Orange Watch: Syracuse basketball easing into the season

Nov 9, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Buddy Boeheim (35) reaches back to accept congratulations from his brother forward Jimmy Boeheim (0) on a basket made against the Lafayette Leopards in the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Item: Jim Boeheim is more than adroit at figuring out exactly the right balance of teams to schedule early in the season, specifically designed to help shape his team for ACC conference play.

Is there a better professor teaching college basketball than Jim Boeheim?

Exhibit A was the second half performance in Sunday’s win over Drexel. Following a first half in which the Dragons led by as many as six points, went into the intermission up one, but then saw that lead evaporate as quickly as Boeheim’s note of displeasure and teaching of defensive tweaks got through to his players during the halftime break, or all of 43 seconds into the second half to be exact.

Cole Swider’s three-pointer off a Buddy Boeheim feed gave the Orange a lead they would never relinquish against Drexel, eventually building the final margin to 15 (70-65) to get off to a 2-0 start.

“In the first half we got punched in the mouth a little bit,” Joe Girard said after his Drexel performance in which he upped his season total to 8-for-8 in three-point shooting along with five assists and three steals. “It (the turnaround) shows that we have resiliency on this team, we’re ready for any kind of battle that hits us in the face.”

Scheduling three teams from the Patriot League, one apiece from the Colonial Athletic Association and Ivy league, a couple of Big East foes, mixed in with a strong early season tournament such as the Battle 4 Atlantis, and even the sprinkling in of one early ACC game on the road, is exactly the right recipe to mold a team with four newcomers joining four returnees in the base eight-man rotation.

With four of the five SU starters capable of scoring anywhere on the floor and averaging double figures after two games (Jesse Edwards is just 0.5 ppg away from joining them), and the early improved play of the big men inside on the offensive end, a season-long theme is going to be how effective the 2-3 zone will be in limiting opponent’s opportunities at points, and in turn triggering the Orange offense at varying degrees of tempo.

“It’s starts on defense, getting stops, steals, and transition,” Buddy Boeheim said after scoring 23 and 18 points in the two games to start the season. “Transition buckets were huge (against Drexel). We were relaxed and fine (after halftime), and came out with a little fire underneath us.”

» Related: Syracuse rallies past Drexel to improve to 2-0

If there’s one minor surprise early, it’s not the point totals for Swider at the shooting forward spot, even though he’s averaging 12.5 ppg, but his overall numbers at both ends of the court. Swider leads the team with 17 rebounds, and seven steals, and is tied for second behind Girard with seven assists, greatly benefitting from the practice session lectures from “Professor” Boeheim.

“They’re (opponents) not going to let Cole get those open looks out there, he’s adjusting, he’s putting the ball on the floor,” Jim Boeheim said assessing the Villanova transfer’s new found role as a starter

“Now he’s in a place where he is going to get 30 minutes (a game), it’s an adjustment,” the coach added. “Completely different from what he did for three years (at Nova). Now he’s got to figure out how he can score, where he can score, and he will. He’s a really good shooter.”

Swider consistently draining long range shots along with Girard and Buddy Boeheim, is an image that sparks additional excitement to all in Orange Nation.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.