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The 2021-22 Syracuse men’s basketball season preview

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Basketball season is near.

Syracuse v Georgetown Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball season is quickly approaching as the team’s first exhibition game is just 22 days away. As you may have already noticed, the team returned to the Melo Center last week as fall practice is underway.

As such, it’s time to turn our focus to basketball season (although some of you might still be holding out hope for football). Jim Boeheim enters his 46th season as the head coach of Syracuse. He’ll be flanked by assistant coaches Adrian Autry, Gerry McNamara and Allen Griffin — all former players. The Orange will embark on its ninth season as a chartered member of the ACC.

Syracuse has a daunting non-conference schedule, including games against Indiana, Villanova and Georgetown on top of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. More on that below, but first let’s get into the meat of the preview.

Returning: Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard, Bourama Sidibe, Jesse Edwards, Frank Anselem, John Bol Ajak, Chaz Owens

Syracuse returns just two starters from a season ago as Joe Girard and Buddy Boeheim are back to fortify the backcourt. The forward cohort will be entirely new, bolstered by depth at the center position.

Boeheim led the team in scoring a season ago, averaging 17.8 point per game. Expect him to be an ACC POTY candidate — before the league inevitably gives it to Paolo Banchero — as he sets fire to both nets and tweets with claims of nepotism. Girard is Syracuse’s returning assist leader (3.5). He also averaged more rebounds per game than any returning player (2.9).

Sidibe is back for a fifth season after suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee last year. He played in just two games in 2019-20. Edwards is back after showing potential late last season. John Bol Ajak is also back after entering the transfer portal in the spring.

Departing: Kadary Richmond, Quincy Guerrier, Alan Griffin, Marek Dolezaj, Robert Braswell, Woody Newton

Syracuse lost six of its top eight scorers from a season ago. Richmond transferred to Seton Hall, Guerrier transferred to Oregon, Newton transferred to Oklahoma State and Braswell (You just had to take Braswell, didn’t you?) transferred to Charlotte.

Dolezaj elected to begin his professional career after spending four years at SU. He probably could’ve made more money negotiating pizza and dentistry NIL deals in CNY. Alas, we’ll never know.

Newcomers: Benny Williams, Jimmy Boeheim, Symir Torrence, Cole Swider

Syracuse brings in top-40 recruit Benny Williams on the wing. The Orange assuaged its roster turnover with a troika of transfers in Boeheim (Cornell), Torrence (Marquette) and Swider (Villanova).

Projected starting five: Girard, Buddy Boeheim, Jimmy Boeheim, Williams, Sidibe

The only thing more certain than Girard and Boeheim starting up top is snow falling in a Syracuse winter. (So funny, right guys? Get it? Syracuse? Snow? Haha.)

The three new forwards will compete for starting spots and really, you could make the case for any of them to be starters. The center position is Sidibe’s to lose. Edwards provides reassurance as a backup center while Anselem and Bol Ajak provide depth to a position that typically lacks that luxury.

Syracuse v West Virginia Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

2020-21 season recap

Syracuse had an underwhelming regular season, going 18-10 and 9-7 in conference play, finishing eighth in the ACC. Still, the Orange rallied late with wins over Clemson and North Carolina to earn an NCAA Tournament berth as a No. 11 seed.

From there, Syracuse did what is always does as a double-digit seed: make the Sweet 16. The Orange whitewashed the regular season, relying heavily on Buddy Boeheim’s hot hand in tournament wins over San Diego State and West Virginia before bowing out to defensive-minded Houston in the Sweet 16.

Syracuse was never ranked in the 2020-21 season, sans one final coach’s poll ranking of No. 25.

2021-22 season outlook

The team is replete with shooting as Boeheim and Girard — who combined to make 127 3s a season ago — are sure to get shots. Swider joins on the wing which should further bolster the rainmaking ability. He shot 40.2% from deep at Villanova last season, a mark that would’ve made him the most accurate shooter at Syracuse last season. The lefty Jimmy Boeheim will be asked to do more than just shoot from the opposite forward position, but he can knock it down from range too.

Syracuse’s offense should look like this all season, only with a few more makes:

Syracuse is going to make a lot of 3s and Benny Williams will probably dunk on occasion. The team will be able to space the floor with shooters, but some concerns remain.

Syracuse should be in the mix to finish fourth to ninth in the league and figures to be an NCAA Tournament team. The non-conference schedule is ripe with opportunity; it could very well be the toughest out-of-conference schedule for Syracuse ever. With another expected down year in the ACC, Syracuse has its best chance to finish in the upper echelon of the league since it joined the conference in 2013-14.

There’s always the possibility that the team yields to its weaknesses and relegates itself to the NIT. Here are some of those concerns:

Questions/concerns

Defense

The 2-3 zone wasn’t terrible last year, but it wasn’t good either. Save your stats for where Syracuse finished defensively in the league, which wasn’t as good last year as it typically is.

The Orange finished No. 77 in Ken Pom defensive efficiency, allowing 96.9 points per 100 possessions (again, not bad, not great). It’s hard to think that Syracuse gets better on defense with less athleticism on the wings and its best defender at the top of the zone from a season ago playing at Seton Hall.

I mean, Boeheim could play four white guys on the perimeter simultaneously, a move that college basketball hasn’t seen since Bo Ryan retired in 2015. Maybe Syracuse will surprise with some new faces in the mix, but the zone is the biggest question for now.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Syracuse at Houston Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Rebounding

Similarly, Syracuse wasn’t a great rebounding team last season. Guerrier, Griffin and Dolezaj were adept at getting on the offensive glass but the defensive rebounding left much to be desired. The defense finished No. 339 in (opponents’) offensive rebounding percentage. In other words, Syracuse gave up too many offensive rebounds out of the 2-3 zone.

The zone will always have some obvious gaps without individual block out responsibilities. How well Syracuse mitigates the other team’s offensive rebounding opportunities will determine how good of a rebounding team it can be (Just because you play zone doesn’t mean you can’t be a good rebounding team, although it is more difficult).

Syracuse lost its top three rebounders in the aforementioned Guerrier, Griffin and Dolezaj. Perhaps losing players from a bad rebounding team will help (?), but the new faces will have to adjust quickly.

Another point: Dolezaj no longer being the stopgap at center could galvanize the position with two true fives in Sidibe and Edwards.

Still, rebounding will be a concern this season.

Playmaker

This is becoming my overused, trite concern heading into the season.

The Orange are devoid of an obvious playmaker with Richmond gone. With so many shooters, who can create off the bounce? Does Girard become more of a facilitator? Can Torrence create in a limited role? Does Jimmy Boeheim take over some of Dolezaj’s point-forward duties or is Williams ready to be featured with the ball in the half-court from the onset?

Transfers

Perhaps it’s somewhat overstated and even hackneyed to suggest team chemistry as a concern, but how will all these new faces mesh? That’s not to say that teammates won’t like each other, just that it might take a little time for everyone to get comfortable with one another on the court. How quickly this team gels could be important in a year where the schedule gets difficult rather early.

Big Games

Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 24-Nov. 26)

Indiana (Nov. 30)

At Florida State (Dec. 4)

Villanova (Dec. 7)

At Georgetown (Dec. 11)

Virginia (Jan. 1)

Florida State (Jan. 15)

At Duke (Jan. 22)

At Virginia Tech (Feb. 12)

Duke (Feb. 26)

At North Carolina (Feb. 28)