Proactiveness remains at the forefront of the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team as the program enters (the very much anticipated) second chapter of the Felisha Legette-Jack era.
Legette-Jack guided the Orange to a bounce back campaign in 2022-2023, which included a trip to the WNIT’s Round of 16 and a near-berth in the NCAAW Tournament. More importantly, she helped to rebuild the program’s brand and identity while adapting the team through the latest trends in recruitment and the transfer portal.
Expectations will be high next season with Syracuse projected to land a spot in the upcoming season’s NCAA Tournament. And with the offseason now officially in the rear view mirror, it’s time to do some projections of our own to contextualize the state of the program for the 2023-2024 season.
Where did Legette-Jack look to fill in the holes from last year’s roster? Did the Orange address any known weaknesses and/or hold the fort down on some of their strengths? How much better is this team compared to the 2022-2023 roster?
Let’s break it all down.
Syracuse dealt with three consequential losses to the core of the team this offseason: forwards Dariauna Lewis (9.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game) and Asia Strong (7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game) to graduation as well as guard Teisha Hyman (10.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game) to the transfer portal.
The good news is that guards Dyaisha Fair (19.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game) and Alaina Rice (6.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game) are returning to the Orange. With those two back to join Georgia Woolley (12.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game), Syracuse kept most of its highly-valued guard rotation. Sophomore Kennedi Perkins and incoming Akron transfer Dominique Camp will likely be handling the backup spots.
The Orange’s talent at guard should help to build on some already established team strengths like scoring (second-best in the ACC) or forcing turnovers to fuel the team’s superb transition play (Syracuse ranked top-40 in the county in both those marks).
Most of Legette-Jack’s priorities centered on defending in the paint. Syracuse forked over the second-most points and the highest opponent field goal percentage in the ACC last season, putting Syracuse 266th overall in the nation for both those categories.
Clearly, that’s not good enough. So, Legette-Jack got to work on the forward and center fronts.
Four of the Orange’s five incoming players (freshman Alyssa Latham, Sophie Burrows and Maria-Eleni Triantafylli as well as transfer Izabel Varejão) are either forwards or centers. After boasting just one player above six feet tall last year (Kyra Wood), Legette-Jack is now armed with a new crop of taller players at both those spots.
Latham and Burrows are each six-foot-two and project as two-way forwards who could make an immediate impact. The incoming center duo of Triantafylli (six-foot-five) and Varejão (six-foot-four) give something the Orange more size and physicality in the paint.
Neither Triantafylli (7.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.5 blocks, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game in 21 minutes per contest in Greece) nor Varejão (career 3.9 points and 2.5 rebounds per game averages) possess the flashiest of counting stats, but they do project to at least be rotation-caliber centers. Syracuse tended to play small with either Lewis or Wood at the five, which worked but isn’t the most optimal in a conference like the ACC.
So far, the most eye-popping question is how Syracuse will address the statistical production lost from the departures of Hyman and Lewis. Legette-Jack will have to hope that the Fair-Woolley duo can perform like it did towards the end of last season while getting enough from any tertiary source possible. Latham and Burrows both have the potential to be third scoring options, but it’s understandable to not count on day-one production from either until you can see it happen.
Defense is the more-pressing side of the floor Syracuse will need to shore up by the start of the season. Do either Triantafylli or Varejão start at center on day one? How about a returner like Saniaa Wilson (4.0 points per game, 3.3 rebounds per game) or Wood? Who can collect all the rebounds Lewis and Strong did last year, and will any of the newcomers boast enough potential as a shot-blocker to earn some legit rotation minutes?
As you can see, there’s clearly a lot of promise moving forward with the Orange under Legette-Jack. Having this level of depth, especially at the forward and center spots, simply didn’t exist last season.
If Syracuse is looking to return back to the NCAA Tournament this upcoming season, it’s going to need to find some answers to the questions that loomed over the program last season.