That 0-4 start in ACC play seemed like a killer. At 10-7, the season seemed to be all over before it really got started for the Syracuse Orange. Then, the Orange started clicking and won three straight. After a loss at Virginia, Syracuse returned home and got back to their winning ways. After victories over Florida State and at Boston College this week, Syracuse sits at 18-8, 8-5 in conference play.
Against the Seminoles, the Orange virtually couldn't miss, shooting a season high 62 percent and led for the final 38 minutes of the contest in an 85-72 final. The 85 points scored were also a season-high for the team. Boston College, still in search of their first ACC win couldn't handle the Syracuse offense any better. Even though it was a tighter contest, the Orange used a couple of big runs, including a 21-4 run that spanned over six minutes in the second half that would put the Eagles away.
These two big ACC wins were so important for the Orange. With one more win, Syracuse will guarantee at least an even record in conference play, and two more wins will allow them to reach the magical 20-win plateau. These are generally the benchmarks committee members look at in picking teams for the big dance. Especially once you factor in Jim Boeheim's midseason suspension, the outlook looks very bright for this team that is continues to heat up as the season wears on.
Highlights of the Week
Tyler Lydon: 35 points, 16 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, 1 assist, 49 minutes
One of the biggest criticisms of the freshman this year has been his denial to take open looks and deferring to open teammates. Lydon is also playing out of position for a big portion of the game, sliding over to the center position when DaJuan Coleman is out of the game. But this week, Lydon seemed to put it all together. He's got a great shot for someone his size and he's been able to add some weight to bulk up and battle for boards. His 35 combined points are impressive this week, but the 10 boards he grabbed against Florida State might be even more so considering the Seminoles have three players on their roster that stand over seven feet tall. He's really come into his own as a player and this week, Lydon stood out head and shoulders above the rest.
Michael Gbinije: 39 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, 74 minutes
When I think of this team, Gbinije is generally the first one I think of because he really does it all. He has scored in double-figures in every game this year, ranking fourth in the league at 17.4 points per game. He also ranks sixth in assists per game and leads the ACC in steals in the second most minutes per game. He can do everything and he continues to lead the Orange during this hot stretch. Also, as the season has gone along, so has his shooting. This week, he went a combined 12 of 16, including eight of 11 from deep. While that was a liability early in the year, he's stepped up, just like everyone else. Even more so maybe, becoming the true leader on this team.
Malachi Richardson: 32 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 5 steals, 1 block, 70 minutes
I'm continually amazed by the poise Richardson continues to show. He's playing more like a senior than a freshman, and has in my mind, become the go-to scorer on this team. He's up to 13.6 points per game, and is trusted to take big shots late. While his shot selection does need to be refined, he's consistently proving what was thought about him when he was brought in. He can score.
The Orange have a big game at Louisville on Wednesday as they begin the final stretch of the regular season. After announcing a self-imposed postseason ban, the Cardinals can only hope to play the role of spoiler for a team like Syracuse on the bubble. Then, on Saturday, the Orange return to the Carrier Dome to take on Pittsburgh in hopes of avenging a conference opening loss against the Panthers. After that, Syracuse has only one home game left, against NC State, before finishing the season on the road with back-to-back games an North Carolina and at Florida State.