Women's Basketball

Syracuse’s thin bench makes an ACC tournament run difficult

Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

Should SU make an ACC tournament run, it’d be backed by six players who’d play four games in as many days.

The style of play on which Syracuse prides itself presents possible issues. The Orange deploys an unrelenting full-court press every game in an effort to create more turnovers and, in turn, more possessions to capitalize on.

It’s the same technique that catapulted SU to the Atlantic Coast Conference and national championship title games last year. The pressure requires players to be in peak physical condition. Only now, the problem is that SU is relying on far fewer pieces.

“I thought we had a lot more depth last year,” SU associate head coach Vonn Read said. “… We had a really, really strong bench.”

Sixth-seeded Syracuse’s (20-9, 11-5 ACC) first conference tournament game will is Thursday night against No. 14 seed North Carolina, a team the Orange already beat this season. For that one game, SU will deploy its normal tactics. But to advance to the ACC title game, Syracuse will have had to play three games in as many days, a far cry from the two- and three-game weeks it plays during the regular season. Given that last year’s team had a double-bye and more depth, SU faces an uphill battle.

“We’re resting like crazy,” head coach Quentin Hillsman. “This time of year it’s about legs, it’s about being fresh.”

Getting chances to stay fresh during the game have come few and far between. In each of SU’s last two games, senior point guard and ACC Player of the Year Alexis Peterson has walked to the bench for a quick drink during free throws or other stoppages.

The reason Peterson is playing so much stems back to the shallow bench. Last year, SU had nine players who averaged double-digit minutes in ACC play, with nobody playing more than Peterson’s 31.3 minutes. This year, only six players are averaging more than 10 minutes per game in conference play. Without the double-bye, Syracuse’s thin line of reinforcements becomes a more glaring issue.

To combat fatigue late in the season and reduce impact, SU focuses more on cardiovascular exercises during training sessions, said strength and conditioning coach Ryan Cabiles. Syracuse also pays more attention to recovery after training. And while ice baths and foam rolls help, the main factor is sleep.

“In a perfect storm,” Cabiles said, “four games in four nights is challenging. But they can definitely do it.”

Hillsman and Read both said they did not envision SU using more bench players in the tournament and stressed that nothing about SU’s style would change for the first game. Meanwhile, some players are viewing the possibility of four games as a positive. Both Peterson and Brittney Sykes said while the extra rest could be helpful, they enjoy taking the court earlier.

“I like getting going, not waiting,” Peterson said. “Just the anticipation of, you haven’t played but they have played, so they’ve gotten shots up, they’ve gotten used to the rims at game speed.”

To start the season, Peterson and her aunt, Carla Norris, said the point guard was preparing all offseason to be a 40-minute player. In conference play, she got less than three minutes of rest per night.

Despite not getting the double-bye and the lack of depth, Syracuse isn’t worried about how much energy it will have deep in the tournament. It just needs to win its game on Thursday, first.

“It’s just one day,” Sykes said. “One day, one more game.”

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