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Syracuse basketball: TNIAAM mid-season roundtable on men’s and women’s hoops

We check in with the Orange hoops squads

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As we head into mid-January, we’re approaching the midpoint of the season for the Syracuse Orange men’s and women’s basketball teams. Non-conference games are officially over with, both teams face a critical stretch to begin ACC play and there’s some decent optimism about the path towards some postseason basketball in March.

Felisha Legette-Jack continues to build off her success in her second year with women’s basketball, while Adrian Autry has the Orange rejuvenated in his first season at the helm.

We’ve sent out the Nunes signal to get some thoughts from the staffers about the seasons so far for both teams and what to look forward to the rest of the way:

How are we feeling about the Orange in Autry’s first season so far?

Dom: At worst, this is still a very fun team to watch and there’s certainly a renewed sense of optimism around the program. The Orange being 0-4 in Q1 games is a tough blow so far for the fringe NCAA Tournament bid talk, but considering the tough non-conference slate, it’s good to see Syracuse be competitive on a consistent basis.

Kevin: I’ve been impressed with the effort from the Orange and how the team has handled themselves after big losses. Autry has shown that he’s not afraid to use his bench and to close games with the players performing the best that night. I’m hoping to see some improvement in the half-court offense the rest of the way.

Max: It’s been a huge success so far. What initially stood out to me was Autry’s guidance in SU’s comeback win over Colgate two months ago. It was looking like a third straight embarrassing loss to the Raiders, but this year’s squad showed us that maybe they’re something different. The Maui Invitational was tough, as expected. However, Syracuse’s chemistry is starting to build and key contributors off the bench has me excited for more ACC play.

Mike: Pleasantly surprised. I really thought the non-conference slate would have gone worse than it did. Red has done what he can with the roster he only partially constructed, and with how much of a mess the center position is, unlocking Maliq Brown’s potential has been huge for the team’s trajectory. I’m excited to see where they’re at by next fall.

Ben: I’m very happy with Autry through 14 games. Sitting at 10-4 and 7-0 at home is impressive. He’s won the games he’s supposed to, and I think it’s only a matter of time before Syracuse pulls off an upset. The energy level is high. He’s shown his ability to discipline when needed. The players clearly love and respect him. I think he’s off to a great start.

Did you expect the women’s team to make the AP top 25 in Legette-Jack’s second season?

Dom: Absolutely not, but that’s been the power of the Legette-Jack era up to this point. Syracuse has three Q1 wins this year after it had one all of last season, and it’s only January. The ACC is also a loaded conference, and Syracuse just being able to settle into the top-half of the standings is impressive. Getting to the tournament after falling short last season is the top priority.

Kevin: Honestly, no. I thought the women would make the NCAA Tournament, but I didn’t expect them to knock off Alabama and Notre Dame. The time in the top 25 might be fleeting, but if the Orange can back to the Big Dance, it’s a huge step forward for the program.

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Max: No way, but I’m not surprised. FLJ’s passion as a coach is something we’ve never seen before in SU women’s basketball, and her players have quickly rallied around her mission. It helps to have one of college basketball’s best pure scorers in Dyaisha Fair, but Alyssa Latham and Alaina Rice are stepping up as well.

Mike: Would you believe me if I said yes? Well there’s a podcast recording to prove it (starting at 37:30)... it was in December but still. The game that sold me was the two-point loss at Maryland, because if these Orange can almost win that game, they can hang with just about everybody.

Who are the MVPs for both teams so far? Who are the most surprising players for you?

Dom: For the women’s team, Dyaisha Fair continues to build off her All-ACC first team nod from last year, and it’s hard to argue against the value she brings. Fair’s ability to explode for 25-30 points and shoulder so much of the scoring load is impressive. Maliq Brown has taken a leap, but I’ll play it safe and go with Judah Mintz as the men’s MVP because he has continued to be an All-ACC caliber guard. For the surprises, the Kyra Wood and Alyssa Latham forward tandem has been so reliable with defense and rebounding. It’s also been a shock that Quadir Copeland has turned this much into a spark plug off the bench.

Kevin: For the men, MVP is Maliq Brown. He’s been a defensive menace all year, but adding the offense he’s shown lately has given the Orange a new dimension. My MVP for the women is Dyaisha Fair. She’s playing at an All-ACC 1st-team level and we’ll see how far she can lead the Orange. My picks for biggest surprise are Quadir Copeland and Alyssa Latham. Two players who have added supplemental scoring to go along with strong rebounding. Both have exceeded expectations and have emerged as more important to their teams than we thought before the season.

