There’s been an unmistakable shift in feeling surrounding the 2022-23 SU men’s basketball team, and it’s not just the 30-degree swings in the mercury going on in Syracuse. More than usual, this year’s men’s hoops bunch stirs an unfamiliar excitement. Last night’s 90-72 victory over Lehigh in its season opener showcased the good, the bad, and the inexperience of SU’s new group. At a minimum, it provided some much-needed intrigue about the team.
One of the last things we wrote about Syracuse’s 2021-22 team was about how forgettable a group it was. It was the first losing season in 46 years for Jim Boeheim, but what signature moments did that team have? Most of them you can think of are negative. From an embarrassing loss to awful Georgetown to an incineration against Auburn to back-to-back 18-point blown leads against Miami, last year was an exercise in frustration.
Worst of all, last year’s team was boring, even in defeat. Its players became predictable and the team’s flaws became too bland to analyze as the year wore on. SU had no depth, no defense, and could only beat you if its outside game decided to roar to life. Sometimes it did, and sometimes its engine never turned over.
With that in mind, SU’s group of six freshmen provides a hefty infusion of interest with a disclaimer: youthful mistakes are very much included.
Unlike prior years, SU’s starting five isn’t static nor content to be businesslike in its mediocrity. Nine players hit the floor for at least 10 minutes last night, including five freshmen: Judah Mintz (6-9 FG, 16 points) looks entrenched at point guard, while forward Chris Bell (16 minutes, 5 points) has started both exhibitions and the season opener. Forward Maliq Brown added seven points and three boards, while fellow wing Justin Taylor played 20 minutes and finished 1-7 from the field.
Mintz is a confident, upbeat player who oozes talent, and that’s more than enough to carry him through early mistakes like his botched open first-half layup and three turnovers against the Mountain Hawks. Bell similarly needs to sculpt other parts of his game – Boeheim called him out postgame for lacking on defense – but has a smooth shot. Brown, Taylor, and forward Quadir Copeland all bring different things to the table and will be up and down, but they provide options. That’s something last year’s squad lacked, but the team has to live with the features of inexperienced, volatile talent. Frequent substitutes and bursts of man-to-man defense may be a sign that even Boeheim himself is feeling out what he has on his team.
When SU finally put up a losing record last year, it almost felt relieving. Once and for all, ‘Cuse fans could kiss a bygone past goodbye, stop lying to themselves, and follow a basketball team that doesn’t have to face pressure to be something it can’t. A new era of Syracuse hoops is here, Fizz Nation. Embrace the highs and lows, and enjoy the ride no matter what.