Syracuse basketball may be better next season but its defense will not

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 27: Marcus Sasser #0 of the Houston Cougars is surrounded by Buddy Boeheim #35 and Quincy Guerrier #1 of the Syracuse Orange in the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 27, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Trevor Brown Jr/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The Syracuse men’s basketball roster will undergo more turnover before next season than in any offseason in recent memory. The Orange has already lost 22% of minutes played from last season, and there’s a good chance that this number will jump to 66% if the rumored departures of Alan Griffin, Quincy Guerrier, and Marek Dolezaj turn out to be true.

Reinforcements are on the way, as Syracuse will welcome 6-8 wing Benny Williams, a highly touted 5-star recruit. The team also recently announced that 6-9 wing Cole Swider will transfer from Villanova and 6-3 guard Symir Torrence will transfer from Marquette.

Depending on the pending departures, Syracuse may continue to add players through the transfer portal. Jimmy Boeheim is rumored to be considering returning home from Cornell to play for his father.

With these additions and Buddy Boeheim building off his impressive ACC and NCAA Tournament performances, it’s quite possible the Orange will improve its offensive performance from last season. Many analysts agree, as SU has landed on the “way-too-early” top-25 rankings of several outlets, including ESPN, USA Today, and NCAA.com.

But Syracuse’s defense will continue to be the area that holds the team back from the greatness it enjoyed in the early 2010s. Last season, KenPom.com ranked the Orange 77th in the country in defensive efficiency.

This was an improvement from 2019 when the Orange ranked 116th, but it still represented the 3rd worst ranking for the Orange in the 25 years of the database—all three of which have occurred in the last five years. Prior to 2017, SU had finished in the top 50 in defensive efficiency in all but two seasons dating back to 1997.

Despite the poor performance this past season, it’s hard to see how the Orange will get better.

SU loses its best defender in guard Kadary Richmond. Richmond’s 4.5% steal rate ranked 13th in the country, and his 4.6 defensive box plus-minus was triple that of starter Joe Girard III. Torrence brings a 6-8 wingspan well suited to the top of the zone, but his shooting struggles may keep him from seeing the court as much as Richmond did this past season.

On the wings, the Orange can hope that Williams will figure out his zone rotations more quickly than most SU freshmen. Beyond him, Swider is likely a downgrade. His limited playing time at Villanova was primarily due to poor defense, illustrated by the fact that he recorded just 13 blocks in three years—including just two all last season despite his 6-9 frame.

» Related: Syracuse picks up commitment from point guard Symir Torrence

If Syracuse loses Griffin, Guerrier, and Dolezaj all depart and Jimmy Boeheim transfers in, SU may be in real trouble. Boeheim is a serviceable scorer but posted a career -2.2 box plus-minus and 107.1 defensive rating at Cornell.

Syracuse’s one saving grace may be the center position. Jesse Edwards will return following impressive NCAA Tournament appearances where he sparked long opponent scoring droughts and racked up one of the best plus-minuses on the team. He was inconsistent during the regular season, but if he can build off his late-seasons success then he will provide a zone anchor the Orange has lacked since the departure of Paschal Chukwu.

In addition, Bourama Sidibe will return for a 5th season and, Edwards notwithstanding, provides an upgrade over Dolezaj, who was forced to play out of position at the 5.

However, if Sidibe can’t stay healthy and Edwards remains inconsistent, the Orange may field one of their worst defensive teams in Boeheim’s tenure. With offensive fireworks from Buddy Boeheim and Williams, Syracuse may be better, but they will have to outscore opponents. Prepare for high-scoring games, Orange Nation.

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About Jeff Irvine 107 Articles
Jeff has covered Massachusetts Minutemen basketball for The Maroon and White and The Daily Hampshire Gazette. He has also written for The Daily Orange. Jeff is an Amherst, Massachusetts native, and graduated from Syracuse University in 2006. Follow him on Twitter @jeffreyirvine.