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Rotation hints from Syracuse basketball’s Italy trip

Since two bigs missed the trip and Jim Boeheim rotated in most of Syracuse’s roster, Italy won’t completely forecast the Orange rotation. The trip did provide a possible starting lineup, and create an early roster hierarchy.

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One of the many misnomers told to me before my trip to Europe last August is that if you know Spanish, you can get by in Italy. I won’t front full Spanish fluency, but I survived living with a woman who knew no English in Madrid. When I hit Rome last November, I didn’t have a clue, except when the supermarket man told us we couldn’t buy wine past 10 p.m. That was pretty clear — albeit surprising.

Here’s a quick Italian lesson, courtesy of Google Translate, since the box scores handed out at the Syracuse Orange’s games in Italy confused many. Rimbalzis are rebounds. Tiris are shots. The campo is the field. PP means palle perse, or lost balls. PR are recuperated balls, so steals. A stoppate, or SF, is a block. FF are fouls for, with FS standing for fouls suffered.

The 3 is international though, and Syracuse unloaded 152 shots from the new 22-foot line in Italia. Those shots represented 52.2% of Syracuse’s total attempts, after a season where the Orange attempted 43.2% outside. Allen Griffin confirmed SU will run-and-gun more in 2019-20. We’ve heard that before, but the Orange now boast personnel that likely only succeed playing that way. The trip gave a preview into the lineups that will facilitate that style.

Jim Boeheim spread minutes evenly across the Orange through the four games. The competition varied, starting and ending stronger with weaker opponents in-between. Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, Elijah Hughes, Quincy Guerrier and Bourama Sidibe started. Marek Dolezaj sat with a broken finger and John Bol Ajak stayed home due to a visa issue.

The result was an imperfect incarnation of the Orange. Dolezaj figures to play top-six minutes on the team. Ajak could contend with Jesse Edwards for backup center minutes. What we definitively learned is that Carey is the team’s clear point guard, Sidibe’s health signals a significant role for him at center and Quincy Guerrier is prepared to step into the power forward role.

Carey struggled with turnovers and pacing the game in an earlier summer trip to Greece. Those issues landed him on the bench much of his freshman season. In Italy, he excelled by leading a high-paced attack with mobile shooters that complemented his game. He pushed the ball to the basket early in games, led transition runs and shot 16-for-28 (57%).

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Boeheim adjusted to raise Carey’s best play after he struggled with two points, 1-for-5 shooting and a pair of turnovers in the first game. The Varese all-stars outscored the Orange in Carey’s 15 minutes. In the next three games, SU spread the playmaking load across the roster through Howard Washington, Brycen Goodine and Elijah Hughes. All four averaged 2.0+ assists per game, while Carey averaged 1.3 turnovers on the trip, an improvement from 1.6 last season.

Carey shot 1-for-5 from three, avoiding the perimeter where he converted only 4-for-23 last year. His shot still swoops through a long motion from his hips to the release point, allowing for inconsistency. The hope for SU is that their abundance of shooters will allow Carey to drive and shoot in-between, which yielded 11.8 PPG in Italy.

With Sidibe missing in action (10.1 min) last year, the Orange leaned on Paschal Chukwu and Dolezaj inside. Chukwu departed and Boeheim said Dolezaj will play forward this season. If he sticks to his word on Dolezaj, Sidibe needs to become a mainstay inside.

The biggest question of the Italy trip returned to the states a resounding success. Sidibe flashed health, mobility and the early promise of his freshman season before knee surgery. He averaged 12.0 rebounds per game, blocked 10 shots in the first three games and moved smoothly in the zone out to the corners. He also shot 8-of-19 from the free throw line (42%), drawing the ire of Boeheim.

If Dolezaj is a forward, Sidibe has the starting center job in the bag. SU entered the preseason with rebounding concerns that he and Guerrier pacified for now combining to average 21.5 RPG. The two provide a physical interior presence when Sidibe returns to who he was as a recruit — an intimidating shot-blocker. Edwards, although a definite seven-footer behind Sidibe, did not astound in any of the games or attempt threes.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Opportunity could emerge there for Ajak. If the youth don’t produce inside, Boeheim could have choice other than turning to Dolezaj for spot center minutes. That’d allow Guerrier to remain at the four. He moved defenders with ease, posted a +17 in Syracuse’s difficult Varese game and shot 19-for-29 (65%) — including 16-for-19 inside the arc.

Guerrier provides a prime opportunity for Syracuse to remain small, agile and spacey while retaining some size and physicality. His turnovers (1.8) matched his assists (1.8), and he struggled at the free throw line, but there’s already upside evident in him at a position of need. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him steal a starting job and run with it like fellow Canadian Brissett did in 2017-18.

Goodine extended the palpable hype of his 10 practices in Syracuse. Boeheim trusted him at the point, a role Goodine hadn’t played often before, according to Griffin. He rebounded, found teammates and hit threes feet behind the FIBA line. His 3.0 APG led SU. The efficiency didn’t turn heads (36 FG/29 3-pt/75 FT), but he entered the rotation conversation.

Robert Braswell escaped immense struggles to contribute on the boards and defensively later in the trip. Joe Girard splashed 11-for-25 (44%) from three, placing his name in the fold for SU’s stretchier lineups. Washington passed well and hit his threes. The rotation remains a leap for all three on a deep team.

Boeheim’s relied on seven or eight rotation players in the past. This team’s diverse array of skills and inexperience could allow for more opportunity in non-conference. A pace-and-space system requires a variety of mixed-and-matched lineups anyway. While Carey and Sidibe lend attributes that could lead to quick hooks in some games.

There’s no worry about Buddy Boeheim and Hughes, frontline scorers from last season’s NCAA Tournament trek. For the others who haven’t ridden that grind, the hype of Italy only provides a starting point for their rotation status entering the season.