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Syracuse men’s basketball: Three takeaways from preseason opener against Daemen

Yep, Red is the new Orange

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Friday’s preseason men’s basketball game was a fun one. It’s been a long time since there was this level of energy and excitement surrounding the Syracuse Orange and they did not disappoint during their first real game action. Of all the variables on display, these are what stood out the most to me:

Centers of Attention

The center position is the one which still had the most uncertainty entering the new year, if for no other reason than Naheem McLeod isn’t going to play the 30+ minutes per night that Jesse Edwards did. McLeod displayed a great two-way game during his 15 minutes on the floor, and we saw how useful his massive frame will be.

Naheem only has to stand to play defense and can basically park himself under the basket until someone is ready to drive. On the offensive side, he vacuumed up three rebounds, all while only committing one foul.

Then there was Maliq “The Freak” Brown (he/SU need to trademark that asap). He didn’t play long but in very limited action, Brown threw down a pair of booming dunks, had a pair of blocks and a steal, and drew a foul to go to the line. Maliq ought to be the first man off the bench most nights and Red has the flexibility to move him around based on matchups.

Mounir Hima and William Patterson both didn’t play, though Autry stressed that for the latter it is just a case of him still adjusting to the college level and being behind others on the depth chart. Regardless, it now seems like a very deep group with more than one genuine option. Speaking of which...

The Defense Rests

The Orange mixed up their defensive look, mainly running man-to-man but also pulling the 2-3 zone off the shelf during the time Brown was in at center. For the most part, it was a refreshing sight. Yes, Daemen shot very well from distance (11/24), but you could tell that by halftime, everyone had entered ‘practice’ mode and they were content with letting them have space on the perimeter.

It took the early part of the first 20 to settle in, but once they did, the Orange were grooving, with eight first-half blocks, 17 defensive boards, and 23 points off of turnovers. Good signs all around.

A Calm and Collected Coach

North Carolina v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Of course, this wouldn’t be complete without an assessment of the new Orange head coach. Truthfully, not much stood out with Autry pacing the bench area - and that’s a good thing.

The players were the ones showing a lot of emotion Friday night, while Red kept his composure and outside of directing plays several times, he just let his guys work together, brush off mistakes, and find their own rhythm.

Compare that to the past couple years, where you’d often see Jim Boeheim ripping into whoever didn’t go after a rebound hard enough or missed a chance at an open pass. Back during media day, it really seemed like all the returning players were much more relaxed than they ever were last season, and it’s carried over onto the Dome court.

Now, guys are building chemistry and getting in sync on both kinds of transitions, and it showed - the team scored 28 points off the fast break while only giving up nine. There are already connections brewing where one player knows exactly where to put the ball before his target even gets there, having the trust that he will be open.

If SU builds off what they showed here, then Red’s Orange won’t be singing the Blues once these games count in the win column.