Out of the five returning players, there is one Syracuse fans have lauded for his growth and sudden improvement. That makes Jesse Edwards the tone setter for next year’s SU team. If the big man plays similarly or better than last season (pre-injury), then the Orange can rest on their surrounding talent and worry less about the productivity of whoever assumes the center position.
However, a poor season from one of the veterans, especially Edwards, puts plenty of pressure on the rest of the team in terms of how the ball moves on offense and the scheme on the defensive side.
At first glance, the focus should surround the senior’s wrist and how well the Netherlands native absorbs contact and finishes at the rim knowing that it ailed him for the last month of last season. That’s the first step in evaluating his play compared to his clear “Comeback Player of the Year-worthy” year as a starter in ‘21-’22. If Edwards hops over that hurdle, which is more than possible with the amount of time he has had to recover, then this ample amount of time might’ve raised his basketball IQ even more, just as the summer of 2021 did.
The expectation is that 6’11” starter will recover and immediately integrate himself in a lineup that needs his presence down low on both ends of the floor. That was integral last season when the then-junior averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game, plus a career-high 70% shooting clip from the field. That level of play will be hard to replicate in a system that has yet to generate much chemistry and with a few willing passers entering the next stage of their respective careers.
With all that said, expectations should hover around the above average mark, knowing that Edwards returns as a more experienced, well-tooled, and hungry competitor whose minutes are as solid as Joe Girard’s in the eyes of Jim Boeheim, especially with Frank Anselem gone. After rehabbing his wrist, SU fans should expect the center to continue his weight gain and footwork down low to solidify himself as a true big in a stacked conference like the ACC.
’22-’23 averaged stats: 13.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks on 65% shooting (as well as a better free-throw percentage)
Edwards is the one player who propels this team to 20 wins, while simultaneously driving this group to the brink of another under .500 year. How is that possible? Well, his impact is large enough to draw other defenders which leaves kick out opportunities to shooters open. But an enhanced pick-and-roll trait adds a whole new element to Jim Boeheim’s offense. Just that effect would’ve won Syracuse a couple more games last season (notably following SU’s 5-game win streak that Virginia Tech halted). That’s because a well-oiled offense features versatility, which was apparent with Kansas’s formula to drive, utilize screens, find the open man, and roll to the cup in their championship winning season. Edwards can add a dimension to this offense that no other player can, especially with a plethora of younger guys who are more susceptible to turning the ball over and resorting to isolation basketball.
The reality is that Syracuse’s offense has to be better to compete in a tough conference. As much as defense is important, the zone is a 5-man set which means Edwards is a part of the string that moves as one. So the defense can recover without the Netherlands native, but it can’t create shot opportunities with a non-factor in the paint on offense.
All this added pressure and responsibility shouldn’t phase a player that simply has to do his job. But this heightened role is definitely one Edwards has yet to experience at the college level, which should make some SU fans skeptical as to how the Orange’s “5” will deal with a possible nagging injury and the prospect of being a leader.
’22-’23 averaged stats: 10.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocks on 60% shooting from the field (and a similar-to-worst free-throw percentage)
Analysis is one thing, showing out on the floor is another. Edwards proved everyone wrong last year with a team MVP-like impact for Syracuse and stellar games left and right. The starting center scored in double figures in over 65% of his games, which he had previously done only once in his career. Plus, Edwards showed Jim Boeheim that durability and foul trouble weren’t lingering issues. The box scores proved that the center’s stellar statistics carried over from game to game and from non-conference play into ACC competition. While the eye test churned out mind-blowing results from a player who didn’t deserve minutes just a couple years ago.
The one category that can drastically improve is Edwards’ ability to rebound. Although his numbers last season weren’t poor, many critics wondered why the Orange’s 6’11” center wasn’t leading the team in rebounding (Cole Swider was). The ceiling is met when Edwards chooses to assert himself more on the glass, both offensively and defensively.
’22-’23 averaged stats: 15.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks on 70% shooting from the field (free-throw percentage would hover around 75%)
Edwards’ floor can’t be as low as his level of play in the ‘19-’20 or ‘20-’21 season because his basketball IQ has clearly raised every bar imaginable. In fact, the only way SU’s center plummets to his worst is whether Boeheim chooses to replace him, Edwards re-injures himself, or rekindles his nact for fouling out. Let’s not dive too far into the negatives though.
’22-’23 averaged stats: 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.8 blocks on 50% shooting percentage (free-throw percentage would hover around 50%)