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Syracuse men’s basketball roundtable: our picks for MVP, projected starters, breakout player, game to watch and more

The season is around the corner.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Anticipation is in the as the start of a new season for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team gets closer by the day. The program’s next chapter under new head coach Adrian Autry begins on November 6th versus New Hampshire following two exhibition games over the next few weeks.

With the Orange set to begin the start of their 2023-2024 campaign under new leadership and following an offseason makeover, we sent out the Nunes Signal to ask the staff to make some predictions about the makeup of the roster and other thoughts about the upcoming season:

Projected starting lineup

Dom: Judah Mintz, J.J. Starling, Chris Bell, Benny Williams and Naheem McLeod

The Mintz-Starling guard combo will lead the charge offensively with the Orange as both shot creators and playmakers while maximizing their athleticism and craftiness on both ends of the court. The duo of Bell and Benny returns starters coming off flashy stretches last season while McLeod mans the middle and serves as the team’s central rim protector.

Kevin: Mintz, Starling, Bell, Williams and McLeod

The injury to Chance Westry makes me feel real comfortable with this group. I think there is a chance that Justin Taylor and/or Maliq Brown can push themselves into the starting group at some point during the season. With Mintz and Starling creating opportunities, Bell needs to knock down open shots and McLeod needs to be active on the boards. If not, I don’t think Adrian Autry will be afraid to mix things up.

Szuba: Mintz, Starling, Bell, Williams and McLeod

Points for originality?

Mike: Mintz, Starling, Bell, Williams, McLeod

Totally didn’t peep over anyone’s shoulders for this one ;) But I do think that Maliq Brown, while not starting, will get close to starter minutes throughout the season, thanks to his versatility at multiple spots on the court. If Naheem can’t take the next step, William Patterson could fight his way into decent time as well.

Max: Mintz, Starling, Bell, Williams, McLeod

Rolling with the rest of the staff here. Autry’s leash can’t possibly be shorter than Boeheim’s, but I do expect him to utilize a small ball lineup with Maliq Brown often. If McLeod can’t be effective in the post, Brown’s already proven to pack a punch in the paint. It’s not uncommon to go smaller with man-to-man defense, so Brown could get significant playing time and become the starter early on.

Ben: Mintz, Starling, Bell, Williams, McLeod

I agree with Kevin’s thoughts regarding Chance Westry. Given that he’s now sidelined with a lower body injury, I think the starting lineup is pretty much set in stone. I’ll be interested to see how short Autry’s leash is and if he tinkers with the lineup at all. In a perfect world, he won’t have to.

MVP

Dom: Mintz and by a long shot. I’m sure we’re going to be unanimous here and make the easy call with him, but it’s hard not to love Mintz’s potential after a productive freshman season. The only question is how high that ceiling ends up being this year.

Kevin: I am going with Judah Mintz, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Starling is pushing for All-ACC honors at the end of the season. This backcourt is really good and I think they are going to carry the Orange this year.

Szuba: It’s Mintz. Simply put, he’s the leading returning scorer. With speed and tenacity, Mintz is the personification of the frenetic pace and man-to-man defense Autry wants like to implement. Syracuse will rely on him to put the ball in the hole and playmaker from the guard spot.

Mike: Just to spite Dom (kidding) I’ll be the black sheep and go with Starling. Mintz is good but can’t do it all by himself, and him having someone as talented as J.J. by his side will help him feel like he doesn’t have to. He’s a more complete player than JGIII was and while he probably won’t shoot 40% from deep, Starling should take advantage of mismatches while Judah draws the top defender.

Max: The sky’s the limit for Mintz in his second season at SU. His shooting significantly improved last year, and now, he’s got the complete keys to the offense without Joe Girard III. It’ll also be interesting to see how Mintz adapts defensively from Jim Boeheim’s zone to Adrian Autry’s man-to-man. If his on-ball defense lives up to the hype and he swipes over two steals per game, Mintz will be a lock for the mid-first round of the NBA Draft.

Ben: I think it’ll be JJ Starling. It’s hard not to say Judah Mintz. He’ll get his and hopefully become the lottery pick every anticipates. But Starling will have favorable matchups all season long and I believe in Autry’s system he’ll be able to play loosely and freely and turn into the star we all hope for.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Most likely breakout player

Dom: There’s a lot of intriguing choices especially from the current sophomore class, but I’m putting my flag down on the Chris Bell hill. He’s got plenty to work on (mainly with rebounding and defense), but his size and position will make him at least viable enough defensively. Bell’s intrigue mainly comes on the offensive end with his upside as an outside shooter and the improved scoring he could showcase.

