Back To Earth: Temple Loss Exposes Some Issues For SyracusePosted by mlemaire on December 23rd, 2012
Maybe we should have seen this coming just five days after Syracuse blew a 20-point second-half lead against Detroit and only won by four points, but everyone was too enamored with the story of the 900th win for Jim Boeheim and the meteoric rise to stardom of sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams to realize that the Orange were not without their warts. On Saturday afternoon, playing its first worthwhile opponent since its season opening win against San Diego State, some of those warts were exposed as Temple rebounded from an ugly loss to Canisius to upset the No. 3 Orange, 83-79. To be fair to Syracuse, Temple is a veteran and talented basketball team that will absolutely be playing in March if they can survive a brutal conference slate in the Atlantic 10, and senior guard Khalif Wyatt was abnormally brilliant in a winning effort. But the Orange had plenty of chances to take control of this game and just seemingly got outhustled and outplayed at every turn by the gang from Philadelphia.
The Orange came into the game with the second-most efficient defense in the country thanks to imposing length and athleticism at every position, but you would not have known it by watching the Owls get to the free throw line at will and hoist uncontested three-pointers for most of the game. For whatever reason, their lock-down zone defense took the afternoon off. Give the Owls credit for consistently finding the high-post pass to set up a number of options and executing an excellent zone offense. But while Syracuse still created a number of turnovers, they also committed a lot of fouls, were often out of position trying to help defend dribble penetration, and were very nearly outrebounded by a much smaller and less physical team. Most of these issues are easily correctable and some could be attributed to a lack of effort or focus rather than inability, but the Orange have enjoyed a very easy non-conference slate, and if they cannot achieve some consistency on the defensive end, conference opponents will be able to take advantage of those lapses much easier than Eastern Michigan or Monmouth could.
Offensively things were not much better and if it had not been for a career day from C.J. Fair (25 points, 8-of-12 shooting) and an excellent game from Brandon Triche (17 points, 7-of-14 shooting), things would have looked much worse. The issues begins with the offensive engine, Carter-Williams, who entered the game playing some of the best basketball anywhere and as someone that many pegged as one of the best point guards in the country. Unfortunately for the Orange, sophomores still in the midst of their first full season of duty are bound to have bad games, and Saturday was one of those games for Carter-Williams. The point guard made just 3-of-17 shots from the field and inexplicably just 7-of-15 free throws after coming into the game shooting better than 80 percent from the field. His gaudy assist totals were not there either although that was as much a result of the stubborn insistence on sticking to one-on-one isolation sets as it was of the struggles of Carter-Williams. Without their offensive catalyst on his game and with leading scorer James Southerland battling foul trouble and off his game as well, the rest of the team resorted to standing around and watching the isolation sets, hoping someone would step up and make a play. Of course the offensive burden that Southerland and Carter-Williams apparently share would be lessened if the Orange had even one viable post threat.
Freshman DaJuan Coleman was supposed to fill that role but the New York native played just four minutes Saturday, missing a pair of free throws and grabbing a rebound before taking an extended seat on the bench. Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita are both talented defensive players with scary length, but neither has the polish, the touch, or the skill set to become a player whom the Orange can throw the ball to in the low post. Without anyone to scare them on the interior, the Owls were able to pressure the Orange perimeter players and dare them to make long jump-shots, which they obviously did not do. Another surprise — albeit perhaps just a temporary one — was the sudden absence of depth for Boeheim.
The Orange have nine players on their roster who average more than 10 minutes per game, but against Temple, only six players saw 10 minutes of burn, with the three freshman — Coleman, Trevor Cooney, and Jerami Grant — each playing sparingly in the loss. One of the major questions surrounding Syracuse in the preseason was their relative inexperience as only Southerland, Fair, and Triche had been true impact players the year before. Those questions were seemingly answered as the Orange jumped out to their hot start but if Cooney, Grant, and Coleman cannot be relied upon in big games against stiffer competition, the Orange starters will be worn out by the time March rolls around. It is possible that the flow of the game yesterday dictated that the three freshman sit, and there is no doubt they will continue to improve as the season goes on, but without key contributions from those three, the Orange roster looks frighteningly thin.
In the grand scheme of things, this loss means a little more to Syracuse. Losing to Temple can hardly be considered shameful and despite their poor performance, the Orange still nearly pulled out a victory. But now that some of their weaknesses have been exposed, Boeheim and his team should set to work ironing those issues out or risk suffering the same disappointing end to the season they did last year.