Throughout the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball preseason, the TNIAAM staff will debate the pressing questions facing the program and the greater ACC/NCAA landscape to boot. We’ll be here to debate it in writing — on top of the new Syracuse Basketball Podcast.
Our first question pertains to the defensive question that emerged in Italy last month.
With Jim Boeheim saying last week that a deeper team could allow for man-to-man defense this year, how deep will the rotation actually be in both the non-conference, then ACC play?
Bobby Manning: Nine
Italy revealed that, of all his tendencies, Boeheim will at least trust his veterans to start. Elijah Hughes will lead this team in minutes. Bourama Sidibe holds a strong grip on the center position and Buddy Boeheim will play the two. Marek Dolezaj should rotate into the starting lineup, or top-shelf minutes, when he returns from his finger injury. Jalen Carey’s experience falls in line with Howard Washington’s.
Those five have played at least one season in Syracuse’s system. None have proven themselves on a sizable level though. Carey sat on the bench through his freshmen struggles. Sidibe typically battles foul trouble and Dolezaj, for now, is not a center.
If man-to-man enters the conversation, the system will demand already-intriguing newcomers like Brycen Goodine and Quincy Gurrier. With a backup center and occasional run for Washington, we’re already talking about nine — and Joe Girard III could integrate into spacing lineups. He led the team with a 44% three-point stroke in Italy.
I don’t know if man and depth will prevail into conference, but both are worth exploring through a manageable early non-conference slate. We’ve talked about these unfounded propositions before, but now offense, spacing around the point guard while mixing and matching lineups are necessary early on.
David Stone: Eight
First off, let’s all agree on one thing: Boeheim says things. That doesn’t mean they all pan out. So while I’m optimistic that he’s at least open to the idea of man-to-man, I’m not sold that it comes to fruition, other than some full court press or early season blowouts.
That being said, I think this year is very interesting in terms of rotation. I fully expect to see us go eight, nine, possibly even ten deep in the non-conference. I think Boeheim will experiment with a multitude of lineups, and we have enough diversity on the roster to see some unexpected groups out on the floor.
During conference season, I see that being trimmed to a seven to eight man rotation tops. Let’s be honest. Boeheim never goes much deeper than that, at least not in terms of meaningful minutes. He settles on the best group of players, and pretty much goes with that through hell or high water. I don’t see that changing much, but I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of those seven or eight guys is not who you’d expect. I could see a scenario where Robert Braswell, Girard III, Goodine, Jesse Edwards, or a combination of several of them carving out consistent playing time by the end of the year.
Kevin Wall: 10 early, 8 later
I think you might see 10 guys play for Syracuse in the non-conference. After January, I expect it to be back down to an eight-man rotation. Jim mentioned that only Elijah Hughes will be playing 35+ minutes per game, but I don’t think he’s going to have more than 8 guys averaging 10 minutes per game in ACC play. Those eight will be: Carey, Boeheim, Hughes, Guerrier, Sidibe, Dolezaj, Goodine and Braswell. Girard will have some games where he might see more time, but I think John Bol Ajak, Edwards and him are not going to be in the regular rotation.
Austin Lamb: 10
There’s more roster uncertainty going into this season than previous years, with the largest freshman class since 2013-14. Other players that haven’t seen consistent minutes or have missed time due to injuries.
The projected starting lineup is Carey, Boeheim, Guerrier, Hughes, and Sidibe. Hughes is the only player I’m 100% sure will start every game this season (barring injuries). Boeheim played a deeper rotation during the Italy tour last month, and we should expect to see the same during the non-conference schedule.
The rotation will shrink during conference play, as I’m not sold Boeheim will play as much man-to-man against tougher opponents, but I think Dolezaj, Goodine, Braswell, Edwards and Girard III will all contribute throughout the season. I don’t know what to expect from Washington, who redshirted last season after suffering a stroke, and Ajak, who was unable to make the Italy trip.
John Cassillo: 10
I could see it push to 10 early in the year, despite my better judgment telling me it’s eight because Boeheim rarely goes past that. That means some names we may not expect wind up redshirting, and it’s hard to pick exactly which those are. Carey, Buddy, Hughes, Guerrier, Dolezaj, Sidibe and Braswell are locks. From there, could wind up with two guards (Goodine and Girard), plus one of the bigs. What happens early will shorten things to eight by the time January rolls around.
James Szuba: Eight
The rotation is interesting this year given that there’s not a whole lot separating players from one another, particularly in the guard group. Ultimately, I think we’ll see nine guys play in the non-conference portion. Carey, Boeheim, Hughes, Guerrier and Sidibe will earn starting spots, with Goodine, Girard, Dolezaj and Edwards off the bench. A lot can change from now until then — and reasonable minds can differ in how the rotation plays out — but ultimately, I expect Boeheim to be playing seven or eight guys by the time January rolls around.