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TNIAAM Roundtable: Syracuse men’s basketball pre-season thoughts

Orange men’s basketball looms, which means it’s time to make some season predictions.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team kicks off their season with several exhibition games in about two weeks. With SU football having a bye week and the next men’s basketball season on the horizon, what better time than to make some predictions?

In this exercise, the TNIAAM panelists took a look specifically looked at the outlook for this iteration of the Syracuse men’s basketball team, including the talent on the roster and our way-too-early season predictions.

Question #1: Who is Syracuse’s most valuable player?

Dominic: I usually zig while everyone else zags, but Jesse Edwards is the undisputed most valuable player for the Orange. Last season, Edwards gave Syracuse some much-needed size down low on both ends of the court, making strides as a shot-blocker and interior finisher. He still struggles with foul trouble and staying on the court for long stretches, and we’ve seen how much the defense suffers when Edwards is off the floor. After an offseason that included time with the Argentinian National Team, expect Edwards to make the biggest impact for the Orange this season.

Kevin: Jesse Edwards is the player Syracuse can’t replace again this year. Last season when he was on the floor the Orange were better offensively and defensively. With so many new players on the roster, and no proven centers, Edwards needs to avoid silly fouls and be able to give Syracuse 30+ minutes per game.

Christian: Don’t overthink these questions. As original as I’d like to be, Syracuse has to keep Jesse Edwards on the floor. Arguments can be made for Joe Girard or even Judah Mintz, but the talent drop-off isn’t as severe when one of those guys has to leave the game. There are other point guards on the roster for Mintz and other shooters for Girard. No one can match the interior presence on both sides of the ball that Edwards provides.

Mike: Keeping it consistent across the board here: yeah, it’s Jesse. Just take a look at how bad the Orange dropped off when he was injured down the stretch last season - they lost ugly several times and barely squeaked past a bad Georgia Tech team. The offense will run through Edwards and his ability to pull defenders toward him and open up outside shooting lanes can’t be taken for granted.

Szuba: Let’s come in with an original response and say Jesse Edwards. For the reasons that others mentioned, Edwards is really good on both ends of the floor. There’s depth at every other position and while Mounir Hima and Peter Carey are both available behind Edwards, neither have proven themselves at this level just yet. Edwards is irreplaceable and he’ll need to stay healthy and stay out of foul trouble this season.

Question #2: Which player is the biggest x-factor this season for the Orange?

Dominic: Judah Mintz was a close second because of how much upside he has, but I’ll go with Joe Girard III by a hair. I’ve already made the case for Girard, but there are tons of questions maks regarding his role this season. With the Boeheim brothers and Cole Swider gone, can Girard take on a larger role on offense while maintaining his elite efficiency from three? The Orange had the fourth-best scoring offense in the ACC. Putting the ball in the basket will only maintain itself if Girard can step up into a primary role on offense.

Kevin: I’m going with Judah Mintz. We know Joe Girard and Jesse Edwards can score but after that, it’s a lot of question marks. Mintz played at a high-level last year at Oak Hill and all reports indicate that he can get buckets. If he can handle the ball and defend well enough to earn Jim Boeheim’s trust, he might be able to give this team a boost in the half-court offense.

Christian: Justin Taylor. Whether he starts or not, early indications seem like he’ll get a lot of playing time. Syracuse needs another perimeter threat to complement Girard or otherwise, the Orange offense is going to be quite easy to defend. Taylor already seems to have the well-rounded offensive game that took Buddy Boeheim a couple of seasons to get comfortable with. If he adjusts quickly to collegiate competition, Syracuse gets tougher to defend.

Mike: Judah Mintz. His surprise late commitment completely flipped the perception of the incoming class from decent to one of the best ‘Cuse has seen in a long time. If he produces as advertised, this team will be fun to watch. If not, chances are it will be another long season with more new questions.

Szuba: You can make the case for a number of players as the x-factor, but I’ll go with Benny Williams! After a year under his belt, he knows what to expect at this point. He should have more of a role in the offense and I really like his potential as a rebounder on both ends of the floor. Syracuse will need scoring from the forward spot. If Williams is improved and feeling more comfortable out there I like what he can give.

Question #3: Who on the roster is the “under the radar” player you will be watching this season?

Dom: My other panelists chose to select on the younger side with their choices, but I’ll take senior Symir Torrence for this question. Torrence quietly played 40 minutes against Duke in the 2022 ACC Tournament and made a positive impact on both ends of the court. His playmaking, rebounding, and defense are all above-average to great. He flashed great potential as a post-scorer and interior finisher. With the roster lacking in players who can get up easy points, I’m hoping Torrence can be more aggressive as a scorer, especially if he’s the first man to come off of Syracuse’s bench.

Kevin: Maliq Brown. This roster looks like it has enough scorers on it, but which player is going to be able to do the little things to contribute to a team win? Brown comes into Syracuse with the reputation as a strong rebounder and defender. He came from a winning program and he could be the type of “glue guy” that a young Orange team needs.

Christian: Peter Carey/Mounir Hima. To steal a football analogy, as much as we would like Garrett Shrader to play every down, the backup almost always comes in. Much is the same here. As much as we would like Edwards to play all 40 minutes, he’s going to get rotated out. Carey seems like he’s making strides on the depth chart, but whether it’s him or Hima, Syracuse needs the paint presence on both sides of the ball to balance the perimeter threats.

Mike: Peter Carey/Mounir Hima. I’ve got the same thinking as Christian here. One or both of these guys are going to get chances but it’s up to them to make the most of their minutes. With Carey’s injury history in high school and Hima’s very limited numbers with Duquesne, both have a lot to prove early on but not much time to do so.

