Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and his thin roster needed a break, and the Orange got one at a most opportune time.
When Syracuse (13-6, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) hosts Boston College (13-6, 3-3 ACC) on Wednesday night, the Orange will be coming off a seven-day hiatus as the midpoint of the conference season looms and thoughts of the postseason begin to take hold.
The break has been important, and not only because of fatigue on a squad where the starters play an awful lot. This team, which has only eight scholarship players, is one of the most inexperienced in Boeheim’s 42 years as head coach, with four freshmen, one redshirt freshman, just one returning starter, and point guard Frank Howard and center Paschal Chukwu starting for the first time.
The more time Boeheim and his staff have to teach in practice, the better.
“This team is picking things up. They’ve worked really hard,” Boeheim said. “We’re definitely trying to reinforce the fundamental things we need to do. They’re trying to figure things out.
“Overall, they’re battling. They’re learning. I think they are getting better.”
The Orange are coming off a home win over Pittsburgh that was preceded by an 11-point road loss in double overtime to then-No. 23 Florida State , Syracuse’s fourth straight setback. Battle played all 50 minutes against the Seminoles and leads the ACC in playing time, averaging over 40 minutes in conference play along with freshman forward Oshae Brissett, while Howard is fourth at 39.17.
Since media timeouts were instituted in games, Boeheim has maintained that fatigue shouldn’t be an issue for the players. Boston College coach Jim Christian concurs, with one caveat — “as long as they have the mental toughness.”
“The best players play, and I think their bodies get used to it,” said Christian, whose trio of Jordan Chatman, Jerome Robinson and Steffon Mitchell are averaging over 36 minutes in league play. “They understand the game, the minutes they play.”
As February nears, team resumes become a focus. Syracuse was the top seed in last spring’s NIT, which likely meant the Orange were the last team eliminated from NCAA Tournament consideration by the selection committee. Despite a 0-3 record on the road in conference play this season, Syracuse was No. 43 on Tuesday in the NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index, placing the Orange in a similar position on the bubble with just over a month left in the regular season.
With home games remaining against three teams currently ranked in the top 16 of the AP poll (Virginia, North Carolina and Clemson), there is opportunity to enhance that resume.
“It’s on me, Tyus and Frank now to get the team back up,” said Brissett, who’s averaging 14.9 points and 9.4 rebounds in a stellar first year. “I feel like I’ve made myself one of the leaders on this team.”
Boston College, fresh from a tough loss at Louisville , is ranked No. 66 in RPI, and the Eagles present a real challenge for a team that’s had trouble defending the 3-pointer. Opponents are hitting a third of their shots from beyond the arc against Syracuse (157 of 471), and BC has two of the best long-range shooters in the conference in Jerome Robinson (45 of 97, 46.4 percent) and Chatman (46 of 102, 45.1). In six conference games, Robinson is shooting 55.6 percent from the floor and leads all players in scoring (23.3).
“Just got to keep on playing the games,” said Battle, second in the ACC in scoring (19.8) to Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III (21.9). “This is a tough conference.”
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