In just over 20 minutes at his opening press conference, Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim opened up a Pandora’s box worth of men’s basketball talking points.
Coach Boeheim addressed reporters for open media availability just hours before the team took part in the Orange Tip-Off. The takeaways from his press conference could be as long as Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis, but for simplicity’s sake, here are the most important topics coach Boeheim addressed.
Takeaway #1: Making it to March Madness is (always) the goal.
When addressing the expectations for the Orange, Coach Boeheim said it’s always the same every year, no matter what.
“We’ve been very good in the Tournament, and at the end of the day, you play for the Tournament,” said Boeheim. “If you can’t play in the Tournament, then you’re not that good.”
Coach Boeheim said the team struggled last season because they got off to a rough start. He said once Syracuse finally started to get things going after winning four in a row last season, Jesse Edwards was ruled out for the year and things went downhill from there.
Interestingly, Coach Boeheim framed how he coaches and what his expectations are within the context of March Madness. He said the Big Ten “sucked” last year because of the conference’s record in the 2022 NCAA Tournament (for context, seven of the nine Big Ten teams who made it to March Madness lost in the First Round).
Coach Boeheim deflected any thoughts that Syracuse has “disappointed” in recent years given the team’s success when they do earn a March Madness bid.
“You never are happy when you don’t have a good year and don’t go to the tournament,” Boeheim said. “We’ve been in the best league in the country. In ten years we’ve been to two Final Fours, two Sweet Sixteens, and were in the tournament other years before. Not many teams have done that.”
The Orange have made the NCAA Tournament 31 times under coach Boeheim. Here’s hoping for number 32.
Takeaway #2: JGIII will move to shooting guard.
What the final Syracuse rotation looks like has been a subject of debate for months with the season approaching. Jesse Edwards is clearly starting at the five, but Boeheim all but guaranteed another starting spot.
“He (Joe Girard III) was really one of the better point guards last couple of years in the ACC,” said Boeheim. “I don’t think he’s been given the credit he’s due. He did a great job at the point, but I think he’s better for him and our team overall that he’s at the two.”
Last season, Girard stayed at point guard next to Buddy Boeheim, Jimmy Boeheim, and Cole Swider at the shooting guard and wing positions. Girard thrived in the role, finishing in the following spots in the ACC: 20th in points, 6th in assists, 7th in steals, and 3rd in three-point efficiency.
This season, it’ll be interesting to see if Girard can maintain his efficiency as a scorer while taking on a larger role. Losing the Boeheim brothers and Swider, means Girard will be given more opportunities to put the ball in the basket.
How Girard steps up to the plate will be a big narrative to watch for this season.
Takeaway #3: Mintz has all the upside.
Girard wasn’t the only player who Coach Boeheim had strong praise for. This time, he gave one of the most promising youngsters on the team, Judah Mintz, some big-time compliments of his own.
“He understands the position and really does know how to play the position,” coach Boeheim said. “He’s athletically very gifted. He understands the game, he’s big, (and) he’s tall. His shooting has really improved. He has the game to be that kind of player.”
Coach Boeheim recently compared Mintz to former ‘Cuse basketball star Johnny Flynn. There’s plenty of optimism as to why.
Mintz’s athleticism, size, and frame make him of the best athletes in the ACC. Next to Girard, Mintz could give the Orange a different dimension on offense that they really didn’t have last season.
“I like this team in the sense that we may not shoot it as well as last year, but we’ve got guys that can get to the basket better and maybe get to the line better,” coach Boeheim said. “I think our offense will be different, but I think it can still be very high level.”
The Orange ranked as one of the best offenses last season in the ACC, finishing 4th in points scored and 3rd in three-point percentage. But in 2022, Syracuse ranked in the middle of the pack on the other major scoring numbers.
Mintz gives the team a slashing playmaker who can keep the offense at elite standards. If he lives up to the recent hype, Mintz will be on opponent’s radars throughout this year.
Takeaway #4: The defense needs improvement.
The defense was the kryptonite of the Orange for almost all of last season. Syracuse gave up the second-most points in the conference, just ahead of an NC State team that finished 4-16 against the ACC in 2021-2022.
“Our defense wasn’t good enough last year, (and) that’s the bottom line,” coach Boeheim said. “We were a really good offensive team and we weren’t able to get stops.”
The only question: does Syracuse stick to the 2-3 zone of old, or switch things up with more man coverage? Boeheim kept his answer pretty vague. He said the team will run certain defensive schemes on a game-to-game basis. When asked if there was a go-to player on the roster who can anchor the defense, Boeheim said the team as a whole needed to improve on that side of the court.
“Any defense you play is a team,” Boeheim said. “It’s not really about one guy. Defense isn’t like what he used to be. You have to have team defense, and that’s what we’re working on.”
Compared to last year, Syracuse actually has way more size, length, and athleticism at the wings. Edwards’ injury was a big factor in the Orange giving up points, but he wasn’t the end-all-be-all for why the team struggled defensively, especially against the ACC.
With more defensive upside across the roster, expect the team to take a leap on that end.
Takeaway #5: Syracuse has some promising bench depth.
On the subject of upside, coach Boeheim couldn’t deny the endless combination of lineups there is on this team. As my colleague James Szuba alluded to in his recent piece, coach Boeheim has something he hasn’t had in recent memory: options.
“We have guys who can play multiple positions,” coach Boeheim said. “We have guys that can move around and that’s good. We will use more players.”
Besides looking at individual players, the obvious narrative to watch for is how the rotation develops over the course of the season.
A big sticking point for the Orange’s 2021-2022 struggles was simply not having any backup plans. The team relied too heavily on a seven-to-eight-man rotation, where the starters would play north of 33-34 minutes a night. There were only so many counters or fallback options to go to last season. Now, the Orange have some depth that can eat up some minutes and even give the Orange quality playing time.
And yes, that includes the new guys, according to coach Boeheim.
“Our freshmen are ready to play,” coach Boeheim said. “By looking at it and seeing what I’ve been seeing in practice, I would say all of our freshmen are ready to play and are able to play right away.”
Syracuse added six new freshmen to their roster. Mintz has been the recent player in the spotlight, but the rest of the rookies provide plenty of promise.
Justin Taylor, Chris Bunch, and Maliq Brown all give the Orange some interesting looks to go to at the wing. Taylor is listed as a guard but is six-foot-six with a solid build for a perimeter shooter. Bunch is a legit three-point shooter who has the size to do more besides letting it rain from beyond the arc. Brown is unproven but gives Syracuse another option at forward.
The real star to watch for is Quadir Copeland. The six-foot-six guard looked amazing at the Orange Tip-off event. He’s a pretty solid athlete, an underrated passer, and looked comfortable with the ball in his hands. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits next to one of Syracuse’s veteran guards, whether it be next to Girard or Symir Torrence.
For the first time in years, expect the Orange to play around with different lineup combinations. It could go a long way in how Syracuse performs this season.