Kevin: Quadir Copeland is going to get a lot of chances with Westry out. Adrian Autry seems to be looking to play three guards and allow Mintz and Starling to work off the ball. Copeland’s size and ability to get into the lane are going to get him an easy

Szuba: So many ways to answer here but I’m not going to overthink it. Benny Williams is primed for a breakout campaign. We know the talent is there and last season we saw flashes of what he could be, Williams just has to bring it every night. He’s improved throughout his time at Syracuse. It’s hard to think Williams won’t add another layer of growth for his junior season.

Mike: We saw flashes of Benny figuring things out late last season, and now with the overwhelming pressure off his back, I think he’s due for some consistency. Similar to Mintz, he should feel more confident in his teammates now and realize that he doesn’t have to play hero ball and can focus on being more of a secondary scoring option with reach on defense.

Max: Maliq Brown looked scary in games he started last year. He’s got a knack on the boards, and his high-flying slams and relentless effort fired up the ‘Cuse bench (and me). Questions surround starting center Naheem McLeod about how he’ll fit into Autry’s system. If things don’t pan out, Brown will slide back into the starting role and could become the focal point of SU’s offense down low.

Ben: I think it’s Benny Williams. We saw flashes last year of the five-star talent that SU fans had hoped for when he signed with the Orange. It’s just a matter of putting it all together consistently. With the elite backcourt of Judah and JJ, I think it’ll open things up for Benny to contribute at a high-level.

Best newcomer

Dom: J.J. Starling has a lot of intriguing qualities I’m a fan of, but I’m going with Naheem McLeod and here’s why — McLeod is the ultimate wild card this season for Autry. He’s likely getting the day one start at center and he’ll be essential if Syracuse is actually committing to an effective man defense. Don’t discount that he also plays center drastically different compared to Jesse Edwards, adding a new element to the Orange.

Kevin: It’s Starling. I think a lot of Syracuse fans look at his numbers last year and underestimate how good he can be. There’s a reason he was a McDonald’s All-American and appears in NBA mock drafts. I’m excited to watch how he and Mintz attack opposing defenders.

Szuba: Starling. He’ll most likely have the highest usage of all the newcomers and earn the most minutes. He has a real chance to be the second leading scorer on this team. He’s a physical guard and can bring it on both sides of the ball.

Mike: Like Szuba said, Starling’s two-way play will be extremely valuable to this team. I won’t discount McLeod but it’s simply a comparison of one guy playing 25-30 minutes a night and doing a lot on both ends, and the other ideally hovering around 20.

Max: Starling is the easy answer here. After an average season in South Bend, the Baldwinsville native will plug right into the starting lineup of his hometown team. With a similar game to Mintz’s, Starling will be a deadly weapon in the Orange offense if he can find his shooting stroke. If not, Syracuse fans could be in for a long season.

Ben: He’s my MVP so it’s hard not to say JJ Starling for best newcomer. I’m excited to see how Starling and Mintz play together and how they feed off each other. Syracuse has one of the best backcourts in the country and the sky is the limit. My honorable mention is Naheem McLeod. I love the thought of having a 7-foot-4 rim protector. Rebound, block shots and stay out of foul trouble — anything else is gravy.

Game we’re looking forward to the most

Dom: Undercover University of Miami fan here — Hurricanes versus the Orange in the Dome on a Saturday, noon tip-off time and all, is bolded and underlined in my calendar.

Kevin: It’s Tennessee. I don’t know what to expect from this Orange team and when we get to Hawaii, we’re going to see them thrown into a gauntlet and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond against a team expected to be a Final Four contender.

Szuba: Since it’d be lame to say New Hampshire given the season-opener will provide insight into the many questions surrounding this team and program under Autry, I’ll side with Kevin and say Tennessee. It’ll be the first time this program plays in the national spotlight and it marks the start of a daunting Maui event. Early reports out of Tennessee suggest Zakai Zeigler will be back to playing sooner rather than later, so sign me up for a matchup between two of the sport’s better guards in Mintz and Zeigler.

Mike: Colgate. No, seriously. Mike Waters brought this up in a conversation we had and the more I think about it, the more I agree. The last two losses to the Raiders perfectly demonstrated the decline of SU’s defense, and this will be a great test for the man-to-man outfit early on. Win, and it’s a great sign of keeping up with Tourney-level competition.

Max: What’s better than heading to South Dakota? Okay, but for real, I love the uniqueness of the Sanford Pentagon, which hosts neutral site games annually. Plus, Syracuse takes on a new-look Oregon team, who brought in three of 24/7sports’s top-40 recruits. Adrian Autry will enter this one with eight games under his belt as head coach and a week to prepare for the Ducks. Hopefully, the winner gets a buffalo from the Black Hills to take home.

Ben: Georgetown. Don’t get me wrong, the Tennessee (plus whatever follows in Maui) and Oregon games are exciting, but the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry always does it for me. Two new head coaches and two new eras for each program.


Now it’s your turn to make your choices in the comments.