Around this time last year, I argued that talent was slowly returning to Syracuse after the program was hit by sanctions in 2015.
In a nutshell, prior to 2015, the Orange’s rotation players all averaged around 95, which is when the program was at the height of its power. Syracuse was ranked No. 1 in two separate seasons from 2010-2015, and also had postseason success with an Elite 8 and Final 4 run during that time period.
Following an initial grace period with sanctions, Syracuse’s talent predictably dipped. At its worst, its average rotation player dipped to 89, an unprecedented decline for one of the northeast’s elite programs. It’s resulted in Syracuse being a bubble team for the last six seasons. And while 2016’s Final Four run was certainly nice, there’s no arguing that Syracuse’s recruiting and win totals have dropped during this time, which is encapsulated in this chart:
The good news is that with sanctions finally behind it, the talent level has started to pick up.
On the 2020-21 roster, Syracuse only had one player ranked inside the top 100 recruits on the entire roster according to 247 Sports: Kadary Richmond (90). On paper, Syracuse has improved in this category significantly in the offseason, adding freshman Benny Williams (27) and transfers Cole Swider (44th in the class of 2018) and Symir Torrence (75th in 2020).
That’s resulted in Syracuse’s most talented roster (according to 247 recruiting rankings) since the 2018-19 season. The upcoming team averages 91.68, up from 91.28 last year, though still far off from the mid-90s that Syracuse enjoyed for over a decade prior to 2016.
In case you were wondering, this is the raw data for the upcoming season:
There are several notes I have on the ratings:
- As you can see in the last line, it presumes Syracuse forward Quincy Guerrier is returning. Guerrier declared for the draft following the season, but has not yet hired an agent, preserving his ability to come back. He’s not projected on any of the mock drafts at the moment, so for now, I included him in there.
- Jimmy Boeheim was not rated coming out of high school, so I “guesstimated” him at an 85. Still, given that he led Cornell in scoring and rebounding in his junior year, this ranking is deceptive (as all rankings tend to be). If I were to adjust these rankings based on production today, I’d put him in the low 90s.
- Similarly, there’s no way that Buddy Boeheim would be ranked 86.6 now given that he’s emerged into an NBA prospect with an incredible ACC and NCAA postseason. I’d rate him in the mid-to-high 90s if we were to redo these rankings.
- On the flip side, given Cole Swider (5.7 png, 2.8 rpg) and Symir Torrence’s (2.4 png, 1.5 apg) struggles at their respective schools prior to SU, they may not be worthy of their lofty high school ratings, either. Then again, it could just be a question of playing in the right system with guaranteed minutes. Both seem to be good fits for the 2-3 zone.
- I cannot stress how big of a recruit Benny Williams is for the state of the program. The last time Syracuse had a player ranked above 99? That would be Chris McCullough in 2014, who was rated 99.15. This is the first time in eight seasons that Syracuse has had this highly rated of a player arrive in Syracuse. And Kamari Lands (98.52) arrives in 2022, further proof that Syracuse is slowly emerging from its recruiting malaise following the 2015 sanctions. It’s not a coincidence that sanctions were imposed, and the Orange couldn’t land a player rated above 98, and when the sanctions were lifted, SU landed two in two consecutive recruiting cycles.
- With the new transfer rules, Syracuse will get a second bite at the apple for some of the high school recruits they may have missed on. That’s exactly what happened in the case of Swider, who had put Syracuse among his finalists with Duke and Villanova before choosing the Wildcats.
- Syracuse still has at least another 1-2 recruiting cycles to go before it can finally say it’s recovered from sanctions. And the evidence is there that it’s well on its way to full recovery. Benny Williams is ranked 30th in this class according to ESPN, while Lands is ranked 25th in 2022. Tyus Battle (36th in 2015) was the last player to be this high in the rankings.
- Speaking of Lands, 2022 is a pivotal year since the Orange has several scholarships available and is in the hunt for several elite prospects, including Kyle Filipowski (31st), Donovan Clingan (44th), and Chance Westry (52nd). Look for that blue line on the chart above to continue trending upward, and with more recruiting wins to get back around 95. When that happens, SU should return to consistent top 25 rankings and wave goodbye to the NCAA bubble.