For the next several days, the Tar Heel Blog staff will be previewing each ACC team heading into the ACC Tournament. We’ll be highlighting how the season has gone for each team, and discussing the state of each school heading into the postseason.
Overall Record: 18-13
Conference record: 10-8
Biggest wins: #6 FSU (82-72), #9 Virginia (66-62), #10 Duke (78-75)
Worst losses: UConn (52-50), @ Boston College (96-81), St. John’s (93-60)
Key players: Tyler Lydon, Andrew White III, John Gillon
Chance of making NCAA Tournament: No matter how much Lunardi hates them, Syracuse probably has enough quality wins to be reasonably comfortable about their tournament prospects, though a win or two in the conference tournament wouldn’t hurt. Lunardi’s latest Bracketology has Syracuse as a #10 seed, with one of the “Last Four Byes.”
In one of Jim Boeheim’s less successful years since joining the ACC, Syracuse finished the regular season tied for the 7th spot in the conference. They got there in a very strange way, though, as you can see from their wins and losses. While they beat several quality teams throughout the season and especially in ACC play, they also had some losses that were beyond head-scratching. They handed Boston College one of their two ACC wins this year, and that game wasn’t particularly close. They were blown out at home by St. John’s, who have a losing record on the year and are ranked 92nd in Kenpom.
Yet some of their wins showed real ability and potential: An Elite Eight rematch with Virginia in which they came out victorious again, and an extremely memorable contest with Duke that ended with Syracuse hitting every shot they threw up and finishing with a game-winning three-pointer. Boeheim’s teams are always hard to pin down because of his patented zone, but one of his teams hasn’t been this inconsistent in a while.
After a surprise run to the Final Four in 2016, the Orange looked to be in dire straits for this season with the losses of Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson, and Kaleb Joseph. The decision of Andrew White to transfer to Syracuse alleviated some of this, but the team, especially in the backcourt, was largely an unknown. Much hung on the play of sophomore Tyler Lydon, and while Lydon has had a good season, he hasn’t quite met the lofty expectations that many had for him.
In the middle half of the season, he was excellent, only scoring below 10 points once. In the season’s first eight and last eight games, he struggled to string together consecutive double-figure scoring games. White, however, has picked up the scoring slack and then some, leading the team with 18 points per game, and has been recognized with a nomination for the All-ACC Third Team.
The Boeheim zone has, frankly, not been very effective this year. Syracuse’s personnel don’t have the optimal measurements to make the zone as disruptive as it’s supposed to be, and relying on transfers and freshmen to learn it on the go has not been an easy task for the Orange. Last year, they ranked 17th in Kenpom’s AdjD rankings. This year, albeit pre-postseason, they’re all the way down at 102nd. Last year, they were 17th in the country in opponents’ three-point percentage, and this season, they’re 131st.
A program that prides itself on its style of defense has been thoroughly mediocre on the defensive end. UNC struggled against many zone defenses this season, but against Syracuse, they scored at a rate of 123.2 points per 100 possessions, above their season average.
Because of this, Syracuse has needed to outscore opponents more than they have in the past, and, as seen by the team’s record, it has not always worked. Syracuse is an extremely streaky team, and can catch fire and go cold at the snap of a finger, sometimes in the same game. Because of this, they can’t be taken lightly, but in the long term, they can’t really be thought of as a threat in the ACC Tournament, either. They might do a little bit of damage, but it’s almost assured they’ll fade sooner or later.
Now, when they get to the NCAA Tournament and start playing teams that haven’t faced the Syracuse zone before, that’s another story...
Syracuse opens ACC Tournament play on Wednesday, March 8, against a good Miami team. Syracuse did beat Miami earlier in the season, and has the advantage of being geographically much closer to the ACC Tournament than Miami, so this one could be more interesting than the teams’ rankings might suggest.