Compared to last year, this year’s Syracuse men’s basketball non-con slate has been pleasant. There hasn’t been a one-point heart-pounder against an FCS team or a discouraging smacking at the hands of a Northeastern rival. Instead, we’ve been treated to an appetizer of what looks to be a high-scoring rendition of SU hoops.
For clarity’s sake, nobody should be throwing a ticker tape parade after watching Syracuse whip Lafayette and Drexel. It just appears – for the moment – that ‘Cuse got some valuable pieces in the transfer portal over the offseason. Forwards Cole Swider (Villanova) and Jimmy Boeheim (Cornell) are starters, while Symir Torrence (Marquette) likely has a higher ceiling than what he’s shown. Add those guys onto a Buddy Boeheim/Joe Girard core, and there’s something there.
The question is if SU truly has enough to morph into a ranked team this year. Last season, the Orange didn’t spend a single day ranked during the regular season and only nudged into the No. 25 spot in the Coaches Poll after getting knocked out of the NCAA tournament. This season, Syracuse is unranked yet again and not expected to be a major Top 25 threat – yet.
But should they be? You can certainly make the argument for the future, albeit a conditional one. For the Orange to solidify themselves as a Top 25 team, a couple things need to happen. Let’s focus on three key points.
SU needs to live, not die, by the outside shot
It’s become clear over the first few games that Syracuse is a team that has talented outside shooting. Senior guard Buddy Boeheim was good last year even before going bananas in March, and now he’s joined by a suddenly scorching Joe Girard and an established sharpshooter in Cole Swider. That’s three-fifths of your starting five who can knock it down from the perimeter. Finding players who can do that is easier said than done and a major key for any team looking to make noise. Just watch out for the nights where those shots start clanging off the rim.
The bench must contribute
This is a sneaky important factor that will decide some of SU’s success. Head coach Jim Boeheim is famous for not using his bench much, but the Orange got some key contributions from its subs last year. The bad news is that the “first guys in” last season – namely forward Robert Braswell (24 games, 290 minutes in 2020-21) and guard Kadary Richmond (28 games, 589 minutes) – are now gone via transfer. That means newcomers in junior guard Symir Torrence and highly-touted freshman forward Benny Williams need to step up and contribute when called. If they can come out of the bullpen firing to relieve the regulars, this team may start looking like a true Top 25 outfit very soon.
Jesse Edwards needs to keep improving
Lastly, junior center Jesse Edwards has to embrace the role he’s been thrust into. Incumbent center Bourama Sidibe got injured yet again during exhibition season, this time with a knee ailment that will cost him a month. Immediately, the 6’11”, 230 lb Edwards was tossed into the starting gig at the five. He’s played well – particularly against Drexel – but doesn’t need to be spectacular. A 10-point, five block, five rebound game from Edwards would do wonders any night he can swing it. Provided Edwards plays good defense and gives the Orange some stability at center, this team looks like it could do quite a bit around him.