The Syracuse Orange head into the final regular season game and ACC Tournament looking to recapture the formula that saw them beat NC State and take Miami, Virginia, North Carolina and Pittsburgh to the wire. What’s happened over the last two weeks has been stunning to players, coaches and fans alike as Syracuse has simply been demolished on defense.
Throughout this up and down season, Judah Mintz, Joe Girard and Jesse Edwards have been reliable offensive players. The forward position on the other hand has been a giant question mark.
With only Benny Williams and Jon Bol Ajak returning from last season, we knew this position was going to need young players to step in and step up right away. Jim Boeheim will likely point to this group as the reason why Syracuse didn’t achieve their goals this season, but were his expectations to high for this group?
Each of the players in the forward group offered strengths, but not enough of a well-rounded game to really seize the job. It didn’t help that what Syracuse needed was someone who could play strong defense, rebound and create their own shots. A tough ask for any young player making the transition to ACC play, and ultimately each player showed flashes but not enough consistency.
Throughout the season I felt like Boeheim had done a good job matching his forward usage to opponents. It made sense for him to look for Justin Taylor and Chris Bell for shooting and spacing, to rely on Maliq Brown for rebounding and his innate ability to be in the right place at the right time.
The last month has been curious with how this rotation has settled. First, I’ll be clear in mentioning that there have been struggles in the last month for Bell (10/36 shooting in February) and Taylor (5/18) which could explain some more time on the bench. What I found a bit odd is that players who got lots of minutes in earlier games, didn’t see the same time when the Orange played them the 2nd time.
Another curious choice is that as Syracuse has been blown out, the young forwards outside of Copeland and Williams are playing less. If this is a rebuilding year, then a focus when the game gets out of hand should be to play this group and the minutes distribution from Tuesday night is odd.
22-23 Forward Minutes
|St John's (N)||34||0||8||0||45||0|
|@ Notre Dame||10||0||0||30||22||18|
|@ Georgia Tech||18||32||17||5||8||0|
|@ Boston College||11||37||0||26||7||0|
|@ Florida State||34||22||0||6||18||0|
I think it’s unfair to say Syracuse struggled because of this group, but it was the weakest area. In retrospect, I’m sure the Orange coaches will admit that not getting a transfer (or talking Cole Swider into staying) was a mistake. These players just didn’t get to where this team needed them to be in time, but that’s the risk of building a roster reliant on inexperience.
We don’t know what the 23-24 roster will look like, but there should be optimism from this group. If (and it’s a big IF), the Orange can bring back all but JBA next year they will turn a position of question marks into a position of strength.