Syracuse Orange men’s basketball is rolling right into the heart of ACC play, largely thanks to the 1-2 punch of Judah Mintz and J.J. Starling in the backcourt. Both sophomores are playing more complete games overall while SU is in the middle of a crucial stretch of the season.
Let’s start with Mintz, who recently has been showing the kind of skills that should be helping his NBA Draft stock get back to where it was at the beginning of the season. We know that the heart of his offensive game is driving and forcing the opponents to initiate contact.
Judah’s success at both drawing fouls and making shots at the line (79.3% this season) is a huge reason why he’s scoring nearly 18 points per game, easily the team best. But what may be going unnoticed is his improvements in other aspects of the game.
Mintz doesn’t always have luck getting free throw chances, and it used to be the case that he’d try too hard playing iso ball, turning into hero ball and going cold from forced mid range shots. But since turning the page to conference play, the former 4-star recruit is turning to his teammates to help with scoring.
#3 had a career-high 13 assists in Saturday’s victory over Miami, also adding eight rebounds to the mix. This is immediately following a five-assist, nine-rebound performance at Pitt. Instead, the main shooter in both Orange wins was J.J. Starling.
Starling was in a funk from deep early on, but he’s steadily been getting more relaxed and now his shots are barely even touching the net on the way through. After putting up 17 points in the Steel City, JJ dominated the Dome court with a career-high 22 points and six made threes against the U.
The ex-Irishman carries a three-point rate of 42.9% in conference play while also cleaning the glass on the back end - so while there have been many comparisons to the role Joe Girard played in previous seasons, the actual impact may not be all that different.
Starling is also, mostly out of necessity, playing 33.6 minutes per game, the most out of all Orange starters. There have only been two games where he’s played less than 30, one of which was the blowout at UNC.
SU’s depth is already depleted with 13 regular season games still remaining, so this duo will be called on plenty more down the stretch to lead a young SU squad to its first postseason appearances in three years. It’s exactly the type of second chance both NBA hopefuls can take advantage of to advance their careers to the next level, and now that they’re both embracing a team-first style of play, it should be an exciting six weeks in Cuseland.