Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments DURHAM, N.C. — One of Syracuse’s most unexpected wins in recent memory should not be overlooked: The Orange defeated No. 1 Duke inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. That in itself, deserves credit.But to say that Syracuse is on the brink of a dominant conference run would be a stretch. Don’t get it twisted: Duke’s rotation was depleted. Its best 3-point shooter, Cam Reddish, sat out with an illness, and its best defender and floor general, Tre Jones, left with a shoulder injury eight minutes in, never to return. This upset, while monumental and definitely an NCAA Tournament resume booster, does not change the fact that Syracuse (12-5, 3-1 Atlantic Coast) has many questions still unanswered. Preseason hopes are returning, and it’s time to simmer down.Nearly one month ago, SU head coach Jim Boeheim addressed Syracuse’s fourth nonconference loss after falling to Buffalo.“Your record is what you are,” the 43-year head coach said. “This is what we are. It’s not what people thought we could be or hope we could be or think we could be. This is what we are.”That was in reference to Syracuse’s No. 16 preseason ranking and the high expectations that followed suit. SU seemed primed for another deep tournament run entering the season.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textTyus Battle entered the NBA Draft only to pull his name out of the running and return for his junior year. Oshae Brissett, once considered a future NBA-talent, immediately said following the Sweet 16 loss to Duke that he’d play for another season. Even Frank Howard, Boeheim said, had improved his shot drastically in the offseason and arrived a more polished player.Then, everything changed.Anna Henderson | Digital Design EditorHoward suffered a lower leg injury before the season that held him out until Nov. 21 against Colgate. SU dropped two-straight at Madison Square Garden against Connecticut and Oregon without its senior leader. One month later, on its home court with Howard back, the Orange blew a double-digit lead and fell to Old Dominion on Dec. 18.Three days later, Syracuse dropped to 7-4 against UB, a number of nonconference losses SU has never made the tournament with. That’s when Boeheim stood at the podium and hung three fingers in the air, one for each postseason win.“The expectations are all based on (that) we won three games last year,” the SU head coach said. “We lost 14 games last year in the regular season. We have the same team back with some help, but it’s the same team … There’s a reason we lost 14 games.”Boeheim was right: SU’s three wins were part of a Cinderella-like NCAA Tournament run that created a distorted expectation that Syracuse would be a National Championship contender. The Orange, after all, returned all five of its starters and added sharpshooter Elijah Hughes and top-40 prospect Jalen Carey.But as seen time and time again, this Syracuse team is filled with surprising road victories and even more surprising home losses. The Orange are undefeated outside of New York state, pulling off unlikely wins at then-No. 16 Ohio State and at top-ranked Duke.Four days ago, inside the Carrier Dome, a stout Georgia Tech defense stopped SU with a variety of zones to the fine tune of 59 points on 31.6-percent shooting. All of a sudden, after winning its first two ACC games, the same disorganized Orange team from nonconference play reappeared.“We really don’t have that ability to score around the basket,” Boeheim said after the 73-59 loss on Jan. 12.The Orange resorted to the 3 ball, taking 33 shots from beyond the arc against Georgia Tech, converting at a 21.2-percent clip (7-for-33). Battle and Brissett combined to shoot 1-for-8 from 3. The game prior, against Clemson, the duo didn’t make a single long ball in 10 tries.“At some point in time, you have to look in the mirror and say ‘I’m shooting 27 percent from the 3,’” Boeheim said of Brissett’s struggles from beyond the arc. “…‘What’s the best way to help me and help the team?’ Both Tyus and (Brissett) were really looking to shoot 3s and percentage wise, it’s not a good play.”Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerTo make matters worse, the GT loss showed another weakness that hadn’t been present in games prior: interior defense. James Banks III and Abdoulaye Gueye led the Yellow Jackets to score 36 points in the paint.GT head coach Josh Pastner and multiple players said after the game that the Yellow Jackets looked to take advantage of Marek Dolezaj, a “mismatch” inside. Georgia Tech left the Carrier Dome with a win and exploited an Orange unit that relies so heavily on its defense.Duke provided an opportunity for Syracuse to bounce back. But it was doubtful as the Orange entered 17-point underdogs. Zion Williamson scored 35 points, mostly inside the paint, and Dolezaj only played 12 minutes. But without Reddish or Jones, RJ Barrett controlled the offense, and both he and Jack White chucked 3s in attempt to break SU’s 2-3 zone with little result. The two combined to shoot a disastrous 4-for-27 from deep, dooming the Blue Devils in a game where the Orange couldn’t seem to miss.The win should not hide the fact that Syracuse already has five losses just four games into ACC play. And the rest of Syracuse’s schedule is daunting. Six opponents are currently ranked, three of which will travel to the Carrier Dome.Upsets, like Duke, are a necessity. They will need more to make the NCAA Tournament. Other games — like facing a Pittsburgh squad that just upset No. 11 Florida State and Louisville, which came in at No. 26 in the most recent Associated Press Poll — are must-wins. The margin for error is even slimmer now.Does this remind you of something?This isn’t the No. 16 Syracuse team the fans and media expected them to be entering the season. They’re the same Syracuse team from a year ago. The one with bad losses, the one that struggled to find its identity early in conference play and the one that sat on the NCAA Tournament bubble unsure of its outcome. Charlie DiSturco is a senior staff writer for The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @charliedisturco Published on January 15, 2019 at 11:24 pm
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