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Syracuse women’s basketball 2020-21 season preview

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Winter is coming!

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 23 Div I Women’s Championship - First Round - Fordham v Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tip-off of the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball season is less than a month away. The Orange have not released their schedule yet, but the 2020-21 college basketball season will begin on Nov. 25. This season will be different than past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic: The non-conference schedule will be shortened, but the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule will be 20 games (up two from last year).

2020-21 Season Preview

Coaching Staff: Quentin Hillsman, Vonn Read, John Marcum, Cedric Solice

Head coach Quentin Hillsman enters his 15th season with the program. During his time in Central New York, Q has led the Orange to 12 consecutive postseason appearances, seven trips to the NCAA Tournament, 18 All-ACC selections, five All-Americans, and four WNBA Draft picks.

Q’s right-hand man is Associate Head Coach Vonn Read. He joined the Orange in 2011 after stints with Albany and Kentucky. He also worked as an assistant coach in the WNBA with the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2004.

Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator John Marcum joined the program this summer. He has over a decade of college coaching experience, previously working for Butler, Grand Canyon, East Carolina, Indiana State, Cal Baptist, and Oklahoma Baptist.

Cedric Solice, the program’s Assistant Coach and Director of Program Management and Development, joined the team in 2006 as a graduate student manager.

Returning: Tiana Mangakahia, Kiara Lewis, Emily Engstler, Digna Strautmane, Amaya Finklea-Guity, Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi, Taleah Washington, Teisha Hyman, Lauren Fitzmaurice

Syracuse returns four starters from last season as well as All-American Tiana Mangakahia, who sat out the 2019-20 season to battle breast cancer. The NCAA granted Mangakahia a fifth year of eligibility last month. The combination of Mangakahia and redshirt senior Kiara Lewis could create the best backcourt in the ACC this season.

Like Mangakahia and Lewis, Emily Engstler is an All-Conference candidate. She looks to build upon a strong sophomore campaign where she averaged a near double-double with 9.0 points and 9.2 rebounds.

Three-year starters Digna Strautmane and Amaya Finklea-Guity will be back for the Orange. Both seniors saw their production levels decrease last season, so the key in 2020-21 will be whether they can contribute the same numbers as two years ago.

Off the bench, Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi will be back as Syracuse’s fifth man. The redshirt junior averaged 8 points and 3.5 rebounds last season. Sophomores Taleah Washington and Teisha Hyman will also be back and will likely battle for minutes with the incoming freshman. Lauren Fitzmaurice will also return for her senior season.

Losses: Alisha Lewis

Alisha Lewis transferred to UCF this summer. She appeared in seven games last season.

The Orange also lost four players to graduation: Gabrielle Cooper, Elemy Colome, Whisper Fisher, and Brooke Alexander.

Newcomers: Kamilla Cardoso, Priscilla Williams, Faith Blackstone, Khamya McNeal, Kiara Fisher, Maud Huijbens, Ava Irvin

Coach Q will welcome the highest-ranked freshman class in program history this winter. The class, which is ranked No. 4 in the country by espnW HoopGurlz, features seven athletes: Kamilla Cardoso, Priscilla Williams, Faith Blackstone, Khamya McNeal, Kiara Fisher, Maud Huijbens, and Ava Irvin.

Cardoso and Williams will likely have the largest roles of Syracuse’s freshman class. Cardoso is the highest-ranked player in program history at No. 5 nationally. Williams is the fourth-highest recruit at No. 9. Cardoso and Williams were recently listed on ESPN’s Newcomer Impact Rankings at No. 7 and No. 22, respectively.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Projected Starting Five: Mangakahia, Lewis, Engstler, Strautmane, Finklea-Guity

Coach Q isn’t one to stray away from his starting five. Mangakahia, Strautmane, and Finklea-Guity have started every game in their Syracuse careers, while Lewis and Engstler started all last season. Even if Cardoso turns out to be really, really good, I still don’t see this line-up changing.

2019-20 Recap

The Orange went 16-15 (9-9) last season, the lowest win total since 2006-07.

Through the season, the Orange secured three wins over ranked teams: including No. 5 Louisville, No. 8 Florida State in overtime, and No. 19 Michigan State. Coach Q also got his first win over Notre Dame and head coach Muffet McGraw in his 14 years at Syracuse.

Overall, the Orange found themselves in the middle of the pack throughout the entire season. Syracuse’s 2019-20 season ended with a loss in the second round of the ACC Tournament to #4 Louisville. The rest of the college basketball season was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

2020-21 Outlook

Syracuse has a lot going for them this year: Mangakahia’s comeback, the No. 4 recruiting class, and four out of five starters returning.

The Orange currently stand at No. 23 on ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 ranking, but I think this team’s potential is much higher than that. The combination of a stellar freshman class and an experienced group of returners could propel ‘Cuse into a deep postseason run.

Two questions for this year’s team are:

1) How will Tiana Mangakahia & Kiara Lewis mesh?

Individually, Mangakahia and Lewis are incredibly talented athletes. But, how will they fit together on the court? They played together in 2018-19, but Lewis was not a starter then. How will Coach Q utilize each player at the same time in his starting line-up?

2) How good are these freshmen?

I don’t like to predict how freshmen will fare in college based on their high school statistics. Yes, Cardoso and Williams are top-10 players coming into college. But what will they look like at the end of this season? How much will they play? Will they make the All-Conference freshman team?

Areas of Interest

  • All players on this year’s roster will be given an additional year of eligibility
  • At the time of this writing, New York State has not allowed fans into stadiums, including the Carrier Dome
  • Syracuse has five international players on its roster for 2020-21
  • Coach Q holds a 304-160 overall record and a 126-100 in ACC play in 14 years