryland. Despite 18 turnovers and a 51-39 deficit with five minutes, 26 seconds to go, the Terrapins were a missed Seth Allen three-pointer away from handing Syracuse its third loss in as many games.

There is no BCS in college basketball, so a two-point win is as good as a 20-point win. But Orange fans would like to see Syracuse put an opponent away and not have to rely on late-game heroics to squeak out a victory. The Terps could barely complete a pass for the first 30 minutes, so watching a double-digit lead evaporate has to be frustrating for the Orange.

But a win is a win, and this was one Syracuse desperately needed. It also sets up an enormous matchup in Virginia on Saturday that could go a long way in deciding the regular-season ACC champion. The Cavaliers are 14-1 in conference play with a game Wednesday against Miami before Syracuse comes to town.

When Syracuse was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country, it was clearly the class of the ACC. But after two losses and a closer-than-necessary win, are the Orange still the best team in the conference?

The short answer is no.

Simply put, Syracuse isn’t a good enough offensive team to be considered the best. The Orange seem to have peaked with that 91-point performance in the first Duke game. In the seven games since, Syracuse is averaging just over 58 points a game.

But what really has Orange fans wringing their hands is the fact that Jerami Grant didn’t play at all in the second half against Maryland. He sat out after apparently reaggravating a back injury he suffered at Duke.

Matt Park, the radio announcer for the Orange, seems to think Grant should be ready to go by Saturday:

And rest he shall get, as Syracuse doesn’t play again until Saturday.

But Grant being anything less than 100 percent could be a huge problem for the Orange. He is one of the main offensive weapons for Syracuse, and the Orange were basically playing two-on-five without him on offense in the second half against the Terps.

After making his first two threes, Trevor Cooney built himself a nice College Park summer home with all of the bricks he threw up. Cooney finished 2-of-10 from long distance and missed a number of open looks. Since scoring 33 against Notre Dame, Cooney has scored a total of 48 points in six games. He is also just 11-of-40 (27.5 percent) from three in that stretch.

Rakeem Christmas has also regressed since his backup, Baye Moussa Keita, returned to the lineup. Christmas has played just 17 and 12 minutes, respectively, in the last two games due to foul trouble and has been a complete non-factor on the offensive end. The big man had been playing the best basketball of his career with Keita out, but now Christmas can’t seem to avoid foul issues and gets caught in the air on head-fakes far too often.

The bench platoon of Keita, Michael Gbinije and Tyler Roberson also isn’t providing enough of a scoring punch for Syracuse. The three reserves combined for just seven points against Maryland. That followed up a four-point outing against Duke and a goose egg against Boston College.

The lack of bench scoring is putting too much pressure on the starters to score. With Cooney struggling, Grant ailing and Christmas disappearing, that leaves Ennis and Fair to shoulder the load, which they were able to do, just barely, Monday night. But two guys can’t carry an offense every night.

Of course, defense is where Syracuse has always hung its hat. Even though scoring has been tough since Syracuse-Duke I, the Orange are only surrendering 56 points a night since then. But they may not even be the best defensive team in the conference.

That distinction is saved for Virginia, who leads the nation in scoring defense and ranks fourth in adjusted defense, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Cavaliers haven’t given up 70 points in a conference game. They’ve held six ACC opponents to 50 points or less. And their only league loss is a four-point defeat at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

So it looks like it will be another rock fight in Charlottesville on Saturday.

At its best, Syracuse is as good as any team in the country. But the Orange haven’t been playing anything approaching their best basketball as of late. But lest we forget, last year’s Syracuse team lost four of its last five regular-season games, then made a run to the Final Four.

There is still plenty of time left for Syracuse to right the ship. But right now, Virginia, Duke and maybe even North Carolina (winners of nine straight) are playing better than the Orange.

A win at Virginia is the next step toward righting that ship. If Grant gets healthy and Cooney finds his stroke, the Orange will be as tough an out as there is in March.

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College Basketball Picks: Syracuse Orange vs. Maryland Terrapins

The Syracuse Orange are 5-2 against the spread when playing on the road this season, which is important to consider when making your college basketball picks on Monday as they prepare to take on the Maryland Terrapins at the Comcast Center.

Sports bettors will find that the Orange are 3.5-point road favorites in the NCAA basketball odds, with no betting total available in the market.

Let’s take a closer look at this Atlantic Coast Conference matchup from a betting perspective, while offering up a prediction along the way.


Gambling stats via SBR Forum 

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Duke students dress up as orange juice boxes

For the Syracuse game.

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