When Syracuse faded out of the NCAA Tournament with a loss to Houston back on March 27th, the immediate reactions for Syracuse fans were that of disappointment quickly followed by hopefulness for 2022. And why not? At the time, the prospect of possibly returning all five starters and a rising star in Kadary Richmond had SU fans licking their collective chops after a few stressful years of bubble watch.
Needless to say, a lot has changed since that day. The Orange have lost a bunch of players to transfers, including but not limited to Richmond (Seton Hall) and established starters in forwards Quincy Guerrier (Oregon) and Alan Griffin (NBA draft). The losses of intriguing freshman Woody Newton to Oklahoma State and senior Marek Dolezaj to graduation certainly didn’t help matters.
The massive turnover has left Syracuse with a mishmash group of new plug-and-play transfers and dimmed prospects in the ACC, even with a suddenly scrambling UNC and a Duke team dealing with a Coach K farewell-tour distraction.
It also places more importance on the guys who return. Specifically, the time might be ripe for a lanky Dutch center to see more minutes and chances to contribute: Jesse Edwards.
Going back to the Houston game (and really the entire NCAA tournament), Edwards performed admirably in limited time at the five. Across three games in Indianapolis, Edwards played 42 minutes and tallied seven points and 13 boards along with three blocks. It’s no coincidence that the Syracuse zone suffocated San Diego State and West Virginia in the first two games with Edwards relieving the versatile-but-bruised Marek Dolezaj.
In my opinion, it seems likely Edwards might have tested the transfer waters if he hadn’t gotten that playing time in the tournament. Over a quarter of his minutes on the season came in the tourney in a year marked by his inability to break in at a position that had its starter virtually done for the year in November. At this point, the Orange probably feel lucky Edwards is coming back. He poses an imposing presence in the paint who flashed talent as a rebounder and potential as a shot-blocker.
Counting Edwards, Syracuse returns three centers from last season including last year’s opening day starter in senior Bourama Sidibe, who’s using his extra eligibility this season. Rising sophomore John Bol Ajak also dabbled with the transfer portal, but he too is back to add some extra depth.
However, the door might be more open for Edwards than before. He’ll be a junior during the 2021-22 season, and he’s the one who finished last season with the hot hand. Sidibe’s loss last season was big, but he’s a guy who’s coming off a major knee injury and who deals with infamous foul problems. Edwards earned minutes in the tournament for a reason, and if Sidibe starts slowly, he could earn even more this upcoming season. It might make the difference for a transfer-wracked squad gearing up for another tournament push.