This offseason’s focus has revolved around change. Seven players from the 2021 team that made it to the Sweet 16 have transitioned elsewhere. While four new faces enter the Orange system in ‘21-’22. Alan Griffin is the only one still in limbo.
With this seismic shift in the program, the expectations surrounding SU aren’t definitive. Whether it’s a developmental year or one that offers up a deep run in the NCAA tournament, no one knows. That’s mainly due to the questionable chemistry between returning and new players. Plus, the Orange’s faithful have yet to see how the newest SU additions will slot into the system Jim Boeheim has kept relatively consistent for his entire tenure.
Although expectations will continue to float around until first tip late this year, the talent of the players that left and the newcomers is undeniable. Which crew takes the crown though?
The most drastic change came at the forward position. Quincy Guerrier, Alan Griffin, Robert Braswell and Woody Newton spearheaded a presence inside that SU desperately needed against top ACC competition. They also added scoring threats all around the court, taking the pressure off the guards at times, and often picking up slack on the offensive end.
From top to bottom, the forward depth chart was solid.
Newton didn’t add much to the team after the COVID pause in December, but when he did play, the freshman proved how ready he is to catch and shoot at all times. Braswell was arguably the most integral piece down the stretch for SU from an unexpected performer standpoint. His role in the 2-3 zone heightened Syracuse’s stout defense in the early stages of the Big Dance. The now-Charlotte forward’s efficiency trumped all of that. He shot 14-of-22 from the field in the four postseason games prior to SU’s loss to Houston.
Those pieces might be missed, but transfer Cole Swider fills in the gaps. The former Villanova Wildcat will most likely come off the bench, mirroring Braswell and Newton. His 6’9”, 225-pound frame is what separates him from the two.
Swider can slot into the bottom of the zone and is mobile enough to stretch out to shooters. That’s a credit to his athleticism and craftiness, which translates to the offensive side as well. Last season, the Portsmouth, Rhode Island native shot over 40% from distance (better than Braswell and Newton), and he played in 25 games on a team ranked most of the season. The experience is there, and so is the potential.
Alan Griffin and Jimmy Boeheim are quite similar which is why the two are tied together. Due to Griffin’s lackluster performance toward the end of the season, there isn’t much turnover to losing him and inserting Boeheim instead.
The Cornell transfer is taller and weaves his way to the basket a bit more, rather than hoisting selfish shots (which we saw often from Griffin). If Boeheim can gel with this group, improve his three-point clip and prove that a year off from D-1 basketball didn’t change his 17 point output the year prior, the two players cancel out.
Not only did he improve his game significantly from freshman year, but he claimed the leadership role as a sophomore. In the conversation of which forward crew is better, it rests upon how good incoming five-star Benny Williams is.
Guerrier averaged 14 points (top 15 in ACC) and eight rebounds (2nd in conference) per game in the ‘20-’21 campaign. Williams might not be in the starting lineup to open up next season. That discrepancy turns the “which group is better” meter toward last year’s forward depth chart.
But one can argue that Williams’s ceiling is higher and the cooped up expectations could result in a breakout year. If so, the IMG academy product has other things in his favor. He is younger than the French-Canadien, more gifted with the basketball and then there’s the surprise factor because the ACC has never seen him before.
There’s definitely a debate to be had, and the seesaw between the ‘20-’21 Syracuse forwards and the ‘21-’22 SU forwards will continue to teeter all summer and into next year.