An early look at the 2021-22 Syracuse basketball team

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: The Syracuse Orange takes on the San Diego State Aztecs in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 19, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

With the basketball offseason officially underway, here’s a quick look at the 2021-22 Syracuse basketball team:

WHO’S OUT: With the elimination of the one-year redshirt rule for transfers in college basketball, it was a frenzy of movement in the offseason, with players either entering the portal, jumping to the NBA Draft or not using their extra year of eligibility.

  • John Bol Ajak: Ajak appeared in just 10 games in his two years at Syracuse, and was a long shot to ever crack the Syracuse rotation.
  • Robert Braswell: Toward the end of the season, Braswell became a fixture in the Syracuse rotation, and played 15 or more minutes in his final five games. He averaged 9.2 points in two ACC and two NCAA Tournament games before going scoreless in his final outing against Houston.
  • Marek Dolezaj: Dolezaj will forever be a fan favorite for his hustle and high basketball IQ, and appeared in 131 games throughout his career. As a senior, he averaged 9.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He chose not to use his extra year of eligibility and turned pro.
  • Alan Griffin: On Monday, ZagsBlog.com reported that Griffin would forgo his final two years of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft. In his sole season at Syracuse, he averaged 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds, though he mysteriously disappeared during SU’s postseason run.
  • Woody Newton: After starting the season as SU’s first wing off the bench, Newton was virtually non-existent following the turn of the calendar, appearing in only five games in 2021. His entry into the portal coincided with Syracuse adding Cole Swider (more on him below).
  • Kadary Richmond: This one hurt. Syracuse’s talented freshman showed confidence and poise beyond his years, and in the eyes of many Orange fans, was SU’s best point guard. But Richmond would’ve faced an uphill battle to enter the starting lineup with Joe Girard III firmly established in that role, and ended up transferring to Seton Hall.

WHO’S LIKELY OUT: After a breakout sophomore campaign, Quincy Guerrier declared for the NBA Draft, though he didn’t sign with an agent, preserving his ability to return to Syracuse. He was named to the All-ACC Third Team after averaging 14.5 points and nine rebounds per game.

WHO COULD BE OUT: The lone player on Syracuse’s roster to not officially announce his plans for the 2021-22 season is reserve center Frank Anselem. He appeared in only four games this past season, but the coaching staff loves his upside and believes he can be a key part of SU’s rotation at center. Keep in mind that Anselem reclassified late in the cycle, and would’ve been a top 75 recruit entering college this fall.

WHO’S IN:

  • Benny Williams: Widely regarded as a top-25 recruit and a five-star player, Williams is a rangy, athletic wing that can score at all three levels. He fits the classic mold of a Syracuse forward, and figures to grab the starting wing position vacated by Griffin. The Orange hasn’t had a player rated this high since Tyus Battle.
  • Cole Swider: In 2017, Syracuse was one of three finalists for Swider, along with Duke and Villanova. Swider, then a top 50 recruit, ultimately chose the Wildcats, and played a steady role as an offensive spark off the bench, but never averaged more than 20 minutes per game in his three seasons with Villanova. This past year, he averaged 5.7 png and 2.8 rpg and figures to see a more expanded role in Syracuse’s rotation.
  • Symir Torrence: Torrence, a Syracuse native, is familiar with Syracuse’s starting backcourt of Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III. The three played on the Albany City Rocks AAU team in high school, and have been reunited at SU. Torrence appeared in 24 games with Marquette in 2020-21, and averaged 13.0 minutes, 2.4 points and 1.5 assists. He was a former top 75 recruit in the class of 2019.

» Related: Syracuse picks up commitment from 2022 wing Kamari Lands

WHO MAY BE IN:

Depending on whether Guerrier stays or returns to Syracuse, the Orange would be in the market for another wing. And it just so happens that Jim Boeheim’s eldest son, Jimmy Boeheim, has a year of eligibility left after the Ivy League canceled its 2020-21 season because of COVID-19. The Ivy League doesn’t allow graduate students to play, and Jimmy is about to finish his academic senior year and would not be allowed back if he finished his requirements.

Jimmy announced in November that he would be leaving Cornell, and Syracuse would provide an ideal landing spot for him. In the 2019-20 season, he led Cornell with 16.7 points and 5.6 rebounds, though he shot just 29.5 percent from 3-point land. A three-man rotation of Swider, Boeheim and Williams at wing would provide plenty of offense.

