Syracuse fell 89-68 to #19 Auburn in the Orange's last game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Here are my five takeaways from the game.
1. Jesse Edwards is Not a Fluke
Auburn has one of the most talented and longest front courts in college basketball. Walker Kessler is a 7-1 center with a tremendously high ceiling. Jesse Edwards, one of the bright spots in the loss, dominated that matchup. Kessler played just 15 minutes, picking up four fouls as he attempted to defend Edwards. Edwards finished with 17 points and six rebounds. He was the best player on the floor for Syracuse in the last two games. If he keeps this up, he will be the ACC's Most Improved Player and it will be the best season by a Syracuse center since Rakeem Christmas.
2. Three Shots Made Syracuse's Job Even More Difficult
Auburn is really good. Jim Boeheim considers them a top 10 caliber team. They have a talented enough roster that a Final Four run would not be a surprise. Obviously Syracuse would have to play really, really well to beat them. When three somewhat lucky shots go in during the first half, it makes that job even more difficult. Auburn had two long three pointers bank in and a circus layup fall when the shooter was falling to the ground and not looking at the basket. In most games, none of those shots go in. Once in a while, one does. In this one, all three did. That was eight points for Auburn in what turned out to be a 10 point halftime deficit. Given how well Auburn played in the second half, the outcome does not change. However, a two point halftime lead versus a 10 point halftime lead certainly changes the approach and the momentum for both teams entering the second half. When you are playing against a better team, as Syracuse was in this situation, it is difficult enough to win without having to overcome breaks like that going against you.
3. Symir Torrence and Benny Williams
Symir Torrence showed a little something in this one, but also made some mistakes. Torrence played 21 minutes, scored six points, dished out five assists and grabbed four rebounds. However, he also had five turnovers. Everything else was fine, but too many sloppy turnovers. That will improve as he gets more comfortable. Still, I thought he showed he can give Syracuse something off the bench. Benny Williams made an impact defensively. He also played 21 minutes and came up with three steals. He is still figuring things out offensively, and right now is at his best cutting without the ball. But if Williams can provide some rebounding along with defensive intensity, there should be a role for him moving forward.
4. Bourama Sidibe Could Make a Difference
Syracuse could have really used a healthy Bourama Sidibe in this tournament. Not so much in the last two games, but in the first one when Edwards was in foul trouble (I still think Syracuse beats VCU if Edwards plays 30+ minutes). An experienced, solid player like Sidibe is the perfect reserve to Edwards. It feels like Frank Anselem is kind of where Edwards was last season. Showing flashes at times, but not quite ready yet and a bit inconsistent. If Sidibe can come back sometime soon, he should be able to provide 10 minutes or so off the bench to spell Edwards.
5. What Did Syracuse Learn About Itself at Battle 4 Atlantis?
The significant weaknesses are very clear. They may have been, perhaps, entering the tournament, but there is no doubt now. Ball handling and perimeter defense are the two areas that cost Syracuse. I do not think either will be great this season, but they need improvement in both. The positives are that Syracuse dealt with three aggressive, athletic defenses. That will help this team learn moving forward. Also, Jesse Edwards had a breakout three days which will continue to pay dividends. I also think Syracuse learned it needs its bench to be successful. They need to get something out of Torrence, Williams and Anselem. Torrence and Williams can help defensively. Anselem to spell Edwards. Swider breaking out of his slump was important. Rebounding well in two of three games was important. Let's see how they take all of that and start to get better against Indiana. One comment on that game, it will be interesting to see how the Hoosiers react to the Dome. It will be Indiana's first game against high major competition and first game away from their home court.