Last night’s contest against St. Rose marked the final tune-up for Syracuse Orange men’s basketball before the season officially starts. The Orange comfortably coasted to a second straight exhibition win. There was a lot to digest, but here’s what I took away from yesterday’s game:
Chris Bell steps up
Ninety minutes before tip-off, Syracuse ruled out two of its top six players in Benny Williams (suspended for violation of team rules) and Maliq Brown (precautionary for a lower-body injury). Although not overly concerning, we saw a new starting five work together, with Chris Bell and Justin Taylor rotating between the small forward and power forward positions. The former shined on both ends in the first half, racking up 19 points, mainly off two threes and nine free throws.
But what impressed me the most was Bell’s defense while guarding man-to-man. The sophomore finished with two blocks and three steals on the night, which would’ve tied and broken his season highs last year. Sure, he’s playing against St. Rose, but Bell has the tools to thrive defensively in Adrian Autry’s system.
It might’ve happened by chance tonight, but I’d like to see Autry experiment more with Bell down low in the regular season. His 6’7 frame makes him more than capable of snagging some boards, and if his shooting goes cold, this could give him a new way to change the game.
Smooth finishing in transition
One thing’s clear... this team likes to run the floor. Old are the days of Joe Girard III pulling up for three on a fast break or other guards not hustling down the court. Two steals by Kyle Cuffe Jr. led to two quick buckets on the other end in the first half. The Kansas transfer ripped the ball away from a St. Rose forward and darted down with a 3-on-2 advantage. Cuffe hit J.J. Starling in stride, finishing through the contact for an and-1. Minutes later, Cuffe picked off a pass and dished the ball out to Quadir Copeland for a rim-rocking, one-handed flush.
It’s great to see the chemistry clicking with starters and reserves, especially on the break. The Orange guards have the speed to match any other ACC foe, and pushing the ball will be a focal point of their offense. It’ll be interesting to see how often Syracuse converts on the break once competition ramps up, but it checks all the boxes so far.
Another slow second half
I get that Autry is experimenting much more than usual in these exhibition games, but I’m still a bit concerned after SU got outscored by both Daemen and St. Rose in its second halves. The Orange have the physical talent to blow these teams out if they choose, so the piece missing here must be a lack of effort.
Naheem McLeod notched Syracuse’s first field goal with 17:10 remaining in the period, and he threw down two dunks over the next two minutes. But other than that, the other starters looked sluggish and couldn’t get in rhythm.
The Orange shot 37.5 percent from the field in the second half, which won’t win you many games in the ACC. However, the good news is that it’s just an exhibition game. Maybe the players really don’t care as much. Maybe it was just an off-night. We’ll never know, but the improvements are necessary.
That’s a wrap on this year’s preseason. What do you think Syracuse has in store for us in its regular season opener against New Hampshire on Monday night?