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The 2020-21 Syracuse basketball season preview

Basketball season cometh.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 25 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball season is just over one month away. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the college basketball season will tip-off later than usual on Nov. 25. Syracuse has yet to release a schedule, but due to the shortened season the non-conference schedule will be condensed. The ACC will stick to its 20 game league schedule.

Jim Boeheim will enter his 45th season as head coach of the Syracuse men’s basketball program. Without too much fill, let’s hop right into the season preview.

Returning: Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard, Marek Dolezaj, Quincy Guerrier, Bourama Sidibe, Robert Braswell, Jesse Edwards, John Bol Ajak

Syracuse returns four starters from last season. Buddy Boeheim looks to build upon a sophomore season in which he averaged 15.3 points per game on 37.0% shooting from distance. He’s an All-ACC Second or Third team candidate. His backcourt mate, Joe Girard, is back after a strong freshman campaign.

The frontcourt returns starters Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe, both seniors who added strength in the offseason. Off the bench, Quincy Guerrier returns after playing through an injured groin a season ago. If healthy, he could make a big leap as a sophomore. Big man Jesse Edwards returns and will look to earn a spot in the rotation as backup center. Sharp-shooter and fan favorite Robert Braswell is also back after appearing in seven games before redshirting with injured shins in 2019-20.

Losses: Elijah Hughes, Jalen Carey, Brycen Goodine, Howard Washington

Syracuse lost Elijah Hughes, the Orange’s most productive player, to the NBA Draft. Hughes leaves quite a few gaps to plug in his wake after averaging 19.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game last season.

The Orange backcourt depth took a hit when three guards transferred last spring. Jalen Carey transferred to Rhode Island, Brycen Goodine to Providence and Howard Washington to South Alabama. Carey took a medical redshirt to have thumb surgery after appearing in only two games last season.

Newcomers: Alan Griffin, Kadary Richmond, Woody Newton, Frank Anselem, Chaz Owens

Alan Griffin will have the most prominent role of Syracuse’s new additions. He was granted a waiver and will be immediately eligible after transferring from Illinois in the spring. The junior wing will provide additional relief on offense with an outside shooting touch. He’ll look to help fill some of the void left by Hughes.

Syracuse also adds four freshmen to this year’s team. Richmond, a 6-foot-5 guard, is a top 100 recruit. He and 6-foot-10 big man Anselem have the best chance to carve out immediate roles. Newton was ranked just outside the top 100 in the class of 2020. Legacy player Chaz Owens, son of Billy Owens, also joins the team as a 6-foot-5 wing.

Niagara v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Projected Starting Five: Girard, Boeheim, Griffin, Dolezaj, Sidibe

Girard and Boeheim are a given as the starting backcourt. Seniors Dolezaj and Sidibe are as close to a shoo-in as can be. There’s a case to be made for Guerrier to start, but Griffin gives Syracuse another shooter on the wing.

2019-20 Recap

Syracuse is coming off an 18-14 (10-10) campaign which was shortened due to coronavirus concerns. The Orange began the season with an unconventional conference game, hosting Virginia, only to lose 48-34. It was the lowest point total for Syracuse in Jim Boeheim’s tenure.

Syracuse didn’t exactly get off to an auspicious start as it dropped five of its first ten games, including a loss at Georgetown.

The Orange found a way to win eight of its next ten games, however, including a five-game ACC win streak, which began with a win on the road over No. 18 Virginia. Still, Syracuse lost seven of its final 11 ACC games before ending the season on a positive note. Boehiem’s club took down North Carolina in Greensboro in its only ACC Tournament game. Syracuse was set to square off against Louisville in the ACCT quarterfinals, but the season was cut short due to the coronavirus.

2020-21 Outlook

Syracuse will look to replace Hughes, who led the conference in scoring and finished All-ACC First Team. Hughes did a lot of things well; Outside of scoring the ball and commanding attention, he defended well, created for teammates and helped relieve pressure as a secondary ball-handler from the forward position.

Syracuse projects as a middle of the pack ACC team this year. The Orange are experienced, returning six of its top seven contributors from a season ago, but brings back a less-than-stellar defensive unit. The Orange featured one of the best offenses in the country last year with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 112.8 (KenPom), good for 21st in the nation. Unconventionally, the 2-3 zone struggled, giving up just shy of one point per possession. It was the second worst defensive season for Jim Boeheim in the KenPom era.

Two questions for this year’s team are:

1) How much can the defense improve?

The Orange must improve on the defensive side of the ball this season. Syracuse was No. 116 in the country last year in defensive efficiency. As we know, the zone is prone to spot up 3s and offensive rebounds. Syracuse did a satisfactory job limiting the fast break last year, but it needs to do a better job limiting outside shooters, rotating efficiently on the back side of the zone and rebound at a adequate rate to have success this season.

2) Is there a playmaker on this roster?

We know Girard, Boeheim and Griffin can shoot it. But who on this roster can penetrate and create shots for others? Does Girard take on more of a facilitator’s role? Can Richmond provide reliable minutes at point as a freshman? Or can Griffin or Dolezaj create for others from the forward position? Hughes did everything well for Syracuse last season. Creating off the bounce is one of those gaps this team will need to fill.

Bottom line: Syracuse projects as an NCAA Tournament bubble team this year. How well the defense plays and how Syracuse replaces Hughes will likely determine its NCAA or NIT fate.

Big Games:

Non-ACC: ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Georgetown

Due to the college basketball season getting pushed back to a Nov. 25 start date, a shortened non-conference schedule will only allow for seven games, including a multiple team event. Syracuse is looking into hosting a three-team MTE.

Syracuse is hopeful the Georgetown game can be worked out and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be played.

ACC opponents are known but official dates have not yet been assigned. A regular 20 game conference schedule will be played.

ACC Home: Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, Miami

Syracuse hosts FSU and Louisville at home. Both were road losses last year.

No Duke at home this season. With no fans or limited capacity at best, this might not be a bad year to travel to Durham.

And wait, Miami? Yes, Miami. The Hurricanes will be much improved with one of the best backcourts in the ACC.

ACC Away: Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia

Syracuse has to face the four of the top five teams in the ACC on the road this season. With or without fans, that’s a tough road schedule.

Areas of Interest:

  • All players on this year’s roster will be given an additional year of eligibility irrespective of how many games he plays in
  • Syracuse will play Boston College, Clemson, Louisville, North Carolina, NC State and Pittsburgh twice this season
  • At the time of this writing, New York State has not allowed fans into stadiums, including the Carrier Dome
  • Syracuse has six international players on its roster for 2020-21
  • Jim Boeheim is just 35 wins away from 1,100 career victories. He had 101 wins vacated in 2015, but we don’t care about that at all.
  • Boeheim has been a part of at least one Final Four team across five decades (1975, 1987, 1996, 2003, 2013/2016). Any Final Four from here on out would make it six.

For Syracuse basketball stories and updates, follow Nunes and James on twitter @NunesMagician and @JamesSzuba