Men's Basketball

Syracuse men’s basketball roundtable: NCAA Tournament odds, Georgia Tech preview and adjustments down the stretch

Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Tyler Lydon has struggled to get involved on offense in recent games. Syracuse will need him to score more down the stretch.

After losing back-to-back games, Syracuse (16-11, 8-6 Atlantic Coast) will travel to Georgia Tech (15-10, 6-6) Sunday night. SU has only four regular-season games left. The ACC Tournament begins March 7. Our beat writers Connor Grossman, Matt Schneidman and Paul Schwedelson answer thrree questions surrounding the Orange

1. What does Syracuse need to do to make the NCAA Tournament?

Connor Grossman: Aside from winning out the last four games of the regular season, there’s no exact science for Syracuse to guarantee a Tournament bid. A realistic scenario for SU is finishing out the regular season 2-2 and winning at least one game in the ACC tournament. If the Orange loses to both Duke and Louisville but beats Georgia Tech twice, then it may need two ACC tournament wins to feel comfortable about it’s positioning. If you didn’t know by now, this is all a guessing game. A sizable contingent thought last year’s SU team shouldn’t have made the Tournament. Small aside: Syracuse’s road game against Louisville is the most important game remaining this season. Given how poorly the Orange has played away from the Carrier Dome, it would significantly boost SU’s Tournament chances if it stole a road win against the Cardinals.

Matt Schneidman: I think Syracuse feels good about itself no matter what happens in the ACC tournament if it goes 3-1 the rest of the way and the Orange’s only loss comes at Louisville. A win in the ACC tourney would lock head coach Jim Boeheim and his team into the Big Dance. But like Connor said, it’s all a guessing game. One thing I will point out is the bubble is not as strong as in years past, according to several bracketologists. SU currently sits one spot higher in the RPI than Georgia Tech, so the home-and-away split against the Yellow Jackets is monumental when discussing a possible bubble scenario at the end of the ACC tournament.

Paul Schwedelson: For a couple of weeks now, I’ve had circled that game at Louisville on Feb. 26. The Orange almost certainly needs a third win away from the Dome to boost its resume and no better way to boost it than against a highly-ranked Cardinals team. Now if that game doesn’t go Syracuse’s way, a win over Duke would still help, but the Blue Devils have gotten hot of late. Losses to both those teams probably puts SU in a tricky spot with a 5-8 record against RPI Top 50 teams.

2. How does Syracuse beat Georgia Tech on its home floor?

C.G.: First-year head coach Josh Pastner has Georgia Tech playing as well as it has in a long time. The Yellow Jackets are .500 through 12 conference games for the first time since 2009-10. Three of those wins came at home against North Carolina, Notre Dame and Florida State. GT is not easy to beat on its home court. Syracuse needs to figure out a way to score against one of the best defenses in the ACC. Georgia Tech has held conference opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage and the third-lowest point total (behind Louisville and UVA). What SU has going for it is that the Yellow Jackets have one of the ACC’s worst offenses. The Orange’s fragile defense should get a little bit of a break.

M.S.: Syracuse’s problem on the road has been its defense, but Georgia Tech has only scored over 70 points in four ACC games. If the Orange can’t hold the Yellow Jackets under 70, then it will have a hard time winning given its offensive struggles at Pittsburgh and against Louisville. I’m going with 70 as the magic number in Atlanta on Sunday. If Syracuse gets there first it’ll grab a much-needed road win. But Pastner has done an admirable job in year one and it will be anything but easy.

P.S.: Regardless of what Georgia Tech presents, Syracuse must be at full strength and Tyus Battle needs to be healthy. In the past three games, Syracuse’s offense has often stagnated and struggled to get anything going. Against Pittsburgh, Tyler Lydon was closed off from receiving entry passes. Against Louisville, the Cardinals’ matchup zones gave SU trouble. A large part of those issues can be remedied by a healthy Battle. He’s excelled at the end of the shot clock considering his skill set to create a shot for himself. But with him feeling under the weather, he’s been limited recently.

3. What is the biggest adjustment Syracuse must make for the rest of the season?

C.G.: There’s plenty of potential adjustments to choose from. I’ll focus on rebounding, an area where Syracuse will certainly be tested in two games against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets average more defensive rebounds per game than any other ACC team. The Orange is actually 5-4 in conference play when it gets outrebounded, but in its last two games against the Panthers and Cardinals, its been outrebounded by 23. The struggle on the glass has been season-long, and Syracuse has the lowest defensive rebound percentage in ACC play. If it could get any sort of traction going in that facet of the game, SU will better off navigating the season’s final games.

M.S.: Get Lydon back to being the focal point of the offense. He only scored three points in the second half and overtime against the Cardinals, but that’s because SU was running its offense through the struggling Andrew White. Try and get Lydon at the elbow and have the sophomore operate from there so the Orange can rediscover the performances he turned in against the likes of North Carolina and Notre Dame. In Syracuse’s last two losses, he’s been relatively absent in crunch time and SU has started to slide.

P.S.: Like Connor said, there’s lots to choose from here and it’s hard to say which is most important (more production from John Gillon and Taurean Thompson’s foul issues get an honorable mention from me). Syracuse’s 2-3 zone can be its most dangerous weapon in the postseason. So many of SU’s deep runs over the years have been generated on the defensive end. As we’ve seen throughout the season, though, that kind of transformation can’t happen overnight. The Orange’s defense has improved over the past month and a half, ranking eighth in the conference with 75.9 points allowed per game in ACC play. SU’s defense still has room to grow.

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