Item: Counting on seven new faces (dismissing Paschal Chukwu’s short seven game season last year due to an eye injury and inserting him into the “new” category) to go along with the two all important backcourt returnees Tyus Battle and Frank Howard, there’s a lot of flexibility among the newcomers to allow Jim Boeheim to tinker with his lineups during the non-conference portion of the schedule.
The annual two exhibition basketball games Syracuse plays are just that, a dress rehearsal into what we may anticipate from a nine player scholarship rotation that always seems to magically dwindle down a player or two by the time the conference schedule gets underway.
Heading into the regular season opener against Cornell Friday night (7:00 p.m. ET / ACC Network Extra) at the Dome, and off only two preseason games against Division II programs in which to judge, there’s no doubt this Orange team will be a work in progress as Boeheim tinkers with his lineups to alter game tempo to best correspond with what’s working and what’s not for SU against a particular opponent.
“You’re going to not shoot it well sometimes, (so) you’re going to have to play defense in those situations,” Boeheim said during the preseason which saw the Orange cruise by 30 points against Southern New Hampshire by indeed playing strong defense, then struggle offensively for a half against Southern Connecticut (trailed by 15 at one point) until Battle and Howard and better defense ignited a dominant rally to right the ship and win going away by 25 points.
“We understand it’s a process,” Howard said last month previewing the dynamic of mixing in three new starters, one a true freshman (Oshae Brissett), one a redshirt freshman (Matthew Moyer) with Chukwu in the middle, along with grad transfer combo guard Geno Thorpe and three other freshmen; backup big man Bourama Sidibe, slender forward Marek Dolezaj, and guard Howard Washington.
“We’re young, explosive and athletic.” Howard continued. “College basketball right now is filled with young guys so we’ll adjust.”
Making a multitude of in-game adjustments with so many new components will be Boeheim’s challenge to start the season, one that will debut with the unique snapshot of a father-son competitive encounter as Boeheim’s oldest son Jimmy will likely play at some point for the Big Red against the ‘Cuse Friday night.
But in the big picture of getting his 42nd Orange team ready for non-conference games against the likes of Maryland, Kansas and Connecticut (“We have a lot of work to do,” is the coach’s common refrain), Boeheim knows that how well the team can play the famed 2-3 zone will be a key differentiator.
“I think we can definitely be better defensively this year than we were last year.” Boeheim proclaimed. “(Last year) we were kind of a middle of the league-type defensive team. We’re used to being in the top two or three teams defensively, so I think we can be better defensively.”