On Tuesday night, tenth-ranked Syracuse fell to Seton Hall, a terrible loss for many reasons. First and foremost, Seton Hall is not a strong team. The Pirates are 9-12 on the season and had lost eight of their last ten games including home court losses to mid-majors Dayton and Richmond, as well as to perennial Big East doormat Rutgers.
Moreover, while upsets do happen, Syracuse has been particularly adept at defending its own home court. The Orange have won nearly 83 percent of their games in the Carrier Dome over the past four years, but apparently the near 22,000 strong crowd last night was not enough to propel them to victory.
Perhaps the most troubling factor was the nature of the loss. Seton Hall led by 13 at the half, extended that lead to as many as 27 in the second, and never trailed the Orange. Syracuse shot just 36 percent from the floor but allowed the Pirates to convert on over 54 percent of their field goal attempts.
If this loss was an isolated incident it would be excusable. There is a reason that no team has gone undefeated since the 1975-1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Every team - even the best in the country - takes their lumps throughout the season. The problem with this loss in particular is that it is not only the Orange's third consecutive defeat, but it also may present a more serious trend of struggles for this Syracuse team.
After starting the season with an 18-game winning streak, Syracuse climbed as high as third in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Poll. Since then the Orange have dropped three straight, the most glaring of which is of course the Seton Hall defeat. The first two are understandable: Syracuse lost at fourth-ranked Pittsburgh on January 17 without leading scorer Kris Joseph and at home against seventh-ranked Villanova on January 22. That said, the current three-game streak gives one pause and merits a reexamination of their early season performance.
To an outside observer, their 18-0 start would have been impressive, but by no means was it a dominant run. Although they outscored opponents by more than 16 points per game during that period, 57- and 42-point blowout wins against Colgate (3-16) and Morgan State (5-13), respectively, greatly padded those figures. With just those two games removed, Syracuse scored just 12 points more per game than its opponents, a number that pales in comparison to other top teams (Duke - 22, Ohio State - 21.8, Kansas - 20.4).
Moreover, that pristine record was nearly pockmarked with a number of ugly early season losses. The Orange eked out single-digit victories against William & Mary, Michigan, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Iona, Providence, and Seton Hall, only three of which were played outside of the Carrier Dome, with the Seton Hall contest the sole true road game of the bunch.
Unfortunately for Syracuse and its supporters, their schedule does not get any easier. Their final ten regular season games are all against Big East foes, including five against ranked opponents, whereas just four of their previous 21 games featured another top 25 team. Moreover, six of these ten games will be played at opposing home courts, compared to three true road games in their schedule to date and only six total contests outside the Carrier Dome. With the bulk of their conference schedule on the horizon and their most challenging slate remaining, the Orange must rediscover their winning ways to have a chance at the Big East crown.