Jim Boeheim is entering unfamiliar territory as the 46th-year Syracuse University men’s basketball coach continues searching for answers to spark his disappointing defense.
The Orange (7-7 overall, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) holds a .500 winning percentage for its worst showing at the 14-game mark during Boeheim’s tenure as head coach.
Syracuse is in danger of dipping farther entering a league road game at Wake Forest (12-3, 2-2) slated for 2 p.m. Saturday to be televised locally on the Yes Network.
Boeheim has never posted a losing season in his Hall of Fame career and his trademark defense has been the biggest letdown approaching the halfway point, allowing a conference-worst 76.5 points per game, the highest for an SU team in at least the past decade.
“Our offense has got nothing to do with why we are losing, we’re losing because of our defense, it’s simple,” Boeheim said after Wednesday’s 88-87 setback at Miami in which the Orange gave up more than 70 points to the Hurricanes for the first time since joining the ACC in 2013.
The loss accounted for SU’s fourth in the last six games, and the opposing teams in that stretch dating back to Dec. 7 — Villanova, Georgetown, Virginia, and Miami — have seemingly solved SU’s traditionally potent 2-3 zone by halftime.
In the four losses combined, SU held its opponents to an average of 30.7 points on 34 percent shooting in the first half, but after halftime, each foe has scored an average of 46.3 points at a 52 percent clip.
Syracuse shooting guard Buddy Boeheim pointed to a series of missed rotations in recent losses and said that closing out on shooters and cutting off driving lanes are points of emphasis for improving the defense.
“It’s really just knowing what teams are going to run against us and what they’re going to do, we need to do a better job of that, and then just little things like grabbing the ball, contesting shooters, and continuing to rotate well,” the senior said after Saturday’s loss to Virginia.
Overall, the SU defense has allowed the most 3-point field goals made to opposing teams in the ACC at 11 per game and yielded the most average attempts from deep at 33.
They rank around the middle of the conference in 3-point percentage defense (33.7) and the persistent 3-pointers allowed have negated the impact of their top four showing in average steals (8.1), blocks (4.4) and turnovers forced (13).
Jim Boeheim has tweaked his traditional 2-3 look on a few occasions, first sliding Buddy Boeheim from the top of the 2-3 zone at the perimeter down to the foul line to cut off the high post for spurts, and more recently, utilizing center Jesse Edwards to defend that area while forwards cover the corners.
Both adjustments have provided temporary gains to limit action in the high post, where successful possessions against SU’s zone typically begin, but neither has proved to be the remedy.
The Orange has consistently performed on offense and ranks fourth in the ACC for scoring average (78.9), third in 3-point shooting percentage (39) and first in 3-pointers per game (9.2), needing just a marginal improvement defensively to potentially spark a second-half turnaround.
“We’re not talking about great, we’re talking about a little better, if we can be a little better defensively, that’s the key,” Jim Boeheim said after the setback to the Cavaliers. “Virginia isn’t a great-shooting team and they shot 52 percent, so obviously our defense is not good enough. In terms of what we’re doing, that’s just not good enough.”
Syracuse has also had recent difficulty handling pressure defense — ranking bottom three in the ACC for turnovers lost per game (13.3), including a season-high 19 at Miami — and is near the bottom of the league in free-throw percentage (.718), both of which are additional keys to picking up the pace down the stretch.
ORANGE IN EMPIRE CLASSIC
According to a report from Jon Rothstein of the CBS Sports Network, Syracuse is one of three teams that will play in the Empire State Classic next season.
Syracuse will be joined in the early-schedule showcase by St. John’s and Temple with a fourth team to be determined, according to the report.
The tournament is traditionally played at Madison Square Garden but was played in Las Vegas earlier this season. There is no official date or location for the event scheduled.
JIMMY APPROACHING MILESTONE
Syracuse graduate senior Jimmy Boeheim is two points shy of scoring 1,000 for his collegiate career entering Saturday’s game at Wake Forest.
The 6-foot-8 forward has scored 198 points this season for SU at an average of 14.1 to rank second on the team in his first season since transferring from Cornell. He finished his three seasons for the Big Red with 800 total points.
BELBEY JOINS WOMEN’S STAFF
Shaun Belbey announced on Twitter that he has accepted a position to join the SU women’s basketball coaching staff. The team has not announced the hiring.
Belbey played for the SU men’s squad from 2015-20, joining as a walk-on before garnering a scholarship for his final two seasons.
He also worked as a general manager for the Boeheim’s Army team in the TBT summer event alongside his brother, Kevin Belbey, who founded the squad.