Hass: Syracuse fans should start to worry after 3rd loss in 4 games
Sam Maller | Staff Photographer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Two weeks ago, Syracuse was undefeated.
The Orange was letting teams hang around, but disposing of them in the final minutes.
Everything was golden in Syracuse.
But now, after surrendering 48 points to No. 12 Virginia (25-5, 16-1 Atlantic Coast) in the second half and losing 75-56 on Saturday night, No. 4 Syracuse (26-3, 13-3) has dropped three of its last four games.
Syracuse is still fully capable of winning the ACC tournament. It’s still capable of getting a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. And it’s still capable of cutting down the nets in April.
But the Orange needs to play better if any of those three things are to happen. Much better.
Without a healthy Jerami Grant, a consistently clicking offense or an effective 3-point defense, Syracuse is more vulnerable than it has been all season.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” SU guard Michael Gbinije said. “From a player’s eyes, you kind of look at one game at a time. You just want to win every game.”
Now NCAA Tournament games in Buffalo and Madison Square Garden are no longer inevitable.
The shirts that prematurely read “All Cuse Conference” are erroneous. It was an “All Cavalier Conference” Saturday night, as one sign read amid a swarm of raucous Cavalier fans that stormed the court.
“I thought for a couple of weeks that they’ve been by far the best team,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said of the Cavaliers after the game.
In John Paul Jones Arena, Virginia was the better team, by far, as all of the Orange’s glaring weaknesses exposed in the past few weeks reached a new level.
Virginia manhandled SU in the second half, hitting seven 3s en route to a 35-16 run to close the game. The score was once tied at 42, but that’s when Syracuse fell apart.
Three after 3 soared through the net as the Orange was unable to match UVA’s firepower from downtown.
“In two of our three losses, that’s been the difference in the game,” Boeheim said. “We just did not do a good job guarding the 3-point line. Period.”
And while Justin Anderson — who led the Cavaliers with three triples — and Co. were canning 3s, Syracuse was rendered inept offensively.
It was forced to play the entire second half without Grant for the second straight game. Syracuse survived without him against Maryland, but couldn’t do so against the Cavaliers.
It’s unclear how long Grant will be sidelined, but if he misses time going forward, SU’s front line becomes that much thinner. Staying out of foul trouble becomes that much more critical for the oft-out-of-position Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita.
That means that Tyler Roberson may see some minutes, as he did against UVA.
“When (Grant’s) out, guys are going to have to step up and fill that role,” guard Trevor Cooney said. “We’ll be fine.”
We’ll be fine.
It’s a phrase Syracuse players said when they were winning close games. They said it after the Boston College and Duke losses. And it was the theme of a generally somber locker room after the loss to Virginia.
Though the players were somewhat dejected, they gave the same even-keeled answers they have all year.
“Just a season of runs. Teams get hot, teams cool down,” Gbinije said. “This is definitely something that we can bounce back from.”
It certainly is. It’s only one game. But at some point, Syracuse fans have to worry.
This isn’t the team it was a few weeks ago. An aura of invincibility no longer follows the Orange everywhere it goes. As Boeheim mentioned, UVA was the first game all season SU wasn’t within striking distance in the final five minutes.
“That’s going to happen some games,” Keita said. “You can’t play great offense every game. I think this was one of those games. We were in a slump a little bit.”
But that slump has been painfully dragged out over a month-long stretch. We’ve witnessed a team go from untouchable to battered. From undefeated to knocked-off three times in just 10 days.
And from the groom of the ACC to the clear-cut groomsman.
There’s still time for Syracuse to go out on top in its first year in the ACC, but the Orange better turn things around quickly.
The conference tournament’s less than two weeks away. If SU wants to earn a No. 1 seed, it’ll have to start playing like one.
Trevor Hass is an asst. sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TrevorHass.
Published on March 1, 2014 at 10:53 pm