Quincy Guerrier, Brycen Goodine, Joe Girard III, Jesse Edwards and John Bol Ajak make up the largest incoming freshman class for Syracuse since 2013 when Tyler Ennis, B.J. Johnson, Chinonso Obokoh, Ron Patterson and Tyler Roberson started their careers in Central New York.
Despite the extensive research into their games, their skills, their weaknesses, the five newbies are still relative unknowns. How are they going to adjust to the physicality and pace to the college game? How are they going to mesh with the existing team and players?
Parts of those questions were answered in the exhibition wins against Daemen and Carleton, but others still remain for this group. Whatever the answers may be, it’s quickly becoming clear that by sheer volume alone and because of some situational circumstances, this set of first-years’ success or failures are going to be the key to this season for SU.
Who Is the Second Scoring Option?
There’s not even a seedling of doubt about who the go-to guy is for Syracuse this season. The question now is who is going to be the Robin to Elijah Hughes’ Batman. Compared to last year when Tyus Battle was the clear number one option and Oshae Brissett was the clear number two (at least in terms of who SU wanted to get the ball to), there isn’t that clear delineation from Hughes to someone else for the 2019-20 season.
Some are waiting for that guy to emerge as the season begins to unfold, but I’m not sure there is that clear number two scorer on the roster. Maybe it’s Buddy Boeheim, but if he has an off shooting night, then much of his scoring ability goes out the window. Others want to see a big step from Jalen Carey or perhaps a breakout season for Marek Dolezaj, but I’m of the belief that the number two spot is going to be a scoring-by-committee situation. That means that on any given night, one of the freshmen may have to step up and fill that scoring role. Girard may have to get hot from distance. Guerrier may have to channel his inner Oshae. Goodine may have to use his athleticism to get to the bucket. But if none of the vets are getting it done and the freshmen are still trying to work out the kinks and aren’t playing up to their potential in conference play, then Syracuse could be in serious trouble. Elijah Hughes is really, really good, but one man does not make a team.
Point Guard Potential
One of the biggest issues Syracuse had last season was that, for much of the year, Tyus Battle was the primary ballhandler. He was the one who would trigger the offense and was looked at as the distributor/facilitator. Tyus was seriously limited to what he could do offensively because he essentially became the team’s point guard and his skills were much more geared toward being an off-ball scorer. When Frank Howard wasn’t going right, there was really no other option at the one besides Battle because of the injuries and turnover problems that plagued Jalen Carey as a freshman.
SU may be in a similar spot this season if some of the freshmen don’t step up. Although Elijah Hughes is a ball-dominant player, he, like Battle, is better suited to work off-ball and have the ball distributed to him rather than doing the distributing himself. That responsibility is largely going to fall to Carey as the team’s new starting PG, but there simply cannot be another situation in which your go-to guy becomes your ball handler when the starting point guard has issues. If that’s the case, we’re going to see a lot of the stagnant offense that frustrated Orange fans throughout the 2018-19 season. Brycen Goodine and possibly even Joe Girard are going to have to be reliable options to run the offense off the bench or that problem could rear its ugly head once again. The only problem? We know how impatient Jim Boeheim can be with young point guards (Frank Howard as a freshman, Jalen Carey last year) who make mistakes and turn the ball over. A bit more patience may be required this season.
Big Man Backups
The last time Syracuse had a truly productive center (not a third forward like Tyler Roberson or Taurean Thompson) that got it done on both ends and actually left fans feeling satisfied about his performances is probably Rakeem Christmas in his breakout 2014-15 season. It’s been one of the biggest bugaboos for Syracuse over the last 5+ years. Fans are yearning for some production from the spot and now it’s seemingly up to Bourama Sidibe to provide that.
But (there’s always a but) everyone knows that Sidibe has had serious issues staying healthy in his Syracuse career. Even when his knees have been even close to right, he’s been a bit disappointing at times. If things continue to trend in that direction, Syracuse is going to need a reliable backup which they didn’t have the last two years when Sidibe and his knees limited his backup role behind Paschal Chukwu. With Jim Boeheim saying he wants to try to avoid playing Marek Dolezaj at center too often, that responsibility is going to fall to Jesse Edwards and John Bol Ajak. Both of them have only been playing basketball for a few years and extremely raw. You can see the talent they have and the reason they were both three-star recruits, but uncovering that potential is going to be the key to SU having any semblance of depth at center. If they aren’t ready to produce at this level and Dolezaj is forced to try defend the biggest and strongest post players in the ACC, the Orange could once again be facing another disappointing season at the five.