Few Syracuse seasons have started with a schedule this difficult. While the Orange typically play in one high quality pre-season tournament each year, their remaining home games usually feature a parade of low level competition from upstate New York. SU has already played three teams from BCS conferences and added 3 other games against tough A-10 teams. With the exception of the loss to Ohio State, SU has been in every game, but poor execution down the stretch against UMass and Rhode Island led to embarrassing home losses.
What the team does well:
Score. With the exception of the game against Ohio State, Syracuse has looked very potent offensively. All five starters average double figures in the scoring column, and the team is shooting 49% from the field and has made almost as many free throws as the opposition has shot. These are the numbers of a very good offensive team.
Share the ball. Freshman PG Jonny Flynn has been at the head of the resurgence, dishing out 6.2 assists per contest, good for second in the Big East. Add in over 3 assists from both Devendorf and Harris, and you've got a team that is handing out 17 helpers a game. When you pass the ball well, you score more. No-brainer.
Run the court. Donte Greene is remarkably effective in transition for a player his size. Flynn is a blur and almost always makes the right pass. Harris and Devendorf can both get ahead of the defense for easy buckets.
The "Hit or Miss" Factor:
Rebounding. The Orange were demolished on the glass by Washington and had some very poor moments against Rhode Island. Even so, the Orange have posted an average margin of +5 on the glass, which is much higher than any SU team in recent memory. Even the 2003 National Championship team could only muster a +2.5 margin. Harris, Onuaku, and Greene all average 8+ boards a game. A little more attention to detail and this could become a major strength of the '07-08 team.
End Game Execution. SU has had a mix of good and bad execution in late game situations, pulling out two close wins against Virginia and St. Joe's, and losing two other close games to UMass and Rhode Island. Boeheim got the ball into Flynn and Greene's hands during the wins, but Harris took some bad shots down the stretch in the losses. There is a lot of room for improvement in this category, and with a stellar young point guard like Jonny Flynn, that improvement seems likely.
What the team does poorly:
Play Defense. This one's another no-brainer. Syracuse is currently next to last in the Big East in points allowed at a tad under 80 per game. The Orange are "holding" opponents to 43.8% from the field, an ungodly high percentage for a Boeheim-coached team. It doesn't matter if it's zone or man to man, this team's defense has been poor. The most shocking aspect is the 39% allowed on three point shots. To put the numbers in perspective, if the Orange forced 37.5% from the field and 32.7% from three point range as did last year's group, they'd be giving up ten fewer points per game.
What the Orange can do to continue to improve:
1) Play better transition defense. This is more a question of effort than technique.
2) Create better court spacing. Syracuse has an explosive offense this year and has had a lot of success in spreading the floor to allow driving lanes for Flynn and Devendorf, rebounding opportunities for Harris and Onuaku , and open perimeter looks for Greene. However, poor court spacing during end game situations has resulted in some turnovers and forced shots, most notably from Devendorf and Harris. The team will get better shots in crunch time if they can remember to keep the floor spread. Trouble follows when everything gets bunched up.
3) Improve the zone defense. Although this team does not have prototypical personnel for a Boeheim zone, more discipline and focus should allow it to improve. Most notably, Onuaku must develop better awareness on the back line and Harris and Greene need to defend the three pointer from the wing better. Devendorf also needs to improve on cutting off dribble penetration.
4) Get more from the bench. The rotation is already down to 7 men. Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson have shown flashes of being able to be major contributors down the road. Both players need to step up their games sooner rather than later to help take some of the massive minute load off the starters. Spot minutes from Ongenaet and Wright would also help.