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Syracuse men’s basketball: Game one overreactions after the Orange beat Lafayette

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Is this a recap? No. Think of it as more of an early gut-check for Syracuse.

NCAA Basketball: Lafayette at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team beat the Lafayette Leopards handily on Tuesday night, by a score of 97-63. While it’s just one game, all fans are likely to start forming some conclusions around this year’s team — or at least ideas around what to expect.

We’re not here to say any of those are true or false. More so, this space is just calling out some overreactions after just 40 minutes of basketball this season, before assessing whether or not those things can remain true long-term.

Syracuse will be just fine on the boards

After securing 48 rebounds against Lafayette (a team with at least a little size), you’d be forgiven for thinking that this Orange squad will be a better-than-average team on the boards. But truth be told, there’s more to that number even if this game.

Cole Swider had 12 rebounds (great), but no one else had more than five and a lot of them came from players like Frank Anselem and John Bol Ajak getting more burn than normal due to the blowout nature of this game. In general, said blowout nature meant a lot more rebound opportunities with the Leopards happy to chuck to get back into this one.

I like Swider’s presence on the glass, and that’s important going forward — even if not at 12 per game. We’ll see who else can get involved at a greater (and needed) level, though.

Also, just 11 second-chance points in the game is... questionable for this team against an opponent like Lafayette.

We’re getting NCAA Tournament Joe Girard this year

Girard looked good against Lafayette, scoring 20 points while going 5-of-5 from three, with seven assists and just one turnover. There’s an adjustment for competition, of course, but it was good to see him looking back to himself after an on-and-off 2020-21 season that was impacted by the guard dealing with COVID.

A lot of times in the past couple years, we’ve probably seen a bit too much hero ball from Girard, and while he was the leading scorer here, it wasn’t due to an overemphasis on him. JGIII was fourth in usage rate on the team, and made himself a facilitator when needed. He doesn’t need to score 20 per night to be effective this season, but it’s good to know he can do that — and do it efficiently (his 27.0 efficiency rating led the team).

This will be another season that leans heavily on the starters

Just three bench players logged more than 10 minutes on Tuesday night despite the one-sided game, and both Swider and Buddy Boeheim played more than 30 (Buddy led the team with a potentially inexplicable 35).

We’re used to Jim Boeheim’s short rotations by now, though it usually takes a little time to fall into six or seven player seeing significant minutes. While it’s a little concerning to see such a strong emphasis on starters in a blowout game one, the fact that Anselem played 18 minutes and Benny Williams got 21 shows they’ll get time and opportunities to get better. Not sure how long Jim lets Symir Torrence go 0-for-5 from the field in 18 minutes. But four assists help.

SU’s offense runs through the forwards

What was most intriguing about the game one win was how Syracuse seemed to turn some ideas about the squad on its head. The last two years have largely told us that this offense went as Buddy and Girard went, as the team rarely had more than one more more shooter on the floor with them.

But Tuesday showed Swider and Jimmy Boeheim log the most usage while combining for 32 points. Buddy and Girard ultimately combined for more points (38) and assists (13), but the forwards being offensive threats really helped open things up for the guards.

That’s ultimately where things could wind up all season, too. Usage rates probably rise for Buddy and Joe, but the more Swider and Jimmy can be involved on offense, the more space there will be outside. We haven’t seen that sort of balance in a bit at SU, and it’ll be refreshing if they can pull it off.

The Orange defense is well on its way

It’s tough to assess much from the ‘Cuse defense against Lafayette, since the big lead ultimately changes what the Leopards were trying to do on offense and obviously there’s a talent gap. Jim Boeheim said after the game that Lafayette tested the SU defense a bit, though, and that’s a reasonable assessment.

Syracuse only managed seven steals and five blocks, while the Leopards pulled down 30 boards. SU did largely avoid foul trouble, which is a plus. Lafayette only shot 34% from the field and 29% from three, but again, the game situation starts altering the offensive approach.

Overall, the defense potentially looked better than expected in game one given the amount of turnover, but still has a way to go to be ready for ACC play. That’s fine, since they have time. Though major competition is coming up quickly with the Battle 4 Atlantis on the horizon.