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Five Takeaways: Villanova 67 Syracuse 53

What to make the of the Orange's loss to the #6 Wildcats.

Syracuse fell to #6 Villanova 67-53 in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night in a game that was closer than the final score indicated. Here are my five takeaways from the game. 

1. Rebounding

The biggest issue for Syracuse throughout the game was not defending Villanova's plethora of three point shooters nor taking care of the basketball. The biggest issue was rebounding the basketball. After back to back strong efforts on the glass, the Orange had its worst of the season, with Villanova enjoying a 57-36 edge overall including 27-11 on the offensive end. That led to 25 second chance points for the Wildcats compared to just seven for the Orange. In a game Syracuse lost by 14, the second chance points deficit was 17. It goes without saying that Syracuse cannot win games being dominated on the boards in that fashion. Too often Syracuse easily gave up position to Villanova's front court or were just out-muscled for the ball. Syracuse has to be stronger there. 

2. Jimmy Boeheim is a Very Good Offensive Player

Yes Jimmy can be better on the boards (he only had two rebounds against Villanova), but he is proving to be a very good offensive player that can create mismatches. If you put someone smaller on him, Jimmy will post up that defender. If someone a big bigger and more physical is covering him, Jimmy can drive. He was Syracuse's best offensive weapon in this game, and the last three games have proven that the high major level is not too much for him. 

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3. Jesse Edwards Was Just Off

Edwards seemed to be in position for some rebounds that were just taken away or he did not quite grab. He had a few finishes that rimmed out and even his free throw shooting, which had been solid, was off. Even despite that, Edwards was active defensively, finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. The biggest issue was going 1-6 from the field along with missing a handful of defensive boards. He will learn from this performance. It was unrealistic to expect Edwards to be nearly perfect every game as he had been since the Arizona State game.

4. Syracuse Cannot Win With Buddy Shooting Poorly

Buddy Boeheim is Syracuse's best player. He needs to play well most of the time for Syracuse to win. The Orange survived Florida State with a poor shooting night but Villanova is a different animal. To credit Syracuse, it was in the game until really the final five minutes despite Buddy not contributing much. That is encouraging. However, if Buddy has even a decent game, Syracuse has a larger advantage at halftime and is in it right until the final minute at least. If Buddy has a good game, Syracuse may have won that. Shooting 3-15 and 0-5 is not going to get it done. Yes teams are defending him differently this year, but he has to adjust to that and make the open looks when he gets them. He is shooting just 25.9% from three point range on the season, including just 3-20 (15%) over the last three games. 

5. The Three Game Stretch

Even before the season started, most identified the three game stretch against Indiana, at Florida State and Villanova as perhaps the most challenging of the season. If Syracuse picked up just one win it would be enough to keep the Orange's season going in the right direction. After the Battle 4 Atlantis performance following the loss to Colgate, I am not sure many expected even one win in that three. Syracuse got two. What I takeaway from those three games is that Syracuse is improving, still has the potential to be a good basketball team, is making strides defensively and can compete with, and beat, good teams. I think there is more positive than negative to take away from those three games. Now Syracuse has to make that mean something with its next four to close out the 2021 calendar year. The next four are at Georgetown, home to a 1-8 Lehigh team, home against a solid Cornell squad and then the ACC home opener against Georgia Tech. All winnable games. If Syracuse wins those four, it will be 9-4 heading into 2022, with everything it wants to accomplish still on the table.