Four starters return and the fifth starter, Alan Griffin, comes in with almost 750 minutes of playing time for Illinois of the Big Ten under his belt. None of those five should be taken aback from playing under the bright lights. A healthy Quincy Guerrier should provide greater impact on the boards and in the scoring column and a healthy Robert Braswell could provide another option behind Griffin. Jesse Edwards and Frank Anselem should make each other better in the fight for bench minutes at center and Kadary Richmond should provide another perimeter option.
But, as it always does under Jim Boeheim, everything centers around how good the 2-3 zone will be. Last season saw opponents release a too frequent barrage of open threes and collect offensive rebounds. Syracuse opponents shot the third-highest three-point rate in the country and secured 32.2 percent of all potential offensive rebounds, the 20th-highest mark in Division I. And that leads to lots of questions about the returning players.
Can Joe Girard III and Buddy Boeheim overcome their athletic limitations and defend better outside? Will the extra weight added to the frames of Marek Dolezaj (16 pounds) and Bourama Sidibe (18 pounds) help them withstand the rigors of banging in the post for boards? Will Griffin, a strong rebounder at Illinois, learn the intricacies of the defense and contribute on the glass at a similar level? Will Guerrier play with a better understanding of the rotations and coverages on defense? Is Richmond as ready to play on defense as the murmurings coming from the Melo Center suggest he is on offense?
They’re all important questions because, while it is pretty safe to expect a similar level of offensive production as last year, the defense was far too permissive for the Orange to be good. If SU is actually going to be on the safe side of the NCAA Tournament bubble for the first time in several seasons, they will need to be a lot better on defense than last season.
Syracuse does figure to be just that – better – but it remains to be seen how much. Until the Orange show just how much better, skepticism is to be expected. Figure 5-2 in the non-conference and 12-8 in ACC play, meaning the Orange finish their truncated schedule at 17-10. Tack on (at least) one win the conference tournament and that will be good enough to get them back into the tourney, although it will likely be a short stay.