After back to back disappointments in The Basketball Tournament, Boeheim’s Army seems poised to make some noise in 2021. 2019 saw the Syracuse alumni felled in the regional final despite having home-court advantage. Meanwhile, their 2020 quest ended prematurely at the hands of a Cinderella story.
However, this retooled version of Boeheim’s Army means business. Complete with a new head coach, this team finally has the size needed to run the zone and get back to Syracuse Orange basketball.
The biggest addition, both literally and figuratively, is the 7’2″ Paschal Chukwu. The biggest struggle for Boeheim’s Army in recent years has been on the interior. As great of a player as he was, Hakim Warrick struggled to hold his own as a 6’9″ power forward being asked to play in the middle of the zone at age 35 in 2019. Those struggles led to the aggressive additions of Tyler Lydon and Chris McCullough in 2020. Unfortunately, COVID-19 prevented either of them from playing in the adjusted format, leaving Syracuse woefully unprepared to handle opposing bigs once again.
Chukwu will solve all of that. His length and presence as a rim protector is invaluable. Moreover, Lydon and McCullough are expected to suit up this year, which means the Orange have plenty of size to rely on. It will be a very nice change after years of playing small ball. As the old saying goes, you can’t coach size.
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Of course, we cannot forget about the guards. Offensively, they will be the driving force of the team. Even with the additions on the interior, the team will gravitate towards perimeter play. The indelible Eric Devendorf returns once again, joined by former G-League sharpshooter Malachi Richardson. CJ Fair and Andrew White will command the wings. Boeheim’s Army rounds out the roster with former Boston College standout Tyrese Rice and current NBL player Keifer Sykes.
The pipe dream of recruiting Carmelo Anthony when he finally retires from the NBA aside, this is about as talented a team as fans could hope for. With proven ball handlers like Devendorf and Richardson and plenty of three-point shooting, there is a lot to like offensively. On the defensive side, rebounds will always be an issue in the zone, but with so much size and length, those concerns should be minimized. The prospect of facing Chukwu, Lydon and McCollough down low is particularly daunting. There are only nine players rostered so far, but as Devendorf hinted recently, there are more additions to come.
Perhaps the most interesting development to watch will be on the bench though. Ryan Blackwell steps into an associate coaching role after several years as the head coach. He is replaced by Jeremy Pope, who currently works as an assistant at the University of Portland. It is unclear if Pope will have much influence over the style of play. This team has traditionally run similar offensive sets to Jim Boeheim. Defensively, the team is a little more willing to play man-to-man, but still sticks to zone more often than not.
With the tournament resuming its usual 64-team field, Boeheim’s Army should be more than capable of picking up a few wins. Nothing less than an appearance at Championship Weekend will be acceptable. With two teams from each region advancing, that goal feels very attainable. A title run is definitely not out of the question. Complete regions have not been announced yet, so it is too early to tell how tough Boeheim’s Army’s path will be, but expect the Orange to among the favorites to win it all again. The selection show in on Monday, June 21.
At this point, July 16 can’t come fast enough.
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