An early look at the 2020-21 Syracuse basketball team

Syracuse forward Elijah Hughes
Syracuse forward Elijah Hughes looks to score. Mandatory Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

With the basketball offseason officially underway, here’s a quick look at the 2020-21 Syracuse basketball team:

WHO’S OUT: Syracuse loses at least three players, all underclassmen guards, to the transfer portal.

  • Jalen Carey: A former top 50 recruit out of New York City, Carey started the season as the top point guard. But he struggled in his two seasons with turnovers and his shooting, and quickly fell out of Jim Boeheim’s short rotation. A hand injury cost him all but two games in his sophomore season, though he would’ve struggled for minutes if he had returned for his junior year.
  • Brycen Goodine: Goodine appeared in only 23 games this season and was used sparingly in those games. He finished with averages of 8.7 minutes, 1.9 points and 1.0 rebounds. He will have three years of eligibility with Providence remaining following a year where he will have to sit according to NCAA transfer rules unless he is granted a waiver.
  • Howard Washington: Washington endured all sorts of hardship while at Syracuse, suffering a torn ACL in one season, and a stroke in the next. He only appeared in 41 games in three seasons, and finished this past year with averages of 1.2 points and 1.2 assists in 20 games.

WHO’S LIKELY OUT: Elijah Hughes. While it remains to be seen whether Hughes, a First Team All-ACC Selection after leading the ACC in scoring (19.0 ppg), will ultimately turn pro, he should at least declare for the NBA Draft to get an evaluation. Many mock drafts have Hughes as going in the second round, but a good evaluation could change that. Or, with the opportunity to return to Syracuse and be the headliner of a potential top 25 team, Hughes could ultimately return for his fourth year of eligibility. Given Syracuse’s recent string of early departures, the former seems more likely.

WHO COULD BE OUT: Would it surprise anyone if Robert Braswell transferred? Braswell was ruled out for the season with a leg injury in January, but even before then, he struggled to find a place in Boeheim’s rotation. He played only seven games in his sophomore season, with averages of 1.7 points and 1.1 rebounds. But if Hughes does ultimately leave, that would open up opportunities for Braswell, who possesses a smooth shot from 3-point range.

WHO’S IN:

  • Kadary Richmond: A 6-5 combo guard from Brewster Academy, Richmond would be a perfect fit at the top of SU’s 2-3 zone. With three guards ahead of him graduating, Richmond might see some early playing time because as of right now, he’s the team’s third guard on the roster. Richmond is currently ranked 96th in the class of 2020 by 247 Sports.
  • Woody Newton: At 6-8 and 190 pounds, Newton looks like a classic Syracuse wing. He’s rated 128th in his class (he was a top 100 recruit when he originally committed to Syracuse) and is considered more of a project. With Quincy Guerrier, Marek Dolezaj and, potentially, Robert Braswell playing in front of him, Newton doesn’t appear to be an impact player right away.

» Related: Syracuse freshman guard Brycen Goodine announces transfer

WHO MAY BE IN:

Syracuse is actively in the grad transfer market, and is pursuing Harvard’s Seth Towns. He has sat out the last two seasons, but in 2017-18, he led the Crimson with 16 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore. He would have two years of eligibility remaining. Towns’ other finalists include Kansas, Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan and Maryland. Towns tweeted that he’s deciding on his next school this week.

The Orange is also actively recruiting another Ivy Leaguer in the grad transfer portal, Columbia big man Patrick Tapé. Tapé visited Syracuse when they hosted Duke, but also took visits to Maryland, Ohio State and USC. Two seasons ago, he averaged 11.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks.

Still, Syracuse is not considered a favorite for either of them, and will likely need to look elsewhere to bolster their depth.

WHO’S BACK:

As we wrote above, Syracuse is already losing three players, with the potential for two more players to join them. Still, several key players are set to return to SU.

