Syracuse struggled for the non-conference part of the season and opened ACC play with a shocking loss to Boston College.
At 8-6, many weren’t sure if the Orange could turn it around quickly enough in a deep ACC to make a serious postseason run. Over the last two games the Orange have won twice and looked like a different team as head coach Jim Boeheim has gone to a shorter rotation.
In a win over Miami on Wednesday, the Orange only made one second-half substitution in the first 30 seconds before settling in on five guys to ride out the game. On Saturday, the Orange blew out Pitt, 77-66, in a game that was a 20-point difference for much of the contest. Boeheim only played six players in this one. Six players. Even though he was up double digits all of the second half he didn’t change things up.
Senior guard John Gillon has been a huge story with his play in the ACC. Entering the season many pegged the graduate transfer from Colorado State as not a “true” point guard and more of a scorer. Through the early part of the season, that scouting report appeared to be mostly correct. Gillon could score but he wasn’t doing a consistent job of being a distributor early in the year. Now he has back-to-back games with 11 assists after an outstanding 20 points and 11 dimes in the win over Pitt.
Gillon now has 25 assists to only four turnovers so far in three ACC games and his development as a distributor could be a key to Syracuse’s season. When you add in Gillon’s scoring capabilities — specifically his long-range shooting — and the Orange offense can really make plays as they did in the win over Pitt. Gillon was 6-for-12 from three-point range and helped Syracuse do a lot of damage on Saturday.
Gillon, Andrew White and Tyus Battle handle the brunt of the perimeter responsibilities among this new Syracuse rotation while Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson and Taurean Thompson are the interior players. With Lydon’s ability to play a bit on the perimeter it makes for some intriguing floor-spacing lineups for the Orange.
Boeheim has gone to small rotations and played teams for heavy minutes before but we’ll have to see how this team handles it. While Gillon, White and Roberson are all battle-tested seniors, Lydon is a sophomore and Battle and Thompson are freshmen. We’ll also have to see if players like DaJuan Coleman and Franklin Howard can work into the rotation at all and how they handle being demoted so severely.
This is an important upcoming stretch for Syracuse. They get a revenge home game against Boston College that should be a win but they have three road games at Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Notre Dame around that. Three road games against Tournament-caliber opponents should be a real test to see if Boeheim sticks with this rotation and how it performs.
So can Syracuse correct itself and make the NCAA tournament? They’re going to have the opportunities to do so. This four-game stretch should be a huge indicator of how things will look in the future.