This trio holds the key to Syracuse’s hopes for the season

Jan 5, 2022; Coral Gables, Florida, USA; Syracuse Orange forward Benny Williams (13) shoots the ball over Miami Hurricanes guard Jordan Miller (11) during the first half at Watsco Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse basketball team is in a fairly enviable position, with three players combining for just over 45 points per game with a pretty even split between them. Point guard Judah Mintz leads the way with 15.6 points per game with his backcourt mate Joe Girard III right behind him at 15.2 points per outing. Jesse Edwards is right on their heels with a 14.4-point scoring average.

All three have been rather consistent thus far, as well. Mintz has never scored fewer than seven points in a game, has posted double figures ten times in 13 games, and has topped 16 points in eight different contests. Girard has been the most feast-or-famine player, scoring nine points total in a three-game cold snap, but has topped 14 points in every other outing and hung at least 18 points a half dozen times. Edwards is perhaps the most consistent of the three, scoring at least eight points in each game this far and also reaching the 18-point mark in six games.

As an added bonus, the trio take care of business in different, complementary ways. Mintz slices and dices the defense with his drives into the paint, leading to his team highs in free throws, both attempted and made. A fearless outside shooter, Girard does a lot of his work on the perimeter, as his 36 three-pointers are almost half the team’s total. Edwards is a smooth, athletic center, scoring both in the post and as a finisher on rolls to the basket, as well as his share of putbacks.

While this threesome creates a diverse offensive attack for the Orange, their respective games all create easy strategies for opponents to defend them and the trio’s complementary offense allows foes to employ all three plans simultaneously.

Opponents treat the two guards in opposite fashion, sagging well off Mintz to allow him all the perimeter shots he wants instead of encouraging his drives (in addition to help defenders collapsing when he does drive), but hounding Girard everywhere he goes in the frontcourt to not allow him space to get his shot off. Those defenders giving space to Mintz often find themselves in the paint, ready to spring double- and even triple-teams on Edwards as soon as the ball heads his way.

The simplest solution for Syracuse against these defensive strategies is to get solid play from whichever forwards are on the floor, particularly those who end up on the perimeter on offense. The infrequently effective offensive play from Benny Williams, Chris Bell, and Justin Taylor has been a hindrance to SU’s top three scorers. While each of those three players is shooting between 32.0 and 33.3 percent from three, none has shown to be consistent enough to demand ample defensive attention to help their teammates.

Williams has shown inconsistent shot mechanics this season (the variance in his lift off the floor and arc on his release are fairly easy to spot), which is a part of why he is listed at T-Rank as shooting under 40 percent on field goal attempts classified as “far 2’s” (Bell is at 57.1 percent and Taylor 47.1 percent). Over half of Williams’ shots are listed as “far 2’s”, so not only is he taking and struggling to make inefficient shots, Williams is relying on a heavy diet of these poor options.

Bell, who has started every game as a freshman, has turned that opportunity into showing he is closest to drawing the type of defensive attention to open things up for Edwards and Mintz. Bell has made two or three triples in a game six times this season, showing his ability to demand defensive attention. The efficiency is not there yet, as he’s made multiple threes by virtue of volume shooting in three of those games (a pair of 2-for-7 games and a 2-of-8), but at least his play suggests the potential is there.

Taylor had the most impressive game of the three forwards, erupting for 25 points, including 16 in the second half, in the loss against Bryant. Of course, Taylor has 21 points in the seven games since, shooting under 35 percent overall and 31 percent from deep in that span.

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Help is not coming from anywhere else on the bench, either.

John Bol Ajak’s brief run as an energetic, playmaking forward off the bench ended with 15 unimpressive minutes off the bench against Monmouth and is evidenced by him not making an appearance against Pitt, despite the team being listless in the first half against the Panthers.

Maliq Brown has played his way into being the preferred power forward off the bench based on his rebounding and knack for being in the right place at the right time. He has double digit minutes in four of the last five games (zero minutes against Georgetown) and turned that time into 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in that time.

Of course, Brown’s work on the scoreboard is a function of putbacks and cutting in the halfcourt while also running in transition. Brown has zero threes attempted on the season and is listed with just a single “far 2” while also shooting 2-of-7 on free throws. No matter how many minutes he plays, Brown’s offensive presence is not going to change how an opponent guards the three biggest Orange threats.

So, it circles back to Bell, Taylor, and Williams. While it would be nice for each of the trio to develop into perimeter threats, Syracuse would likely settle for one to make threes.

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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 He currently resides in Syracuse.