  • Marek Dolezaj: Dolezaj improved in nearly every category, averaging 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, though he went from shooting 37.9 percent from downtown in his sophomore year to just 14.3 in his junior season. Part of that had to do with a hand injury during the summer, which disrupted his confidence in his shooting. It’s easy to see Dolezaj averaging 13 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, 2 steals and a block in his final campaign.
  • Bourama Sidibe: In his first injury free season at Syracuse, Sidibe found his rhythm toward the end of the year, and finished with averages of 6.0 points and 7.6 rebounds. Perhaps Syracuse can lean on Sidibe for more offense next season, but they’re mostly hoping he can replicate the final six games of the season where he was averaging double figure rebounds.
  • Buddy Boeheim: Boeheim became one of the ACC’s top snipers this year, shooting 37.0 percent from downtown to finish second on the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game. He turned into much more than just a stand-still shooter this season, displaying an ability to drive and score in traffic. Still, the issue has never been about his offensive; he needs to help SU more on the defensive end. (But don’t tell his Dad that.)
  • Joe Girard III: Girard, New York State High School’s all-time leading scorer, won over many fans with his poise and moxie, though perhaps not his shot selection. He finished third on the team in scoring at 12.4 points after wrestling the starting point guard job away from Carey early in the season. While he shot just 34.8 percent from the field, he figures to only improve as he moves forward in his Syracuse career.
  • Quincy Guerrier: Guerrier had one of the better freshmen seasons for an SU wing, appearing in all 32 contests with averages of 6.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in just 20.3 minutes per game. When he’s locked in, he’s as good a rebounder as Syracuse has. When he’s not, he tends to wander on the perimeter and take ill-advised shots.
  • Jessie Edwards: Edwards oozes potential, and may ultimately be a prolific interior offensive player. I have him on one of my early season awards (see below) as a key contributor for the fall.
  • John Bol Ajak: With Sidibe, Dolezaj and Edwards ahead of Ajak, it’s hard to see the redshirt freshman making much of an impact in the coming season. But Ajak was a project center when SU signed him, and he should still continue to develop over the next few years.

EARLY MVP: Hughes was Syracuse’s MVP this year. If he returns for his fourth year of eligibility, he would once again headline that group. After early struggles, the Orange finished sixth overall in the ACC, and if Hughes is back, SU’s top seven players would be back. That would vault SU into top 25 consideration.

EARLY MIP: Sidibe finished with 10-plus rebounds in each of his final six games after struggling through most of the season. If he can pick up where he left off, the Orange may have their best inside presence since Rakeem Christmas.

EARLY DARK HORSE: A close runner up to Most Improved might be Edwards. Though he only played when both Dolezaj and Sidibe were saddled with fouls, he showed plenty of promise in his spindly 6-11, 215 pound frame. He’s agile around the rim and once he adds more muscle, he should see more time at center, allowing Dolezaj to stay at his more natural wing position.

BURNING QUESTIONS:

  1. What of the offense if Hughes is gone? We saw how ugly the offense looked when Hughes was injured for games against NC State and Miami. Who becomes the alpha if he leaves? Is it Girard? Boeheim? Dolezaj? Someone will need to step up.
  2. As a companion note to that, if Hughes does return, can Syracuse finally enjoy a season where they are consistently in the top 25 and at the upper end of the ACC? If SU’s top 7 is returning, it doesn’t seem that far fetched.
  3. Will Guerrier be ready? It was bumpy at the start, but Guerrier found his place as the team’s sixth man. Guerrier settled for too many outside shots and didn’t use his powerful 220 pound frame to bully his way inside. That changed toward the end of the year, and his 7-point, 9-rebound performance in SU’s rout of UNC to finish the year showed how far he had come. If Hughes is gone next season, expect Guerrier to shoulder more of the offensive load.
  4. Will Richmond be ready? Jim Boeheim typically is reticent to play freshmen in key roles, but if SU isn’t able to get another guard into the fold by the start of next season, Richmond will be the team’s only backup guard. That’s a lot to ask of a player who is a fringe top 100 recruit.
  5. Who will take the next step forward? This year, Syracuse saw improvements from Dolezaj, Boeheim and Hughes. Who will be the next player to make that leap? Braswell, Edwards and Guerrier are the obvious choices.
  6. Will Syracuse be better defensively? Syracuse’s 2-3 zone has typically confounded and frustrated opposing teams. But last season was one of Syracuse’s worst performances in recent history, with the Orange finishing 116th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. Compare that to just one season ago when SU was 30th.

For more Syracuse coverage, Like our Facebook page, follow us @TheJuiceOnline and listen to our podcast.

The Juice Online Discussion Forum



Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2522 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.