Max: Men’s MVP is easy, it’s Judah Mintz. He’s arguably the best guard in the ACC when it comes to making contested shots, and is cementing himself as a late first-round pick in next year’s NBA draft. My women’s MVP is Dyaisha Fair. The two-way scorer continues to shine with 19.6 points per game, which is good for fifth in the ACC. Men’s most surprising is Quadir Copeland, whose explosiveness around the basket adds another dimension to a potent orange offense. And how about Alyssa Latham strong start for the women’s team?The former four-star recruit is nearly averaging a double-double as a freshman and racked up 21 points and 12 rebounds in Syracuse’s upset win over Notre Dame.

Mike: I’ll side with Kevin and pick Maliq the Freak. Judah has the most talent, but Maliq is the most energetic whistle-to-whistle and makes impacts in so many distinct areas. And he’s doing all this while playing out of position at the 5. Women’s MVP has to be Fair - she’s just an incredible talent who should go on to play long-term in the pros. Surprises are Justin Taylor (inconsistencies aside, he’s starting and rebounding well) and Alyssa Latham.

Ben: It’s a cop-out of an answer, but it’s Judah Mintz. He leads the team in scoring, assists and steals. It’s hard to imagine where Syracuse would be without him. As Judah goes, this team will go.

What’s a men’s and/or women’s game you’re looking forward to watching this season?

Dom: Getting to see the Syracuse men’s team play the Miami Hurricanes at home is a dream come true, but I also really think that can be one of those solid Q1 opportunities the Orange can possible take advantage of on January 20. For the women’s team, there’s two quality home games I’ve got my eye on — Jan 18 versus #22 Florida State and February 11 versus #17 Louisville.

Kevin: I’m curious to see how the women match up with the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Dome on January 28th. Can the Orange hang with the 2023 Final Four team and can they get a big crowd for the game? For the men, I’m going with the February 3rd game at Wake Forest. Wake ended the Orange season last year and this game is trending towards a Q1 opportunity for Syracuse.

Max: North Carolina coming to the Dome in men’s basketball on Feb. 13 will be a fun one. The Tar Heels will most likely be a top-10 team, facing off against a Syracuse squad who has faced top-ranked foes before. Plus, it’ll most likely be the last ranked opponent I'll see as a graduating senior in May. For women's, let’s see if SU can stay hot at home against #22 Florida State nine days from now.

Mike: The Joe Girard return will have him drop 30 but still turn the ball over for an Orange game-winning shot, or something equally crazy. Otto’s Army is planning a big event for the Women’s game against Duke and I hope it’s the spark to elevate student interest in the program.

Ben: North Carolina on February 13. Syracuse has taken care of its lesser opponents so far this season. With the assumption the Orange continues to do that, No. 7 UNC will prove to be a massive opportunity to get a statement win that SU doesn’t have. A win would also provide momentum for the six remaining regular-season games.

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Is the NCAA Tournament actually possible for either of these teams?

Dom: The women’s team has the clear inside track, so long as the Orange finish .500 in conference play at a bare minimum. Syracuse’s non-conference resume is just worlds better this season compared to last year. The men’s team will continue to remain in fringe bubble talk, but I’d say roughly five ACC teams are making it to date — the Orange need to clearly have a resume that’s in the top-half in the conference by the time the ACC Tournament approaches.

Kevin: If the women don’t make it, it’ll be a disappointment. They have the non-conference resume and the strength of the ACC working in their favor. They have to find a way to get 8 more wins and they should be set. For the men, it’s possible but the Orange have to find a way to get some Q1 wins. They don’t have to knock off UNC, but they need a couple of those big wins and doing that along with getting above .500 on the road in the ACC will give them a chance in March.

Max: Barring a catastrophic collapse, the women’s team should be a lock for the tournament. Unlike the last couple seasons, the men have a realistic chance to make it. They have a bunch of opportunities to boost their resume at home against Miami, NC State, Clemson and North Carolina. However, two wins in the ACC Tournament are probably a must if the Orange want to go dancing.

Mike: I’ll be shocked if the women’s team doesn’t make it - they’re still undefeated in the Dome and once students are back on campus, this is a team they’ll buy back into after some off years. Plus we haven’t even seen the extent of what the bench can do. Can’t say I share the optimism for men’s though. They’re solid, which is better than the last two years, but with JT and Chris Bell still very streaky, I’m not counting on a deep ACC Tournament run, which is what they’d ultimately need.

Ben: The NCAA Tournament is most definitely in play for Autry’s group. Syracuse is 10-4 with 17 games remaining. SU doesn’t have any Q1 wins, so it’ll need to steal a few moving forward — which it can. Historically speaking, you can’t rely on the ACC Tournament to enhance the resume. Nine home games left, two ranked teams (twice) and plenty of opportunity to stack wins. I say SU gets in.

Now it’s your turn: what are your thoughts on our picks? What has been some of your takeaways on Syracuse basketball so far this season?