We are less than a month away from preseason college basketball and about seven weeks out from the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
There is a decent amount of talent returning or arriving in Central New York, but it is a bit unclear who will be in his starting lineup.
But that’s why we’re here, and below is our best shot at determining who will start in the 2021-22 Syracuse basketball season.
At least one starting spot should be set in stone. That belongs to Boeheim’s son. Er, the younger son that is.
Buddy Boeheim returns after a big junior campaign in which he led the Orange in scoring. He caught fire in the postseason, racking up at least 25 points in four straight games to lead SU to the Sweet 16.
Buddy will unquestionably be a top option in his dad’s starting lineup. His scoring ability and familiarity with the zone makes him a lock.
The only other player likely to see much time, if any, at this spot would be Symir Torrence. However, Buddy played 36 minutes per game a year ago and that isn’t likely to change.
Who starts next to him seems to be pretty straight forward as well. Joe Girard III started all 28 games last year.
There are some fans who felt that should not have been the case. Girard struggled with his shot, knocking down just 35.5 percent of his attempts from the field. He also does not offer a tremendous amount of length, which is crucial to success at the top of the zone.
Kadary Richmond, who transferred to Seton Hall after his freshman season with Syracuse, was a lot bigger at 6’5″ and could get by his defenders.
What he lacked was what Girard provides in spades. At any moment, New York’s all-time men’s high school basketball scorer could light it up from 3. He had six games with at least three 3s, including the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
All of this to say, Girard will likely start, especially with Richmond now in South Orange, New Jersey. He is reportedly slimmed down heading into his junior year, so perhaps we will see a stronger output from him.
Torrence could see some extended minutes if Girard goes cold, but the job is Girard’s to lose.
Speaking of transfers, that is the story at small forward for the Orange. Quincy Guerrier exited after two seasons in CNY, landing at Oregon. Two of the top candidates to replace him are both transfers themselves. Cole Swider arrives from Villanova and is apparently drawing rave reviews from Jim Boeheim himself.
Jim Boeheim tells me that Syracuse's perimeter trio of Joe Girard, Buddy Boeheim, and Villanova transfer Cole Swider is the best shooting perimeter that he's had as the head coach of Syracuse.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) October 5, 2021
That certainly would indicate that Swider has the inside track on the starting job. He was not a big-time scorer in limited minutes for the Wildcats, but his shooting numbers are encouraging.
He shot 35 percent from behind the line as a sophomore in 2019-20 before seeing that rate jump to 40 percent in 2020-21. Swider brings plenty of length as well, listed at 6’9″.
Perhaps that size could see him pivot between the two forward spots. The way that basketball is trending, coaches want to have as much shooting ability on the floor at all times. Playing Swider at the four and potentially slotting his other son, Jimmy Boeheim, in at the three could be a winning formula.
The elder Boeheim son transferred to Syracuse after graduating from Cornell. He did not play in 2020-21 as the Ivy League canceled its season due to COVID-19.
Prior to that though, he was a solid scorer for the Big Red, including a 25-point outburst against the Orange in the Dome back in 2019. He is not as prolific a shooter as his brother, which could hurt his chances of starting on this SU squad. In addition to Swider, Boeheim will have to battle with a talented freshman for playing time on the wing.
Benny Williams is one of the highest-rated players the Orange have recruited in recent years. He is a consensus top-40 recruit, with Rivals putting him in their top 25. Williams averaged 16.7 points per game playing at the IMG Academy in high school and should be ready to play right away.
However, we’ve seen Boeheim bring freshmen along slowly before. Richmond is a perfect example.
By all accounts, Williams is a versatile player. He is listed 6’8″ and 215 pounds on Syracuse’s roster, which means he could likely play at either forward spot. I think Williams will definitely contribute this season, but Boeheim’s history with freshmen makes me a little skeptical he starts right away.
Of course, that does not mean that Williams could not earn a starting forward job. He did average 10 rebounds per game as a junior at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland.
There are not many differences between the responsibilities of the two forward spots at Syracuse. Both are expected to rotate out to the wing defensively, rebound effectively and offer the ability to slash or splash on offense. Williams, Boeheim and Swider are all capable of doing that.
However, we could see Boeheim opt for a bigger starting lineup as well, much like he did down the stretch with Marek Dolezaj and Jesse Edwards.
Now, Dolezaj is gone (and will be sorely missed), so the chances of playing two interior players seems less likely. However, Edwards returns after flashing some ability as a rim protector and finisher around the rim.
Bourama Sidibe is also back after missing pretty much the entire 2020-21 season due to injury. He was a solid rebounder and interior defender in the zone back in 2019-20. Most likely, he plays center.
I would assume that Swider or Boeheim gets the nod at power forward with Williams seeing significant minutes. If Williams is truly 215 pounds, up significantly from his listed weight as a recruit, he should be more than capable of battling in the post on offense and rebounding consistently on defense.
He is supposedly a strong shooter as well. It would not surprise me if he worked his way into the starting lineup a few games into the season.
The aforementioned Edwards and Sidibe are the clear cut favorites to anchor the zone. Both lack much shooting touch and excel close to the basket. Jon Bol Ajak and Frank Anselem are still around as well. Neither has contributed much in their Syracuse careers, but could be in line for some minutes if Sidibe struggles with injuries again.
Perhaps they could provided some needed size on the interior against teams like North Carolina as well.
It really comes down to Edwards or Sidibe. That is going to be a tough choice for Boeheim to make.
My pick is Edwards, especially given that Sidibe has not seen much game action in the past year because of injuries. Perhaps we could see an even split in minutes at the five spot.