Syracuse, N.Y. —Forget the metrics, NET rankings and who Joe Lunardi is handing out “first four in” roses to these days.
Does Syracuse basketball really look like a team that deserves to go to the NCAA Tournament this year?
Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner thinks so. Pastner also thinks 11 teams from the ACC should pass “GO” on the board and collect an NCAA bid, so take that opinion with a heavy grain of salt.
Syracuse missed out on its final opportunity to get a Quadrant 1 win during the regular season with a 84-77 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Orange is now 0-6 in Quad 1 games. Syracuse fell to 13-8 overall with a 7-7 mark in ACC play.
Georgia Tech had clear sailing in the paint Saturday afternoon at the McCamish Pavilion, outscoring the Orange there by 30 points (54-24). The Yellow Jackets dropped 50 points on the Orange in the second-half. It felt like 46 of those 50 points came via slam dunk.
Something seems to always be off or missing for the Orange that stops it from playing its best.
Th obvious lacking element is on defense.
The Syracuse teams that have done damage in the postseason in recent years (2013, 2016, 2018) were all solid defensive teams rated in the Top 20 according to Ken Pomeroy. The 2020-21 Orange rank 95th in adjusted defensive efficiency
But as I said above, forget the metrics. Syracuse simply doesn’t look like a team ready, willing or able to handle an NCAA bid even if it got one.
North Carolina is the next test for the Orange in a stretch of three games in five days that began on Saturday.
The Tar Heels will come to the Carrier Dome with a comeback win over the ACC’s best team in its back pocket. UNC 7-footer Walker Kessler scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting inside and looks like the next big man ready to eat SU’s lunch inside.
Much like the Yellow Jackets, UNC was charging the Orange rent in the paint in a 81-75 matchup won by the Tar Heels earlier this season.
North Carolina has also won 10 of the last 11 against Syracuse.
That faint sound you hear is the CBS March Madness theme fading into the distance.
The Dark Side
Moses Wright looked more like Moses Malone against Syracuse.
Wright was a one-man Ramblin’ Wreck with 31 points and 16 rebounds against the Orange. His 31 points are the most by an Orange opponent since he scored 33 at the Carrier Dome last season.
In his last two games against Syracuse, Wright has scored a combined 64 points and grabbed 26 rebounds.
Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Jordan Usher got in on the paint party with 19 points and seven rebounds. Usher shot 7-of-11 from the field.
Syracuse was helpless to stop Wright and Usher, who put on a dunk show against the Orange.
The backdoor swung open all day as SU’s forwards got caught ball-watching time after time once the ball got into the paint. Marek Dolezaj’s foul trouble only compounded the problem for the Orange, though I’m not sure how much of a matchup he would provide against the 6′9, 233-pound force of nature Wright was against Syracuse.
As was the case against Duke on Monday night, defensive rotations were slow and the Yellow Jackets made the Orange pay. Georgia Tech outscored Syracuse 54-24 in the paint.
“They attacked us inside,” Boeheim said. “They attacked our inside with Usher and obviously Wright. We knew Wright was going to hurt us in there, but Usher got too many”
North Carolina looms next for Syracuse on Monday night. While the first game this season between the Orange and Tar Heels was a back-and-forth game affair with UNC winning 81-75, North Carolina dominated the paint in that matchup.
The Tar Heels out-rebounded SU 48-30, including a 24-10 mark on the offensive glass. UNC dominated second-chance points 24-4 and outscored Syracuse 42-24 in the paint.
The Syracuse backcourt didn’t do enough on the offensive end to backup a big scoring day from Alan Griffin and to counter the Yellow Jackets’ ferocious scoring in the paint.
Buddy Boeheim scored 12 points but was held in check for most of the game by Georgia Tech’s energetic guard Jose Alvarado. Boeheim shot 4-of-11 from the field including a 1-of-5 from behind the arc. Boeheim had combined for 50 in SU’s prior two games.
