Let me preface this by saying that it’s not easy. Simple. But not easy. The Orange is deep, talented and buck wild in transition. However, despite its bulky record, Syracuse is more prone to a loss than one would suspect. Come tournament time, a team that can do the three tasks listed below has a good chance at pulling an upset over SU like Cincinnati and Notre Dame did.
Control the Pace - Time and time again you see the Orange simply run teams out of the building by scoring in transition and forcing turnovers. To beat SU, that has to be limited. Teams have had great success with this before - USF, Louisville (in the first matchup), West Virginia and Notre Dame all ate the shot clock each possession.
It’s no secret why those games were close. Syracuse struggles with its half-court offense. They only run one or two plays, usually relying on pick and rolls and isolations. The lack of offensive structure challenges SU's players when teams force them into slow-paced games. It’s a tough task though as SU is one of the best teams in the country in running the floor and getting easy buckets. To beat them you HAVE to control the pace.
Pick and Roll Defense - Syracuse uses the PnR (pick and roll) as well as any team in the country. Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters and Brandon Triche are all dynamic in PnR situations because they can all shoot and drive to the basket. Teams need to look at tendencies here. Triche loves to drive off the screen, especially going to his right hand. Jardine, more often than not, looks to pass to the screener for a lob or to a shooter on the wing. Waiters is just masterful off the PnR. He’s extremely crafty and does a phenomenal job of reading what the defense is giving him. Waiters likes to drive right as well as hide behind the screener for a three-point attempt.
It’s impossible to stop all game but their PnR offense can be sputtered. Whoever is guarding the screener needs to hedge hard. You can’t let the player turn the corner, you need to stop his momentum. This will potentially lead to lobs if the screener’s defender is out of place, but it’s the defensive adjustment that needs to be made. Teams can’t let the single biggest weapon of the Syracuse offense go through a game without trying to take it away from them.
Pound the Post - With the loss of Fab Melo, SU now lacks any semblance of girth inside. Melo’s replacements, Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas are just built differently. They’re long and athletic but most of all, they’re really skinny. During Melo’s mid-season suspension, Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley just demolished Keita and Christmas inside. Syracuse now doesn’t have a premier shot-blocker or post defender, which will hurt them. Rebounding, which was an issue with Melo, will be arguably even worse now without him. If I’m coaching an opposing team, I’m posting up my best inside scorer against Christmas and Keita because those two are yet to prove they can anchor the zone defense effectively.
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