It is hard to believe this season is going to be anything other than a long, bumpy ride to March. In each of their two exhibition games against lower-level teams, the Orange turned in one bad half and one good half or one good half and one bad half, depending on the game. That inconsistency is to be expected from a young team as the players simultaneously adjust to both the level of play and their new teammates.
Jim Boeheim has a history of playing a tight rotation, even commenting that “most teams” only play six or seven guys after the first exhibition game, unless he has eight or nine players with whom he is comfortable. With the sheer number of minutes appearing to be directed at inexperienced players, that number of players may expand or contract from game to game or even half to half as he looks for combinations that work. There may be a little experimentation early in the non-conference schedule, but after he finds those trustworthy players, the number will probably lock in.
Based on the two exhibition games, it seems like the four guards (Girard, Mintz, Copeland, and Torrence) all have the ability to play now and likely complement each other enough that they will have success on a game-to-game level with some situational mixing and matching. Girard looks like the team’s top scorer, Mintz like a player who can break down defenses as a creator, Copeland a pass-first option, and Torrence the calm veteran who settles things down.
The front line is different. Edwards has shown he is capable of scoring, rebounding, and shotblocking. Hima has the size and defense-ready game to fill in when Edwards needs a break. But, the forwards…
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Benny Williams has the pedigree. Chris Bell and Justin Taylor have the shooting ability. Maliq Brown has the lunchpail ethic. Which, if any of them, are ready for a major role? Copeland saw some time at forward in the exhibition games over Bell and Taylor, which suggests that duo may not be ready for prime time. Can Williams live up to the outsized expectations when he was recruited?
The most likely outcome for this group is to be on the tournament bubble and they probably lean a little bit more to miss out on an invitation than to get one. One reason they lean out is completely out of their hands. The schedule, as noted last week, is very favorable to the Orange, which means that, if they find themselves on the bubble, every argument about their tournament hopes will turn on either one of two phrases: “who have they beaten” and “yes, they have these good wins, but they also have these bad losses”.
There will be nights when the outside shooting is not there and games where foolish mistakes are made on defense. Other outings, Edwards will look dominant, Girard will pour in 25 points, or the ball moves on offense while the defense creates turnovers.
This will be an up and down ride. A fan’s hopes for this team to make the NCAA Tournament should be the following:
- 9-2 or better in the non-conference with no bad losses – Illinois and one loss in the Empire Classic are the acceptable losses, but no one else.
- Clean up against the bottom of the ACC – SU’s schedule is very friendly in conference play and they need to not slip up when they can stack up victories and build a resume worth tournament consideration.
- Get two conference wins against teams that are ahead of them on the bubble – While the Orange are not a good bet against either of the two top teams, North Carolina and Duke, if they can get a couple wins against ACC teams that appear to be bound for the NCAA’s, there should be enough padding to get off the now normally weak bubble and into the dance.
None of these three are wild requests that ask too much from this Syracuse team. At a certain point, reaching 20 or 21 overall wins with 11 or 12 in ACC play is going to earn the Orange a bid. This roster has enough talent where this is not an unreasonable ask. The question is if they can do it.
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