Szuba: Maliq Brown. He comes into Syracuse as somewhat of an unknown who’s not expected to get big minutes right away. But what if he’s too good defensively and as a rebounder? He could give Syracuse a skillset that differs from his peers and at 6-foot-8, 213 lbs, he might be the most physically ready of the freshmen.

Question #4: What is the Orange’s greatest team strength?

Dom: Versatility, at least on paper. The Orange have lots of promising players on their bench and tons of lineup combinations the team can go to. Syracuse relied too much on a seven-to-eight-man rotation. Expect coach Jim Boeheim to give ample opportunities regarding how the lineup shakes out.

Kevin: It seems like depth and athleticism would be the strength. Unlike last year, the Orange have options at every position (except maybe center) but enough players to allow for a deeper rotation and the ability to mix and match line-ups based on the opponent.

Christian: Theoretically, the offense shouldn’t be the problem. It seems like whichever starting five the Orange decide to trot out will be filled with play-makers that can create opportunities in a variety of ways. Having a true floor general of a point guard only helps that case, especially with Girard playing as the off-ball guard.

Mike: Options. There is enough talent on the roster to not just rotate out starters but to try different combinations early in the season and find the true starting 5. Outside of center, I think we will see Boeheim play a few different combinations based on the best matchups. Maybe even some… wait for it… man defense?!?

Szuba: TBD! That’s a good question. It seems as though Syracuse has addressed last season’s deficiencies. This is a more athletic roster that should defend better. With more guys who can handle the ball it’s hard to think Syracuse will have difficulty handling pressure. But on the other end, Syracuse will probably regress offensively, which is fine so long as the defense if markedly better. I’ll say depth is the strength until we see more of this team.

Question #5: What is Syracuse’s biggest team weakness?

Dom: I would go with three-point shooting, but in general, there’s a likelihood the Orange will take a huge step back on offense this season. Syracuse lost three of their four best scorers over the break, one of which (Buddy Boeheim) ranked first in the ACC in points per game. Other than Girard, there isn’t a proven elite shooter on the team. There are also just too many question marks on the offensive front. Can Girard deal with a larger ball-handling role? Will Edwards' growth as an interior scorer stagnate? Is Judah Mintz, or any of the Orange’s new youngsters ready to make a win-now impact? I need to see it before I believe it.

Kevin: A very bad defensive team last year tries to integrate a lot of new players into the 2-3 zone. We’ve seen many newcomers struggle to grasp the rotations and responsibilities so can the improved athleticism make up for the inexperience on the roster?

Christian: If you’ve read closely through my answers so far, you might already know what’s coming. Syracuse needs to support Edwards on the interior. He can’t do it by himself. If he is, that’s when foul trouble starts to flare up. Offensively, someone’s got to crash the rim with dribble moves. Defensively, the guards need to prevent the ball from getting to the middle while the wings need to be strong and decisive when providing secondary interior help.

Mike: Perimeter shooting. While there are some intriguing pieces to help support JGIII on offense, they won’t be able to replicate Buddy Buckets and Cole Swider. Having those additional options from outside the arc is what allowed Girard to make over 40% of his threes, and although he’s moving back to his natural position at the 2, he’ll now have to contend with the opposition’s best defender in his face.

Szuba: Experience? We know what to expect of out Joe Girard. We think we know what to expect out of Jesse Edwards (maybe he’s even better than we think?). Outside of that? Torrence is looking for his first starting job, Williams is looking to get extended minutes and six freshmen are all looking for playing time. Every player is stepping into a new role this season.

Question #6: If you had to make a way-too-early season prediction, what’s your prediction?

Dom: At their best, the optimist in me believes the Orange can finish as a 5-6 seed in the conference, make the most of their non-conference schedule, and be competitive enough in the ACC Tournament to make a run for a bid at March Madness. The realist in me thinks the Orange can be fringe competitors that will at least give their opponents a run for their money. But I don’t think Syracuse can realistically do better than being an 8-9 seed in the conference and ending up between the NCAA Tournament bubble and the NIT.

Kevin: This team should be able to win enough games in the non-conference schedule to be in position for 18-19 wins and NCAA Tournament consideration. If they can survive a tough January stretch, there’s an opportunity to close the season with some ACC wins and as we’ve seen, winning down the stretch can mask some other resume weaknesses. I think once again Syracuse makes the First Four as an 11 seed but they don’t advance out of Dayton.

Christian: There’s just not enough interior strength for the Orange to get the shiny wins that look good on a resume. The better teams in the ACC will just out-muscle Syracuse and make things difficult without Edwards in the game. Much like last season, the Orange offense should be enough to blitz past the weaker competition, but another early exit in the ACC Tournament means Syracuse is NIT bound.

Mike: The soft non-conference schedule means a relatively-healthy SU should be on the border between the bubble and a top NIT seed. Given the option of a one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament or hosting an extra game or two, I’ll take the second choice. This is still a transitional year, and the young core would benefit more from some extra time in front of their fans and potentially a deep run instead of getting knocked right out of March.

Szuba: I like what Syracuse has on paper. This is a talented team. Syracuse will take some lumps and growing pains are to be expected, but I do think this is a team that can come on late once everyone gets some experience and gets comfortable with one another. Combine that talent with Boeheim’s system and I’m not counting them out for an NCAA Tournament berth. I’ll say Syracuse finishes seventh in the conference and sneaks into the big dance as a double-digit seed.