Syracuse's season was only four minutes and 55 seconds old when SU head coach Jim Boeheim plugged Tyler Lydon in at center for the first time. Dajuan Coleman had already picked up two fouls, forcing Boeheim to replace him with the 6-foot-8 Lydon, typically a forward.
Lydon entered the game to play alongside the 6-foot-8 Tyler Roberson, the 6-foot-7 Michael Gbinije, the 6-foot-6 Malachi Richardson and the 6-foot-4 Trevor Cooney. It was the first look at a small lineup that Boeheim said last month would be used at times.
It was also just one of several different lineup types Syracuse used in its season-opening 57-47 win over Lehigh on Friday. Each lineup provided something different, and some were more effective than others. And though it was only one game, the lineup usage provided an interesting first glimpse at what might work best for the Orange this season.
To begin each half, Boeheim rolled out the same starting lineup he used in SU's preseason exhibitions against Le Moyne and Florida Southern: Gbinije, Cooney, Richardson, Roberson and Coleman. As Coleman battled foul trouble, backup center Chinonso Obokoh often took his place in that particular lineup.
Those lineups were outscored on the night, 18-14. Unsurprisingly, Syracuse was mostly ineffective on offense in this type of lineup, going just 5-for-22 from the floor. And even that was slightly misleading, as Richardson scored six points on 3-pointers he created in isolation on possessions that otherwise might not have gone anywhere.
With one of the true centers playing next to Roberson, the only other scholarship player on SU's roster who isn't a threat from 3, the floor became clogged and the Orange didn't have much room to operate. Watch as Syracuse's offense goes completely stagnant:
Fortunately for Syracuse, when Lydon entered for Coleman at center, the freshman wasn't unprepared. On his first defensive possession, he blocked Lehigh's Jesse Chuku. He blocked another shot in the second half and altered several others, silencing the doubts — at least for a night — that he wouldn't be able to handle the position.
With Lydon playing in lineups alongside three other capable shooters and Roberson, Syracuse outscored Lehigh, 8-7. That wasn't bad, but SU was even more successful when it went super-small.
At the 4:13 mark of the first half, Syracuse used a lineup featuring five of its snipers — Cooney, Gbinije, Lydon, Richardson and Franklin Howard. At the 1:53 mark, Boeheim replaced Howard with Kaleb Joseph, another sufficient 3-point shooter.
With that lineup, the Orange finished the half on a 10-3 run. As expected, it led to exceptional floor spacing and even more opportunities for 3-pointers. Take a look at just how much Syracuse was able to stretch the floor:
Here's that possession in full:
As soon as Lehigh's Tim Kempton opted not to switch onto Lydon following the high ball screen, Syracuse was virtually guaranteed to end up with an open 3. Lehigh decided it felt most comfortable leaving Joseph open, and with good reason; Joseph shot just 20 percent from beyond the arc last season. But Joseph calmly drained the 3 from the left wing.
Joseph made two of his three attempts from deep on the night, as he continued to validate Boeheim's claim that the point guard has improved his shot greatly since last season. If that holds true throughout the season, it could make these super-small lineups nearly impossible to defend. Defenses will need to respect all five shooters on the court, which will create spacious driving lanes, which will in turn lead to open 3s.
Boeheim, however, didn't seem overly excited about the prospects of frequently using such a small lineup.
"You can do it a little bit, but it's not ideal," he said Friday.
Perhaps more feasible are the lineups Syracuse used most often against Lehigh — ones that featured either Coleman or Obokoh in the middle and four shooters. With those lineups, Syracuse outscored Lehigh, 25-19. In addition to there being a true center to patrol the paint in the zone, it also allowed for decent floor spacing.
And if Roberson were to continue to struggle — he finished 0-for-3 with a turnover on Friday — it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Boeheim removing him from the starting lineup in favor of a fourth shooter.
Of course, SU is only one game into the season and if anything is guaranteed, it's that there will be surprises this season. With that said, Syracuse's identity in 2015-16 is a 3-point shooting team. Boeheim went as far on Friday as to say that the Orange "don't have another option" other than shooting about 30 3s per game.
If that's the case, it might make sense for the coach to roll out the lineups that provide the best 3-point chances.