Syracuse men’s basketball roundtable: Looking toward ACC play

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments After 13 nonconference games, Syracuse (9-4) starts conference play in the Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday. The Orange enter with four losses, including ones to Old Dominion and Connecticut. SU will play Notre Dame, its first conference opponent, on Jan. 5 in South Bend, Indiana.Here’s what our beat writers think on four major topics so far.How well does Syracuse need to do in conference play to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament?Billy Heyen: People like numbers, so just from a winning standpoint, I don’t think SU gets in with fewer than 10 wins in its 18 ACC games. But the composition of those wins matters. Upsetting Duke in the Carrier Dome would go a lot longer way than beating up on the bottom half of the conference. Right now, there are six ACC teams in the AP Top 25. I’d say the Orange need to have at least two wins against ranked opponents, including one top-10 team, to make its win total be enough to go dancing after an up-and-down nonconference slate. And no bad losses at home, because those are killer.Charlie DiSturco: There’s no correct answer when it comes to earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The ACC is one of the tougher conferences in college basketball, and Syracuse will definitely have to take advantage of its opportunities. For them to secure a berth in the tournament, I’d say the Orange will have to win 10-plus games, including one big upset against Duke, Virginia or North Carolina. Add on at least one win in the conference tournament, and I think that’ll do the job. Oh, and like Billy said, a bad loss at home will leave a horrible mark on Syracuse’s resume.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textMatthew Gutierrez: Syracuse has its work cut out and to put a number on things, I’d go with this: 12. The Orange need a 12-6 conference record, which would put them at 21-10. That would leave little doubt for the Selection Committee. A nice overall record of 20-plus wins. Twelve wins in the ACC. A few road ACC wins, too. Syracuse doesn’t have to beat Duke, but SU will probably need to win some difficult games such as, say, at North Carolina State and at Clemson. Take care of your home games, mate. Should Marek Dolezaj continue to start for SU?B.H.: There is no way for me to say yes strongly enough. He provides fluidity to the Syracuse offense that it desperately needs and which it lacks without Dolezaj in the game. I’ll add the caveat that in ACC play, some games will require more Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe playing time than others — Dolezaj can’t handle Florida State’s 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje, for example. But the Orange play better from the opening tip with Dolezaj on the floor, and against good opposition, they can’t afford the slow beginnings they faced when Chukwu started.Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerC.D.: I would say that Dolezaj should keep on starting, but there’s no way he can go up against the brutes of the ACC down low. He struggled when Jessie Govan was on the floor against Georgetown and that trend will continue in conference play. There’s no denying that Dolezaj brings the intelligence Syracuse’s other bigs lack, and SU has been extremely successful over the past year-and-a-half with Dolezaj on the floor. Jim Boeheim will obviously have to base his decision off potential matchups, but if possible, Dolezaj should be on the floor. M.G.: This should tell you a little something about his impact: Syracuse went 11-3 last season when he scored at least seven points. Usually, he scored more because he played more. His presence on the floor is huge for SU, given he probably has the highest basketball IQ on the team. Start him, play him extended minutes and see SU turn into a more efficient team.What has been Syracuse’s biggest surprise?B.H.: The consistency of Elijah Hughes. Boeheim has preached patience after Hughes sat out last season as a transfer, and his deep-shooting game seems like it’d lend itself to streakiness. But Hughes has scored at least 15 points in SU’s last six games. He’s always waiting on the perimeter to step into a shot and knock it down when the Orange need it, and his driving ability has been better than advertised. As the rest of SU attempts to find its form, Hughes will need to keep up his consistent output. C.D.: Like Billy said, Hughes has been the biggest surprise. There was rumblings that the transfer would be solid, but he has become an integral part of Syracuse’s offense quickly. Hughes is the only consistent 3-point shooter on the team and has been good inside the paint, too. The junior leads the team in 3-point shooting and is second on the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game. His 4.3 rebounds a game are more than two of SU’s bigs: Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj. If this production out of Hughes continues and both Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett find their form in conference play, Syracuse will have the potential to do some damage.M.G.: This comes aside from Hughes’ emergence: Syracuse’s steals numbers have been surprisingly good. SU checks in at No. 2 in the conference in steals per game, with 8.77 per game, trailing only Duke. For an offense that doesn’t have much horsepower (at least not yet), generating points off careless turnovers and steals is important. Consider Syracuse’s defense at the top of the 2-3 zone a strong suit to start conference play. Howard and Tyus Battle ought to keep it up. What’s been its biggest disappointment?B.H.: The inability to put together a full game. Syracuse shows its immense talent in flashes — the second half against Georgetown, the first half against St. Bonaventure, the second half at Ohio State. But the Orange have yet to dominate a team the way a tall, athletic team with multiple future NBA talents should. There’s no taking minutes off in ACC play, as Oshae Brissett pointed out last Saturday. SU needs 40-minute outputs to pull off those wins.C.D.: The offense not being able to take the next step. The Orange returned all five of their starters and added what was believed to be a pair of sharpshooters in Buddy Boeheim and Elijah Hughes. The team was expected to shoot better than its abysmal 31.8 percent from beyond the arc a year ago. What’s happened against lesser competition in nonconference play? Syracuse shot even worse — 29.9 percent — as a team. The Orange have continually shot 3 after 3, and nothing productive has really followed. M.G.: Paschal Chukwu. The tallest player in Syracuse hoops history wasn’t anywhere near All-ACC caliber last season, but the 7-foot-2 center returned with a full season of starts under his belt. An occasional double-double from someone who’s taller than everyone else isn’t too much to ask. But he isn’t an offensive threat at all. Instead, Chukwu seems to be lacking confidence, and I’m not sure he belongs on the floor for more than 15 minutes per game. His lack of production has been disappointing for a team with little interior presence. center_img Published on January 3, 2019 at 12:55 pmlast_img

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