The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball season is just three weeks away from its first exhibition game. Perhaps for some of you that seems a bit quicker than anticipated given the football team’s undefeated start.
Alas, basketball season draws near and the state of the Syracuse program is as interesting as ever. Jim Boeheim enters his 47th season at the helm. It’s the diamond anniversary of the 77-year-old head coach, who stepped foot on campus as a freshman 60 years ago. But in 2021-22, Syracuse experienced its first losing season of Boeheim’s career and first losing season for the program since Roy Danforth took over for Fred Lewis in 1968-69. Where to from here?
The Orange will attempt to right the ship with young talent. Six freshman enter the fray, barbed with seniors in Joe Girard, Jesse Edwards and Symir Torrence. Benny Williams is back for his sophomore season, Mounir Hima, a 6-foot-11 center, joins as a transfer from Duquesne and expects to back up Edwards in the middle. John Bol Ajak is back, too.
With a younger team, Syracuse didn’t schedule as aggressively in the non-conference as it did a season ago. Still, the early season does have a few challenges baked in. Syracuse will play in Brooklyn at the Barclays center against Richmond and either St. John’s or Temple in the following game of the Empire Classic in late November. The Orange will play at Illinois as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and also host Georgetown with a tricky conference game at Notre Dame sandwiched between.
With so many unknowns, you might be asking yourself how Syracuse will do this year. Well, have no fear. That’s why we’re here: to get all of this wrong and serve as free entertainment. Here goes…
With so much young talent and with seniors stepping into new leadership roles, Syracuse will probably drop an early non-conference game against Bryant and everyone will write off the team’s NCAA Tournament chances early. A middling start ACC play will do nothing to change anyone’s mind and the smartest people in the room (all of them) will write off Boeheim.
Then, after sandbagging for three months, Syracuse will remember (sometime in February) that it actually has to start playing basketball to make a post-season tournament. Finally around March, Syracuse will stop playing with its food and become pleasantly interested in trying to play basketball well. The smokescreen will have worked and those of us who are late-starters will be confused as if we’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Then the path to the NCAA Tournament will open up like Moses parting the Red Sea and the Orange will not only make the field of 68 as a double-digit seed, but it will parlay that invitation to the Sweet 16, making everyone outside of this fan base apoplectic and proving that the Syracuse basketball March mythos and all of its hysterics are, in fact, alive and well.
Fantasyland? Maybe, but would you really doubt it at this point?
But before all that happens and the collective sports media intelligentsia becomes surprised and unhinged with Syracuse, we first have to preview the season.
Let’s dive in.
Joe Girard, Jesse Edwards, Symir Torrence, Benny Williams, John Bol Ajak
Syracuse returns two starters from a season ago in Girard and Edwards. Girard is expected to slide to the shooting guard position, a natural fit which should free him up within the offense to hunt his own shots and work more off screens as opposed to setting up the offense from the point guard position.
Edwards should be a major contributor on both ends of the floor after averaging 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game as a junior. He’s back, healthy, and has all conference potential.
Torrence, whether as a starter or off the bench, will earn minutes from the point guard position. The hometown kid projects as a traditional pass-first type of point guard who can attack the paint, finish when needed and defend on the opposite end.
Williams looks to make the sophomore leap and start at one of the forward spots for Syracuse. He came on late in 2021-22 before a fractured tibia in his left knee ended his season. Bol Ajak is looking to find his way into the rotation.
Buddy Boeheim, Jimmy Boeheim, Cole Swider, Bourama Sidibe, Frank Anselem, Chaz Ownes, Paddy Casey
Syracuse loses quite a bit from last year. One part of the namesake is playing on a two-way deal with the Detroit Pistons while the other is playing in Greece. Speaking of two-way deals, Cole Swider performed with the Lakers over the summer. That’s a lot of shooting Syracuse will need to replace.
Syracuse will look to replace its back-up center as Sidibe departed after a fifth-year and Anselem transferred to Georgia. Owens transferred to Ranger Junior College.
Casey was a walk-on, but let’s be honest. You’re going to miss him.
Judah Mintz, Quadir Copeland, Justin Taylor, Chris Bunch, Maliq Brown, Peter Carey, Mounir Hima
Syracuse brings in six freshman who will compete for starting jobs and playing time. Last year at local media day, Jim Boeheim said, “It’s the best recruiting class we’ve ever had. Period.”
That was before Syracuse secured a commitment from the highest ranked player in the class, Mintz (No.33, ESPN). He will compete with Torrence for minutes at point guard.
Taylor and Bunch have the best chance to start or earn minutes right away from the forward spot. Brown could be a player that surprises with his athleticism and upside on the defensive end.
With 12 scholarship players, depth should be a strength of this team with a true backup at every position. If the offense is anything like last year, expect Syracuse to have little problem scoring the ball. Girard figures to lead this team in scoring with Edwards right behind him.
Williams could be more of a focal point within the offense from the forward spot. Still, some questions remain. Can the freshmen provide scoring? Can Mintz score from the one on top of orchestrating the offense in the half-court? Can Chris Bunch and Justin Taylor replace the shooting that Buddy Boeheim and Cole Swider provided?
Time will tell.
Can Syracuse get back to its modus operandi? Defense.
Boeheim’s name is synonymous with 2-3 zone, but the head coach insists that man-to-man will be played this season and with a replete roster perhaps we see more full-court press. Regardless of scheme, it’s hard to think Syracuse will be worse than its No. 204 ranking in KenPom defensive efficiency from a season ago, giving up 1.04 points per possession. That qualified as the worst ever for a Syracuse team in the KenPom era.
As mentioned, the non-conference schedule isn’t as daunting as last year and that could be a tailwind for a young team. Syracuse also has a relatively favorable ACC slate.
Duke and North Carolina both come to the JMA Dome. Repeat opponents in Virginia and Virginia Tech and Notre Dame should be challenging, but that’s balanced with Pittsburgh, Boston College and Georgia Tech.
The early January stretch is tougher than usual for Syracuse, but the end of conference slate isn’t. Syracuse finishes ACC play with Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
Areas of Interest
- Jim Boeheim enters the season with 1,099 wins, 998 of which are recognized by the NCAA. Boeheim will attempt to be the first coach to win 1,000 games twice and he can do it as soon as the Colgate game on Nov. 15
- Joe Girard enters the season sixth on the all-time three point list at Syracuse with 209 made threes. He could very well pass Andy Rautins for third all-time (282) and would need 100 made threes to tie his former roommate, Buddy Boeheim (309). Nobody is touching Gerry McNamara’s 400 made threes without an additional year
- Syracuse is 1-2 all-time against Illinois (and Lou Henson) but the Orange have never played in Champaign. Syracuse will make its first trip as a program to the State Farm Center, a dome-shaped building constructed in 1963 which seats 15,000. Sources say it will be orange
- Syracuse won’t play in the state of North Carolina until the ACC Tournament. No Tobacco road this year, folks. Wake Forest and NC State both come to the dome as well