To say that the Syracuse Orange had an up and down season would be an understatement. We saw the Orange start off on fire, going 8-0 and winning the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Then came losses to teams like Georgetown and St. John’s. Just when things looked bleak for Syracuse, they squeaked into the tournament and made it all the way to the Final Four. Sounds just like a sports movie, right? But this didn’t end like all those sports movies where the underdog battles hard and wins the championship in heroic fashion. Just like 62 of the other teams that entered the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse left Houston without a trophy. Here are a few of the reasons why I believe Syracuse didn’t come out on top.
Lack of Size
This is something that that I have been talking about ever since September. The Orange had a very small frontcourt, with their tallest forward being DaJuan Coleman at 6’9”. In the first four rounds of the tournament, they were able to overcome this lack of size by shooting well from the outside. However, as we saw in the Georgetown and St. John’s games early in the season, a tall, strong forward or center could wreak havoc against the smaller Orange. In the Final Four game against North Carolina, that is exactly what Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks did. While Johnson and Meeks are not necessarily the biggest guys, they used their strength to take advantage of the Orange down low.
Minimal Use of Bench
Head coach Jim Boeheim really doesn’t like using his bench, and that may have been the downfall for the team this year. After sophomore guard Kaleb Joseph was exiled to the bench halfway through the season, the Orange only ran seven players deep. Syracuse’s five main players (Gbinije, Cooney, Roberson, Richardson, and Lydon) all averaged over 30 minutes per game, with Gbinije averaging 37.6 minutes (5th in all of Division I). After playing so many games in so few days, many of the Syracuse players looked burned out against UNC.
UNC Figured Out the Zone
Syracuse’s biggest advantage throughout the tournament was their opponent’s inability to figure out Boeheim’s iconic 2-3 zone. As a fellow member of the ACC and a team that plays the Orange at least once each season, this was no issue for the Tar Heels. They were able to move the ball around very effectively, tearing apart the zone and opening up many easy shots. Without the tight defense that Syracuse had been relying on all tournament, they were unable to keep up with UNC.
Ran Out of Luck
Let’s be honest, as the 10 seed Syracuse wasn’t one of the best teams coming into the tournament. Now, I support the team just as much as any other Syracuse fan but you have to admit that their run to the Final Four included a lot of luck. First of all, Michigan State losing to Middle Tennessee was a blessing. If the Orange had to play the Spartans in the second round I doubt they would have advanced. Secondly, they got hot at the absolute best time. They powered past teams that they had no business beating and kept doing so all the way to Houston. At some point this luck had to run out. And it did. In the Final Four against North Carolina.