Column: Syracuse needs Bourama Sidibe if it wants to earn an automatic bid to the Tournament this week

Column: Orange will not get a bid to the NCAA tournament this week without Sidibe

The Orange hold the No. 6 seed in the ACC tournament.
Published: March 9, 2020
Syracuse's Elijah Hughes prepares to make a drive while covered by North Carolina #1 Leaky Black.
Elijah Hughes earned first-team All-ACC honors Monday.

Syracuse did not close the season the way it hoped this past weekend but must quickly flush its memory and turn its focus to the ACC tournament. The ACC tournament offers one last chance for the 17-14 Orange to claim 1 of the 68 NCAA tournament bids. With a 4-game win streak and tournament victory, the Orange would punch their ticket to the dance.

Syracuse enters the tournament with the #6 seed in the conference after earning a first-round bye. Its 10-10 conference record leaves much to be desired but equally represents their ability to become streaky at the right time. The team will have 3 days of rest before attempting to win 4 games in as many days. If the Orange are to begin their Cinderella story, a few things must transpire: Bourama Sidibe must continue to assert himself inside, Buddy needs to let it fly, and the team needs to continue to gang rebound.

Sidibe’s resurgence in the paint helped the Orange find their rhythm offensively. Elijah Hughes has elevated his game scoring-wise, but Sidibe’s recent performances have made the entire offense more dangerous. For much of the season, Sidibe had been getting outworked and outrebounded by the ACC’s best big men (see Duke’s Vernon Carey). But the junior center from Mali has grabbed double-digit rebounds in each of the team’s last 5 games while shooting nearly 70% from the floor over that span. The attribute that has plagued his game, and consequently the team as well, has been his tendency to foul often. If Sidibe is able to continue his hot streak in the tournament while staying out of foul trouble, Syracuse will have a shot to contend.

Bourama Sidibe is the x-factor for the Orange, as him playing well creates space for the offense to run. The offense found its identity since the beginning of February. Sidibe running the floor and being a threat inside has allowed the team to move in transition and score early in the shot clock. Many of the teams with which the Orange will have to beat for an ACC title and tournament bid have stifled the Orange in the half-court set defensively, but the pace that Syracuse has played with as of late is something to build on.

The most critical element for the Orange is to scheme Buddy Boeheim open in transition. The sophomore guard makes more than 40% of his 3-point attempts with 20 seconds or more remaining on the shot clock, per Elias. Additionally, the Orange are 6-2 when Boeheim nails at least three 3 pointers, since January 11th. Too many times this season Buddy has hesitated when given open looks and the team has struggled when that occurs. The offense needs solid production from Boeheim if they are to make a tournament run.

Syracuse has defensively outrebounded teams by an average of 2.4 over its last 5 games, which is helping to create favorable matchups on the other end. The Orange must win games against stout half-court defensive teams such as Louisville and Virginia in order to advance to the tournament final. One of the best ways to navigate around tough defensive teams is not to let them set up. In each of its 3 games against Louisville and Virginia, Syracuse did not eclipse 70 points and was held to just 34 points in the season opener against the Cavaliers. The recipe for the Orange’s success is to rebound and run, creating good looks for shooters and clear paths to the basket.

The Orange need to make the game easier on themselves by attacking in transition and limiting bad possessions with too much dribbling. If crisp ball movement is on display this week, then the offense has the potential to stay hot and the Orange can make a Cinderella run. 

Although Syracuse has the tools to compete with any team in the conference, I do not see them winning against Louisville in a potential quarterfinal. The Cardinals have the best player in the conference in Jordan Nwora, as well as 4 guys averaging 5 rebounds or more. With Syracuse out of the mix by the quarterfinal, my pick to win the conference tournament is Florida State. It is box-checking time in college basketball and the Seminoles have it all. They are deep at guard and wing, do not allow transition buckets, make enough 3s, and disrupt passing lanes. FSU has 8 guys averaging at least 19 minutes per game while allowing the second-lowest field goal percentage in the conference.  

Top to bottom, Florida State causes issues for every team. Starting with guards Trent Forrest, MJ Walker, and Devin Vassell, the Seminoles can create turnovers and impose their will on the game. Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, and Virginia can all pose a threat to Florida St., but the Noles’ extensive rest and matured defense will push them over the top.

It is March, however, so every team starts 0-0. The beauty of the conference tournament is it offers a 2nd chance for teams that struggled during the regular season. The Orange have the ingredients to go on a run and it will be fun to watch.