Joe Girard III had a nice first half with eight points and three assists but couldn’t carry over the confidence to the second half, ending the game with 10 points. Girard was 0-of-3 from distance and 4-of-11 shooting overall.
Kadary Richmond got some good looks at the iron but couldn’t get the ball to drop, shooting 0-of-5 from the field. He finished with just two points, adding four rebounds and six assists.
Turnovers and Ball Movement
Turnovers haven’t typically been an issue for Syracuse this season but the Yellow Jackets certainly got a bang for their buck in that department on Saturday.
Georgia Tech collected 28 points off 14 turnovers, the most by a Syracuse opponent this season. The Yellow Jackets also snagged nine steals, trailing only Boston College’s 10 steals during Syracuse’s trip to Chestnut Hill in December.
Syracuse and Georgia Tech entered Saturday’s game as the top two teams in the ACC in steals. The Orange were able to collect 23 points off 13 Georgia Tech turnovers, but the Yellow Jackets made the Orange turnovers matter more.
Ball movement was an issue again for the Orange on Saturday. Syracuse had just 12 assists on 28 field goals. Richmond had half of SU’s 12 helpers with six.
Georgia Tech assisted on 26 of its 33 field goals with four players collecting six assists.
The Sunny Side
Griffin and Guerrier
Alan Griffin snapped out a recent scoring slump with a 26-point effort against Georgia Tech, finishing two points shy of his career-high 28 points, which came at Pittsburgh on January 16. Griffin was 9-of-15 from the field, including a 4-of-7 mark from 3-point range.
After Syracuse started slow once again, Griffin kept attacking and scoring. 20 of his 26 points came in the first-half. Griffin had 20 of SU’s first 27 points. He single-handily kept the Orange in the game in the first half.
In an 11-0 first-half run, Griffin scored 8 of those points to cut the Georgia Tech lead to 29-27. Syracuse once trailed by 13 points in the first half but Griffin saved the game from becoming a blowout.
Quincy Guerrier didn’t completely come out of recent offensive trance where he shot a combined 6-of-22 in SU’s two previous games, but a 6-of-12 effort for 13 points and five rebounds was better.
Griffin and Guerrier’s defensive efforts as of late leave a lot to be desired but both gave SU what it needed on offense with a combined 39 points on Saturday.
It may sound strange to say that a Syracuse center had a good game given the dominance in the paint by Wright and Usher, but Jesse Edwards gave the Orange a bit of a lift off the bench.
With Dolezaj in foul trouble and only able to give the Orange 10 minutes, Edwards scored seven points and grabbed 8 rebounds in 23 minutes.
Edwards had five rebounds in nine first-half minutes and helped stem the Yellow Jackets’ surge in the first-half. He even brought some defensive presence to the paint, managing a great block on Wright at one point.
Boeheim revealed at his postgame press conference that he planned to redshirt Edwards this season before Bourama Sidibe got hurt. Boeheim has insisted time-after-time that Edwards has not been a consistent force at practice, still has a lot to learn about the game and needs to get bigger to hold his own on the court.
Edwards can look awkward at times on the court (his ball-handling is still an adventure) but it makes you wonder what kind of player he’d be with more time. There are lineup options that give him credible minutes at center shifting Dolezaj at his natural position.
“I think he can be a good center at this level,” Boeheim said of Edwards on Saturday. “He’s gotta get stronger. He’s up to 226, but you’re talking about playing against guys who are 240, 250. Marek can use his quickness at times, but Jesse sometimes gets overpowered. He’s developing. I never thought he would be ready this year.”
This, That and the Other Thing
- The all-time series between Syracuse and Georgia Tech is tied at 7-7, with a 5-5 mark in ACC meetings.
- The Orange is now 1-8 when it loses the rebounding battle. Georgia Tech had 41 rebounds to Syracuse’s 36 on Saturday. The Orange is 12-0 when it wins the rebound battle this season.
- Georgia Tech will have a winning record in ACC regular-season play in back-to-back years for the first time since 1989-90.
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