Syracuse also has several scholarships to play with. If Anselem leaves, it would make sense for the Orange to use one of those scholarships on a center. With only three guards and potentially only two wings, the Orange could use depth at those positions as well. Those scholarships would likely be used on the transfer portal, which has an unprecedented amount of players looking for new homes.

WHO’S BACK:

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

  • Chaz Owens: Owens, son of SU legend Billy Owens, appeared in two games last season. He’s likely to continue his role as a bench player in 2021-22.
  • Bourama Sidibe: Sidibe has had knee issues during his entire tenure at Syracuse, and last year played just two games as a result of a torn meniscus. When healthy, Sidibe could be Syracuse’s starting center. If not, Sidibe, who turns 24, will spend his fifth year at Syracuse wondering ‘what if?’
  • Buddy Boeheim: Boeheim emerged as an NBA prospect after a breakout second half of the campaign, where he scored 20 or more points in seven of the last 10 games of the year. He scored 30 points in a rout of SDSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and followed that up with 25 more in an upset of third-seeded West Virginia in the second round.
  • Joe Girard III: Girard’s stats declined across the board in his sophomore campaign, as he averaged just 9.8 points and 3.5 assists per game. Syracuse will need more from New York State’s all-time leading high school scorer in his third year.
  • Jessie Edwards: Edwards was a key piece of Syracuse’s bench during its Sweet 16 run, and was one of Syracuse’s lone bright spots (five points, six rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes) in its elimination loss to Houston. He could be Syracuse’s starting center if he keeps up his improvement.

EARLY MVP: If the last 10 games of Buddy Boeheim’s junior year were any indication, he will be one of the top players in the ACC next year. Boeheim was as hot as any shooter in the country in March, and will be counted upon to consistently produce this fall. His return has vaulted Syracuse into top 25 consideration in many “too early rankings,” and it’s easy to see why.

EARLY MIP: Edwards emerged as a reliable option at center, and with the departure of Dolezaj, Edwards figures to be the top option to absorb the minutes. While head coach Jim Boeheim may play the loyalty card by starting Sidibe, it’s difficult to envision Sidibe staying healthy enough to play a full season given his history.

EARLY DARK HORSE: It’s hard to consider a five-star player a dark horse, but there should be more buzz around Williams, who is a one-and-done candidate. He could be Syracuse’s most talented wing since Jerami Grant, and could be an outstanding complementary player to Buddy Boeheim.

BURNING QUESTIONS:

  1. Will the Orange’s defense improve? Syracuse’s adjusted defense was a mediocre 77th according to the KenPom rankings, which makes sense given the Orange’s starting backcourt. Girard is a 1.1 in Basketball Reference’s defensive box plus/minus rating, while Buddy Boeheim is 0.5. (To put those stats in context, Richmond, widely considered a far superior defender, was a 4.6.) If Syracuse’s defense continues to struggle, it will need to rely on its offense, which finished 24th.
  2. How will the transfers fit in? Swider and Torrence were highly rated recruits coming out of high school, but both became part-time bench players in their first college stints. Will both play an expanded role at Syracuse? It’s unlikely the two transferred to SU only to continue to play 20 minutes per game.
  3. Will Guerrier return? The holes in Guerrier’s game are obvious. He struggles to finish inside and can stand to improve his outside jumper. But he turns 21 in May and could be better off playing against tougher competition in the G League. Or, perhaps an outstanding combine puts him back into the NBA Draft conversation.
  4. Will Sidibe ever be healthy? Sidibe has only really enjoyed one fully healthy season in his first four years at Syracuse. Toward the end of his junior year, he began to unlock his potential, averaging double figure rebounds in the final six games before COVID-19 ended the season. But that feels like a very long time ago, as Sidibe only made short appearances in games against Bryant and Clemson because of another knee injury.
  5. Who else will Syracuse add? The Orange has at least three vacant scholarship spots with Dolezaj and Griffin moving on in the last week. Will Syracuse end up adding another player or two? Or will they pocket the scholarships and add on a 2022 class that already has four-star wing Kamari Lands?

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About Wes Cheng 2677 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.