1. Girard Continues to Struggle
Joe Girard has one solid shooting game out of four that Syracuse has played. He had another poor outing against Rutgers. He finished 1-8 from the floor and 1-6 from beyond the arc. To make matters worse, his defense was well below par. Rutgers routinely attacked Girard to initiate offense, and he could not stop penetration nor stay out on shooters. Allowing opponents to get inside while also allowing open perimeter shots is about as bad as it gets defensively. Head coach Jim Boeheim said as much after the game. Girard needs to figure things out. He is nowhere near the same kind of player he was last season. Yes he had defensive lapses last year, but not to this extent. And he provided much more offensively. If he is not careful, he is going to lose his starting job to Kadary Richmond with Buddy Boeheim returning.
2. Syracuse Missed Bourama
Syracuse missed both Buddy Boeheim and Bourama Sidibe in this one, but man did they REALLY miss Bourama. Rutgers outrebounded Syracuse 43-26, including 13 offensive rebounds. Rutgers centers Cliff Omoruyi and Myles Johnson, who are both 6-11 and north of 240 pounds dominated inside combining for 18 rebounds. Marek Dolezaj was overpowered and at an unfair advantage. Not having Sidibe really hurt Syracuse’s ability to be competitive on the glass and provide rim protection when Rutgers’ guards attacked the basket.
3. Kadary is the Real Deal
Syracuse’s freshman point guard did not shoot well at 1-5 overall and 0-2 from beyond the arc. Do not let that fool you. Richmond was good against Rutgers. He finished with seven assists, five steals and three rebounds as he flashed more elite ability on both ends. Richmond got into the lane, found open teammates for easy buckets and used his length to cause problems defensively. His play over the last three games has made coach Boeheim’s decision on the starting lineup when Buddy returns more difficult. At a minimum, he should see over 20 minutes per game going forward.
4. Top of the Zone Needs to be Better
Rutgers penetrated too often and too easily against the Syracuse zone. That was the fault of Girard and even Richmond at times, though it was mostly Girard who was targeted by the Scarlet Knights. If Syracuse is going to beat ranked teams, they have to be better defensively. That starts up top. Syracuse’s best defensive stretches seemed to be when Richmond and Griffin were at the top, providing more quickness and length. Regardless of who is there, it must be better. Teams should have to work in order to get into the lane, and right now they are just not.
5. On the Bright Side
Despite everything above, Syracuse had a lead with 5:40 to go. In its first road game against a quality ranked team. Without its leading scorer. That game was very winnable and not because Rutgers suddenly stinks. Because Syracuse has the pieces to be a good team. Boeheim is playing more than six players as Newton, Braswell and Ajak all saw the floor Tuesday night. That is without Buddy and Bourama. So clearly there is more depth on this team than in the past few seasons. Kadary emerging as a true point guard who looks to set up teammates first, but is also capable of hitting the outside shot, is very encouraging. Syracuse needs to fix some things defensively. And they need to shoot better from the outside as they are missing too many open looks. But they are getting open looks, which is a good thing. Eventually those will start falling. Quincy Guerrier looks every bit the improved player everyone expected. Dolezaj can impact the game in a variety of ways. Griffin is still getting used to playing at Syracuse. This team is a long way from what it will be in February and March, but you see the pieces. You see the potential. All is not lost despite the set back.