A first look at the 2021-22 Syracuse basketball team

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, guard Buddy Boeheim and center Bourama Sidibe speak at 2021 ACC Tipoff.

Jim Boeheim responded to a plethora of offseason transfers by bringing in three players from the transfer portal to supplement those who remained at SU. As some suspected would happen, Jimmy Boeheim transferred into the program as a graduate student after missing last season at Cornell when the Ivy League canceled winter sports.

Cole Swider also transferred in, coming over from Villanova after being a rotation player and sometime starter in his three seasons with the Wildcats. Symir Torrence, a Syracuse native, returned home after playing two years as a reserve at Marquette.

Jimmy Boeheim did a little bit of everything for Cornell, leading the Big Red in scoring, rebounding, and three-pointers made in the 2019-2020 campaign. Swider is an excellent perimeter shooter, hitting over 40 percent of his three-point attempts last season, and Torrence should provide steady play off the bench while continuing to work on his perimeter shooting.

Benny Williams is the lone incoming scholarship freshman after playing at IMG Academy in Florida. Williams is listed as a top-30 recruit in his class, was named to the 2021 Jordan Brand Classic Roster, and played in the Allen Iverson Roundball Classic.

After practice began for this season, Sidibe suffered a knee injury that required surgery and is expected to keep him on the shelf until almost December. Reserve centers Jesse Edwards, Frank Anselem, and John Bol Ajak will look to fill in and stake their respective claims to bigger roles on the team in the veteran Sidibe’s absence.

Buddy Boeheim will now experience a full season of being a marked man. His late season hot streak as the focal point of the Orange attack means he will be the top line on every opponent’s scouting report. Girard, who quietly had a strong NCAA Tournament run (12.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds per game, 42.9 percent from three) will also occupy the top line of the team’s 2-3 zone.

Jimmy Boeheim and Swider started at forward in the team’s exhibition games and paid immediate dividends. Boeheim stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in the opener, while Swider knocked down 9-of-15 threes in the two games. Those four will provide shooting from all over the court and open driving lanes, as well.

Edwards manned the middle, finishing with 20 points and seven blocks across the two games, while Anselem was the first reserve off the bench behind him, as Ajak missed both contests with a minor injury. If Edwards and Anselem can combine for solid play, they can help lift up the athletically-limited players around them on defense.

Williams will provide a jolt of athleticism off the bench and Torrence looks to fill in around the edges on the top line. Swider played a little bit on the top line of the zone in the first exhibition contest, offering an unusual combination of height and length at that spot, and Jimmy Boeheim made a cameo at center in the latter, giving the team another variation.

The guards will have to keep improving on the defensive end and provide more than just steals as evidence of solid play, particularly helping in rebounding. Buddy Boeheim, in particular, should be better on the glass than what he has been due to his height and the long rebounds the zone defense creates off so many missed three-pointers by the opposition.

» Related: A look back at the 2020-21 Syracuse basketball season

The big men, seemingly as always, will have to rein in their fouling. Sidibe has an extensive history of foul trouble on his resume, Edwards was whistled once every 5.3 minutes last season, and Anselem and Ajak also picked up whistles frequently in their cameos. The centers will need to be strong on defense, providing a backbone behind their teammates and cleaning up their mistakes while making things easier for them, but do so without collecting infractions.

The Orange received a smattering of votes in the preseason polls and finished seventh in the ACC in the media preseason poll, coming in just behind Louisville, but comfortably above Notre Dame in eighth. That seems to fit for SU, who projects to be a pretty powerful offensive unit while going through some struggles on defense.

Finishing in the middle of the conference and what comes with it is something with which Syracuse has become all-too familiar. The Orange seem to be headed toward another season with an NCAA Tournament berth up in the air, although their offensive proficiency suggests they may actually have a little breathing room compared to some other seasons.

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About Jim Stechschulte 894 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. He currently resides in Syracuse.