Can the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team have a bounce-back year? That’s the question on everyone’s mind as the Orange are set to begin their season shortly.
On the one hand, although MBB underwhelmed relative to their 2020-2021 season, the team did have a competitive season. In the ACC Tournament, Syracuse dominated Florida State before falling just short against Duke. In a competitive conference, the Orange played close games against Miami (twice), North Carolina, and Virginia. Against the ACC last season, Syracuse finished in the middle of the pack (9-11 versus the ACC; 9th in the conference).
However, the Orange also disappointed after their Sweet Sixteen run two seasons ago. SU finished with a losing record for the first time with Jim Boeheim as the coach. Syracuse finished 14th in the country in points scored per game, but ranked as one of the worst defenses in the NCAA. Frustrating for everyone was the fact that the team ended up blowing big leads to Miami and North Carolina when they had opportunities to play themselves back into post-season discussion.
Heading into this season, Syracuse will have big shoes to fill throughout the roster. Buddy Boeheim, Jimmy Boeheim, and Cole Swider are all gone. Just three seniors remain on the roster: Joe Girard III, Jesse Edwards, and Symir Torrence.
The team will see a lot of fresh faces on the court this upcoming season. If the Orange are looking to return back to competitive form, the team will need to count on some unproven players to make an immediate impact.
Out of the current MBB roster, sophomore Benny Williams offers the most upside out of any player on the team.
At 6’8 and over 200 lbs., Williams showed promise as an athletic finisher who can run in transition and give the Orange some burst on offense. Williams’ frame makes him a capable defender who could thrive in Coach Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.
Syracuse 2021 commit Benny Williams, a 6-8 forward, climbs 29 spots in the latest Rivals150. Now at five star status on Rivals. Smooth, athletic. Good jumper: pic.twitter.com/NrsNBji5VR
— Matthew Gutierrez (@MatthewGut21) September 14, 2020
Williams played sparingly last season, averaging under 11 minutes per game. As of now, his offensive game still needs work. In 29 games last season, Williams shot under 34% from the field, 62% from the foul line, and a dismal 9.1% on threes.
Then again, Williams flashed potential for the Orange. In a blowout loss to Duke, Williams scored 14 points on superb efficiency as one of the lone bright spots from an otherwise miserable team effort. If given a larger role in the offense, he could thrive as a secondary or tertiary scoring option.
Given his lack of shooting, Williams projects to start at the four alongside big man Jesse Edwards. On defense, the Williams-Edwards pairing could project as one of the best defensive frontcourts in the ACC.
The Orange’s Diamond in the Rough
That would be incoming 6’3 combo guard Judah Mintz, who could become a recruiting steal for Syracuse.
Mintz projects as a combo-guard who can thrive on both offense and defense. He averaged over 15 points and 4 assists in high school, showing his abilities as a scorer and playmaker. Similar to Williams in the front-court, Mintz gives the Orange a burst of athleticism at guard.
Mintz and Girard III could make for an intriguing pairing in the backcourt. The real question is whether Mintz would start in favor of another wing on the team or veteran Symir Torrence. Expect Coach Boeheim to experiment with different backcourt pairings to start the season.
Four-star recruit Chris Bunch is also making a case to start for the Orange.
Bunch projects to be a jack-of-all-trades type of forward, similar to Quincy Warrior in 2020-2021. Bunch is a ferocious rebounder, a mobile defender, and has flashed promise as a three-point shooter.
The Orange need to figure out how to generate points after losing arguably three of their four best scorers from last season. Bunch could give the Orange some much-needed floor spacing. SU also ranked as one of the worst turnover-forcing teams in the NCAA, and Bunch’s frame could help create more havoc against opposing offenses.
But, like with much of the roster, Bunch is a wait-and-see candidate. He projects as a great fit on paper, but he’ll need to earn Coach Boeheim’s trust in training camp to carve himself a big role within the team heading into next season.
How About the Veterans?
Starters Joe Girard III and Jesse Edwards, plus reliable role player Symir Torrence will all be returning for this upcoming season.
One of the biggest x-factors for the Orange is if Girard, Edwards, and Torrence can carry a larger load on both ends of the court.
Girard had another good season for SU this past year. shooting above 40% from three and 88% from the line. With Buddy gone, Girard will need to become more of a scorer and we’ll see if he can thrive without having Boeheim’s shooting to occupy the opposing defense.
Out of any player on the team, Jesse Edwards projects to be SU’s most consistent player moving forward. Edwards averaged nearly 13 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting efficiently and providing the team with a reliable presence down low on both ends of the floor. The big question is if Edwards possesses enough to become the first option on offense.
Torrence is easily the Orange’s most intriguing returning player. Torrence played spot minutes for the team last season off the bench, but quietly excelled against smaller players with his back-to-the-basket game. He’s also a terrific defender on the perimeter. Against Duke in the 2022 ACC Tournament, Torrence had his best two-way performance of the year.
Given his lack of three-point shooting and general shot creation, Torrence could be better off as a sixth man instead of a starter. Regardless of who starts or who closes games, Coach Boeheim will need to rely heavily on his veteran players to improve on their performance in 2022-2023.
Entering this season, the men’s basketball team will have high aspirations but also an equal amount of uncertainty. If the Orange are looking to return back to the March Madness promised land, they are going to need some much-needed development from some of their promising players.