Rather than go into a big detailed description of a game you all probably watched anyway, I figured it would be a good time to come at Syracuse’s 70-57 win over Florida State from a little bit of a different angle. So instead of a regular recap, let’s just dive straight into the three biggest stories from the (pretty important and mostly impressive) win over the Seminoles.
1. Good Cooney is Here (…and actually has been for awhile now)
It’s not much of a secret that Syracuse has been having some pretty horrendous shooting woes for the last year, dating back to the second half of the 2013-2014 season. That coincided with an awful stretch from Trevor Cooney, whose slump continued into the early part of this season. In the first eight games of the year, Cooney only hit double figures four times, with his best three point shooting performance being a 4-for-9 effort at Michigan.
In the last eight games, Cooney has been a completely different player. He’s averaging 16.2 points per game, with his only single digit scoring effort coming in the win over Georgia Tech, a game in which offense was apparently outlawed. He’s gone for 20 or more points in three of those games, including 28 tonight with a season high seven three pointers. But most importantly? He’s hitting 46.7% from three point range in the last eight games (compared to 28.2% in the first eight games).
So what’s been the difference? The St. John’s game. Seriously, that was the eighth game of the season, and ever since his poor performance there, he’s been a different player. And that’s exactly what he told the Post-Standard was going to happen, too. He’s gotten more aggressive, attacking the rim with a greater frequency and realizing that he can’t be as one dimensional on offense. Being a guy who just floats around the perimeter and hoists threes makes you easier to guard, and it took the St. John’s game to wake Cooney up to that fact.
The better Cooney plays, the better the team performs, so we should probably all just start sending thank you notes to the Red Storm for waking up “Good Cooney.”
2. Chris McCullough Might be Done (…oh please oh please say he isn’t…)
For all of the crap that Chris McCullough has been taking over the last month or so – most notably from his own head coach – the last thing Syracuse wanted to see was a potentially season-altering injury to the talented freshman forward. That’s why it was especially scary in the first half when McCullough came down awkwardly, had to be helped off the court, and never came back out of the locker room for the duration of the game.
McCullough has had his ups and downs, but he was playing well tonight, making us think that maybe he was going to start turning things around and begin producing at the level that made Chad Ford tab him as a potential lottery pick, which in turn enabled Jim Boeheim unleash his inner-Jeffrey Ross when talking about his 6-foot-10 first year player.
So far we don’t have any news on the severity of McCullough’s injury, but the indications are that it’s going to be bad news when reports start trickling out tomorrow after he gets reevaluated. For those watching the game, it looked like a potential ACL issue, but we can only cross our fingers and hope that it’s nothing that bad – both for the sake of the team but, more importantly, the sake of the kid.
3. Syracuse is Suddenly 12-4 and Unbeaten in the ACC (…for now)
Sure, Syracuse’s early ACC schedule hasn’t been exactly difficult, playing three of the weaker teams in the conference. But the simple fact that this Orange team is taking care of business and putting itself in position to at least challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth is a great sign moving forward. Remember, this is a team that was looking like a disaster at 5-3 and sitting on back to back losses to Michigan and St. John’s. Since then, the only blemish on the team’s resume was the overtime loss to Villanova, which is even more painful when you consider that’s a game that Syracuse pretty literally gave away at the end of regulation.
The Orange have won six in a row and have four more very winnable games ahead of them before the much more challenging portion of the conference schedule pops up. Tuesday’s game against Wake Forest won’t be easy, as the Demon Deacons are just 9-8 but have given Louisville and Duke all they can handle, and then it’s Clemson, Boston College, and Miami. Those four teams are a combined 36-25 overall this season, and the Orange should be favored in each matchup.
If Syracuse can take care of business, suddenly we’re looking at a 16-4 overall record and a 7-0 mark in conference play. That conference record is the most important part here, because it would put Syracuse in great position to finish well into the top half of the conference standings. Another game against Virginia Tech, two games against Pitt, and games against BC and NC State (which is suddenly looking a lot tougher following the Wolfpack’s impressive and dominant win over Duke today) are all winnable, so if the Orange simply beat the team’s they should beat, it’s not inconceivable that this team could wind up with a 12-6 record in the ACC.
If the Orange do wind up with a record of 12-6 in the conference, that’ll mean a regular season mark of 21-10 and a pretty solid resume come tournament time. It’s going to be hard for the committee to leave out any team that can win 12 games in one of the top conferences in America.
Of course this last point depends largely on what happens with the first two. Will we continue to see “Good Cooney” for the remainder of the year? And how severe is McCullough’s injury? Losing McCullough for any extended period would make it awfully difficult for the Orange to finish strong and crack 20 wins, no matter how much improvement Tyler Roberson has been displaying (and it’s been significant). There’s simply not nearly enough depth on this team to overcome any prolonged absences.