Fortier: Syracuse and Boeheim cannot afford to squander any advantages

first_imgAt his postgame press conference after losing to Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon, a reporter asked Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim if he was concerned that his team, on its home floor, could not beat the Fighting Irish without their two best players. He squinted his eyes and shook his head.“I don’t care who they have,” Boeheim said.Boeheim should care.Personnel matters, and the Atlantic Coast Conference is unforgiving because of its quality and depth. Boeheim has said it himself as much as anyone.“This league is a tremendous challenge,” he said Saturday.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThis game was supposed to be a rare easier win. Notre Dame’s two best players, point guard Matt Farrell and big man Bonzie Colson, were out with a sprained left ankle and a broken left foot, respectively. Colson, the preseason ACC player of the year and third-best player in college basketball, according to Kenpom.com, will miss about eight weeks. This game should have been a win to pad Syracuse’s ACC record for a tough run through the rest of the conference.Still, in the final seconds, with Tyus Battle dribbling at the top of the key and the shot-clock turned off in a tie game, Syracuse still seemed poised to complete a comeback it should have never needed to make. But Battle fumbled and Notre Dame (13-3, 3-0 Atlantic Coast) stunned Syracuse (12-4, 1-2), 51-49, with a Rex Pflueger game-winning putback.As the ball went in, Battle froze, only able to put his hands on the top of his head. Point guard Frank Howard then tried a half-court buzzer-beater but it fell short. Everyone else traipsed toward the bench.With Notre Dame shorthanded, Syracuse needed to cash in or its NCAA Tournament chances would slip. Now, with a slimmer margin for error, SU needs to convert on any potential similar advantages in the future.When Boeheim was asked the question, he answered it more concerned with pointing out why Syracuse lost — “Our offense is the problem” — than addressing something he couldn’t control. That’s fair, but without its two stars, Notre Dame shuffled its lineup and Syracuse saw senior Austin Torres and freshman D.J. Harvey make their first and second starts of the season, respectively. UND also complemented Torres with sophomore John Mooney. This means, instead of Farrell and Colson, Syracuse faced those three, who combined to shoot 4-for-21 (19 percent) for eight points.Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey understood the victory’s gravity. Brey began his postgame press conference by saying, unprompted, “I’ve been at Notre Dame 18 years, I’ve had a lot of great wins, this is as good as a win (as any of them) given that I’ve got Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell sitting back in their apartment in South Bend, Indiana.”In his career, Brey has won three regular-season conference titles, three conference-tournament titles and, in 2015 and 2016, he made back-to-back trips to the Elite Eight. Brey grouped this January road win early in ACC play among those, because of his personnel.The Fighting Irish are likely headed to the NCAA Tournament anyway, but without its star for a long stretch, the Fighting Irish needs to cushion themselves by snagging as many ACC wins as possible. The win also allowed UND to scribble a valuable line on its resume: “Comeback win on the road over one of the sport’s greatest coaches down our two best players.”Considering the Orange’s own players only heightens the importance of a victory over Notre Dame. As Boeheim has acknowledged, Syracuse only has three scorers in Battle, Howard and Brissett, all three of which lead the ACC in minutes played. Boeheim has always preferred short rotations, but the workloads for this Syracuse trio are different than many primary scoring options for past teams because of the high-leverage situations an ineffective half-court offense forces them into.The overall demand will only increase. In 10 of Syracuse’s 15 remaining games, it will face a team ranked in the top quartile for defensive efficiency this season, according to Kenpom.com. In six of those games, the Orange will face a defense ranked inside the top 20. Boeheim and the players, by their postgame comments at least, seem unsure of how best to address Syracuse’s offensive woes.In the meantime, Syracuse needs to exploit any edge it can find, including any unforeseen personnel switches that throws an opponent off-balance.Before this season started, Boeheim was asked about last year’s team that, after a rocky start, strung together three Top 10 upsets in a month toward the end of the season but still missed the NCAA Tournament.“We lost games early in the year that we couldn’t lose,” Boeheim said, “but after that, we were a real good basketball team.”The same sentiment holds true this season in ACC play. Syracuse needs to win the games it should. Notre Dame was one of those games, but there’s nothing anyone can do about it now.Instead Syracuse must find its next advantage and, this time, capitalize.Sam Fortier is a Senior Staff Writer at The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at sjfortie@syr.edu or @Sam4TR. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 7, 2018 at 11:28 pmlast_img

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