Syracuse basketball has already exposed its fans to a loss and quite the rollercoaster of a mid-major slate through the first three games. Now it might only be the start of the year, but with seven new additions, let’s take a look at how each SU player clocks in entering the Empire Classic at the Barclays Center.
Wow, talk about a great start for the senior. With the Orange needing a leader in the locker room and on offense, Girard has delivered and then some. His 39% from behind the arc last year left so much to be desired, so the Glens Falls native pressed both the gas and brake pedal in a thrashing of Lehigh to open up the year. The newly-minted two guard shot only six threes and ten shots but was an efficient four-of-six from distance and 50% from the field. This can be credited to patience off the pass and great decision-making, both which were questioned over JG3’s last three seasons.
His defense, alongside Judah Mintz, has improved tenfold too. Although the steals aren’t at a high clip through three games, the senior guard’s activity is showing. Many might seek out certain plays in the Colgate game to disprove this point, but lack of movement in the short corners of the zone is a large reason why the Raiders torched the Orange.
Girard’s next level revolves around taking care of the basketball. Last season, SU’s fourth year playmaker turned the ball over four or more times in ten contests. Although Girard has yet to eclipse that threshold this year, a trio of turnovers in each of the first three games against mid major schools is concerning. Turnovers should be few and far between for a senior playing off the ball, but that has not been the case for JG3.
With all that being said, Girard’s decision-making off the dribble looks much improved. He revitalized himself after a dud of a 14-point effort against Colgate, with a team-high 21 yesterday, shooting five-of-nine from downtown. The first key for the senior is staying vigilant defensively and vocally imposing on both sides of the ball. The second is developing a consistent patient eye for the game. Girard isn’t going to continue shooting a 48% clip from three-point range, so it’s now time to get to the midrange, locate teammates and open up the floor, while subsequently finding his own shot from 15-feet out which will add another layer to Syracuse’s offense.
It’s hard to one up a 48% three-point shooter, but if anyone has, it’s Edwards. The 6’11 center is on the verge of outdoing his last season self, averaging 15 points per game on 67% shooting. Add eight rebounds and three blocks per game and SU’s big man has dominated in the paint. Plus, the Netherlands native is getting fouled left and right. His 19 free throw attempts leads the team (with the next closest being Mintz at 12) and Edwards has hit 79% of them after shooting only 60% from the stripe last season.
His assertion in the paint is palpable too. It’s clear that the Dutch National Team added a strength element to the senior’s game. Although Edwards was bullied down low against Colgate (to 6’10 Keegan Records and 6’11 Jeff Woodward), he still recorded five blocks and eight rebounds.
There is a lot of upside with the center fans call the Flying Dutchman. Edwards has at least seven rebounds in each game this season, and that’s after failing to lead the ‘Cuse in boards per game in ’21-’22 (Cole Swider). But his largest improvement starts with discipline. In 24 games last year, Edwards notched three or more fouls a whopping 20 times, fouling out in 11 of those contests. Fouls have been an afterthought this season. Over this three-game stretch, Edwards has a combined three fouls (one in each game). This adds an element of security and endurance to the center’s game, so the Orange can rely on him toward the end of the contests, rather than just at the start.
Prior to the season, Jim Boeheim compared Mintz’s skillset to those of Johnny Flynn. This high praise has not phased the top recruit one bit. After dropping 16 points against Lehigh on only nine shots and two trips to the free-throw line, the Maryland native led the team with 20 tallies on 50% shooting in the lone loss to Colgate. He also played a season-high 37 minutes and didn’t look gassed at any point. So, of course, Mintz had to overshadow his first two performances in game three. In a team-high 27 minutes, ESPN’s 33rd ranked player in the class of 2022 scored 18 points with a team-best five assists on 8-of-13 from the field.
Mintz is shying away from the three-ball and deferring to his teammates in that department while simultaneously shooting 58% from the field (50% or more in each game). The guard’s uncanny ability, as a highly-touted freshman, to trust and understand where he excels and not try to do too much is impressive. When a first-year looks like a seasoned veteran, it’s both rare and eye-opening.
Although Mintz controls the offense well, his activity in the zone was exposed by Colgate’s Tucker Richardson. Closing out to shooters is arguably the second most important defensive teaching point behind staying nimble on one’s toes, and the freshman didn’t do it well enough in the second game. But his ability to respond against Northeastern says a lot about how much of a stud Boeheim recruited to Central New York.
This is the toughest grade to hand out. Williams has scored two, 17 and seven points in the first three games respectively. But he’s allowed a three-headed monster to grow in Mintz, Girard and Edwards, which is ultimately best for the team. Furthermore, his 40% shooting clip is okay, but on the contrary, it’s great to see that one of Boeheim’s best-rated recruits has played nearly 29 minutes a game, compared to the irrelevant role Williams was utilized in last season. So the former five star’s grade fluctuates offensively.
What saves a blurry offensive grade for Williams is his activity on defense. Whether it be in zone or man, the sophomore’s intensity is evident and worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses and better competition ventures into the Dome. Six rebounds per contest is also a huge bonus.
Now introducing the newest member of the Boeheim doghouse. Bell has started all three contests but might as well feature as a bench piece. The 6’7 freshman played only 12 minutes per game in the opening two for the Orange and mustered just five points on five shots. To make matters worse, Bell’s start against Northeastern led to 12 minutes of playing time, the third fewest on the team behind four bench pieces. It’s hard to decipher a first year when the only headline he makes is a trip to the bench two minutes into each ballgame. Let’s see if Bell is the new freshman year Benny Williams because right now it looks like that’s the case.
SU’s hopeful consummate sixth man has recorded three completely different games. Lehigh failed to adjust to Torrence’s newfound offensive stroke as the Marquette transfer shot three-of-four from the field for ten points and tacked on six rebounds. Against Colgate, the senior dipped into his hero ball game and it doomed the Orange. A two-of-eight shooting performance, coupled with Boeheim criticizing Torrence’s offensive decision-making during the postgame press conference, is no recipe for success So the Syracuse native listened and took only one shot against Northeastern. But he also tallied three turnovers and just two assists in 19 minutes off the bench.
Torrence doesn’t necessarily need to be an offensive weapon, but when he takes seven to eight shots away from the ringers on the Orange, that becomes an issue. Brooklyn and beyond, especially in games against Illinois and Notre Dame, will prove how effective Torrence is in situations where a sixth man is close to a necessity in order to win.
Justin Taylor, Maliq Brown, Quadir Copeland, Mounir Hima
Syracuse’s ancillary pieces have been non-factors over the first three games, but they have shown some flashes. Taylor looks like a classic off ball “3 and D” player that is waiting for one big game in order to scratch substantial minutes when conference play arrives. His defense is highly underrated, while his shot needs in-game reps before the media makes its proclamations. Brown is turning into Boeheim’s go-to power forward toward the end of the first half. After playing 15 minutes through the first couple contests, the Virginia native logged 22 minutes against Northeastern, the most by any player off the bench. Copeland is an energizer bunny who needs to penetrate and kick the ball out to three-point shooters more when he gets his opportunity to play. Hima hasn’t shown much outside of a great zone defense presence under the hoop, but his mobility doesn’t compare to Edwards which limits playing time and chances.
GRADE: ~ B (they can’t help it if playing time is sparse)