The first month of the 2019-20 season has been a learning experience for the Syracuse University men’s basketball team, and the lessons have been hard at times.
Starting the season off Nov. 6 with a game against ACC foe and defending national champion Virginia was a tall task. It was also a tip-off that this could be a difficult campaign. The Orange could only shoot 23.6% from the field in a 48-34 loss to the Cavaliers and were outrebounded 47-28.
Syracuse is a young team and, of course, you could expect some growing pains. The Orange were able to roll to wins in their next four games against Colgate, Cornell, Seattle and Bucknell. But the month ended on a sour note as Syracuse lost to two teams from major conferences, Oklahoma State and Penn State, in the NIT pre-season tourney in Brooklyn.
If the first month is an indicator of what the rest of the season may be like, Syracuse is going to struggle on offense and will need its 2-3 zone defense to be in top form to have any chance to win consistently.
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FIVE ORANGES: Elijah Hughes is easily the best player so far for the Orange. The junior forward leads the team in scoring with 19 points per game, and has been the leading scorer in four of the first seven contests. His 28 points against Oklahoma State Wednesday night is a team high for the young season.
He’s also pulling down 4.4 rebounds a game, as well as contributing 4.3 assists.
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FOUR ORANGES: Touted freshman Joseph Girard III came in with a lot of hype as the all-time leading scorer in New York state high school basketball history during a storied career at Glens Falls. So far, the freshman has shown that, well, he’s a freshman, making his share of rookie mistakes.
But he's also averaging 10 points a game, dishing out a team-high 4.9 assists per game and recording 1.9 steals. Girard also has been money from the free-throw line, making 19 of his 20 attempts from the charity stripe (95%).
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THREE ORANGES: One bright spot for Syracuse has been ball movement, the Orange are averaging 16.6 assists per game which is 43rd in the nation out of 353 teams.
TWO ORANGES: While the seven-game overall stats don't reflect rebounding as a weakness for this team, the numbers in Syracuse's three losses tell the true story. Syracuse was outrebounded by 19, eight and 29 in games against power conference squads.
ONE ORANGE: The Orange have struggled on offense in the three games they’ve played so far from major conferences. Against Virginia, Syracuse shot 23.6%, against Oklahoma State, 33.9% and against Penn State, 37.3%. Girard and Buddy Boeheim have been taking the bulk of 3-point attempts, each are shooting 37%.
Shooters go through cold streaks, that’s to be expected but the Orange’s futility against quality opponents is an omen that unless the offense starts making shots, Syracuse is going to struggle all season.
NUMBER OF THE MONTH
1996-97: Maybe not a number but a season, the last time Syracuse started a season 4-3. Eventually the Orange played in the NIT, which could be the way this season ends.
Syracuse hosts Iowa in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge on Tuesday. The Orange play six games in December including old Big East foe Georgetown.