Jim Boeheim’s 46th season as the head coach at Syracuse snapped an impressive streak. The Orange had only finished with winning records under Boeheim until suffering a sub-.500 mark last season.
SU had been voted seventh in the ACC preseason media poll and picked up a few votes here and there in the preseason polls, which made sense for a team expected to be high on firepower and shaky on defense.
With a starting lineup of four capable or better three-point shooters surrounding developing center Jesse Edwards, things started out as expected for Syracuse. The Orange waltzed through their opener against Lafayette, then struggled before righting the ship and defeating Drexel.
Then, the Colgate game. It was a flashing red light that should have been a bright alarm about what would unfold the rest of the season. SU opened up the game with a 17-2 burst, looking to cruise to their 55th consecutive win over their upstate foe. The Red Raiders responded by absolutely torching the Orange defense, nailing 18 three-pointers in the game despite missing their first dozen attempts and rolling up 100 points en route to a 15-point win.
That game emphasized a lack of athleticism among the Syracuse guards and wings, creating massive holes in their defense that would be exploited all season long.
SU dropped two of three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, including getting routed by #19 Auburn, but bounced back by winning a double-overtime shootout against Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and pulling out their ACC opener at Florida State. That momentum was wiped out by losses to Villanova and Georgetown, but a couple wins over Ivy League foes seemed to buoy the Orange.
When the calendar turned to 2022, the ACC grind quickly got Syracuse down, as they lost three straight games and six of eight contests in the first four weeks of January. The Orange fought back by winning their next four games and, even with center Jesse Edwards being shelved by an injury, six of seven overall to get to 9-7 in conference play and 15-12 overall.
SU had a brutal finishing kick to their regular season slate and they lost the final four games on the schedule to slide under .500. Needing to do a lot of damage in the ACC Tournament to resuscitate their postseason hopes, Syracuse bounced back by routing Florida State in the opener by 39 points with their best effort of the season. However, Buddy Boeheim was suspended for the following game against Duke after punching a Seminole player. The Orange put forth a valiant effort, but faded in the final minutes, dropping an 88-79 decision and ending their season at 16-17.
All five starters ended the season averaging double digits in scoring, but the team was outside of the top 200 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, more than offsetting that firepower. As a result, SU will likely have a decidedly different focus this season.
The two returning starters are center Jesse Edwards and guard Joe Girard III. Edwards missed the final nine games after suffering a fractured left wrist, but averaged 12.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game as a first-time starter. Girard finished last season first on the squad in threes with 89, second in three-point shooting at 40.3 percent, and third in scoring at 13.8 points per game. After playing primarily point guard for his first three seasons at SU, Girard will slide over to the two this time, likely a better fit for his skill set.
Symir Torrence and Benny Williams are the other primary returners to the squad. Williams, who struggled to see the floor as a freshman last season, looks to be written in at one forward spot in pen after seeing his playing time increase late last season and notched a 14-point, six-rebound effort against Duke. Torrence filled in around the edges at point guard last year and will provide a trusted hand off the bench again this campaign.
The reason Torrence is likely to be a reserve this year, even after averaging eight points, ten assists, and 1.5 turnovers per game in the ACC Tournament last year? SU’s six-man incoming freshman class is headlined but Judah Mintz. Mintz is a fringe top-50 recruit nationally who played at Oak Hill Academy last season and has started both exhibition games at the point.
Two other wings ranked in the top 150 nationally are also a part of that class. Quadir Copeland is a combo guard with a point guard mentality while his IMG Academy teammate, Justin Taylor, is a classic perimeter-shooting wing. Both are measured at 6’6” with Copeland playing at both guard and forward for the Orange while Taylor has only been slotted at forward in the exhibition contests.
Forward Chris Bell (formerly Bunch) is the other top-100 recruit enrolled at Syracuse for the incoming season. The 6’7” Bell has shown an impressive shot already while on campus, winning the three-point shooting contest at the Orange Tip-off event, making 12 of 15, then adding two more as part of his dozen points in the event’s scrimmage. Bell has been the fifth starter both exhibition games.
A pair of big men round out the recruiting class, both of whom enter Syracuse as more under-the-radar prospects. Maliq Brown is a 6’9” forward who profiles as a grinder inside while center Peter Carey is a 6’11” center who, like many young big men at SU, will need to develop his body and add weight before he is ready for regular action.
There is another new big man on the roster, as well. Mounir Hima, a 6’11” sophomore, transferred to Syracuse following his freshman year at Duquesne. Hima, who attended St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey, is a defense-first player whose role grew as the season wore on, averaging 13.3 minutes, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game over the full campaign. Jon Bol Ajak also is back in orange after seeing modest playing time (62 minutes in 12 games) last season.
While the roster is significantly younger this time around, it is also much more athletic than last year’s. That means the 2-3 zone should be a lot more effective after not ranking in the top 75 of adjusted defensive efficiency in any of the last three seasons.
With most of a full season under his belt, Edwards should be a strong anchor inside, enabling a more athletic group of wings like Williams and Bell to aggressively close out corners and trap. Girard brings three years of experience and the know-how to play passing lanes on the top line. Mintz is an athlete on the top line and should be able to adjust to the responsibilities of closeouts and closing off driving lanes. Copeland has shown a knack for understanding the game, which should help him pick up the ins and outs of the defense and earn a larger role on the squad.
As seems to be a tradition since joining the ACC, Syracuse was voted around the middle of the preseason polls at media day, this time landing smack dab in that middle at eighth. That seems like a reasonable landing spot for a young, talented team led by a couple returning starters. Of course, that also means a likely spot to end the season – a return to the NCAA Tournament bubble.