The 2021-22 Syracuse basketball team is a veteran squad, with only Jesse Edwards and Benny Williams looking like significant rotational players without extensive playing experience when everyone is healthy. Both Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III are two-year starters in orange and Bourama Sidibe has significant experience, as well. Jimmy Boeheim started half the games in his three seasons at Cornell and Cole Swider logged close to 20 minutes a game in his last two seasons at Villanova.
The brothers Boeheim, Girard, and Swider will provide four shooters in the starting lineup who must be respected. While filling in for Sidibe, Edwards will have plenty of space to operate inside if the Orange choose to get him involved. Williams likely fits as a jolt of energy and athleticism off the bench at either forward slot while he gets his feet wet in the college game.
The key player for this team, with all its expected offensive firepower, is the likely starter who will undoubtedly score the least. Jesse Edwards is the player who can most dramatically raise the ceiling of the team based on what he can accomplish at the other end of the floor. And that might be a good thing. Removing any pressure of having him be a major piece on offense to allow him to focus on the other end of the floor could accelerate his growth on defense.
Edwards’ combination of height, length, and athleticism can make the team’s 2-3 zone drastically better. If he can provide a deterrent at the rim, help clean the glass, and provide a general threat in the paint up to the foul line, he will allow the players around him to guard out farther, to be aggressive knowing he is behind them to clean up mistakes, and to be ready to leak out for transition offense. If Edwards can take a couple significant steps forward, the expectations of this team can go up accordingly.
The offense will be there almost every night for Syracuse. The assembled collection of shooters will make this team very hard to guard and open space for both passing and driving.
As usual, so much will weigh on the other end of the floor. Will Edwards and the other centers enable the guards to be aggressive up top and the wings to press out in the corners and trap opposing players? Will the guards be able to consistently prevent penetration? Can this group rebound enough? Will they be able to make the sudden change of possession stops of blocks and steals to fuel their transition offense?
The offense will keep the Orange more than just afloat this season, but the defense can really make them take off. Edwards does not have to dominate, but he can certainly be a difference maker for the squad.
I expect he will do that, propelling the team into the top five of the ACC. There will be some bumps along the way in that tough stretch as November transitions into December, but they will pay off along the way to March. Put Syracuse down for 13-7 in ACC play and 22-9 headed into the NCAA Tournament. This should be another Sweet Sixteen team and maybe even more.