With players like John Bol Ajak and Justin Taylor not only seeing more minutes but playing effectively too, you have to wonder if a change is going to be made. Last week we wrote about how Benny Williams is running out of excuses/time to not live up to his billing (though he did have a solid game against Georgetown). And after the game against the Hoyas, Jim Boeheim explained that Chris Bell “got three rebounds, which is triple what he normally gets”. When you’re the subject of Boeheim’s sarcasm in a press conference, that usually isn’t good news. So you have to wonder if a change is coming, right?
The game logs show that both Ajak and Taylor have seen more playing time in recent games. Ever since the loss to Bryant, both of them have become two of the first three guys off the bench (along with Symir Torrence). And in the Orange’s one down-to-the-wire game since then against Notre Dame, Ajak saw 18 minutes, which at the time was a season-high for games in which Williams was not sick. Taylor also saw 30 minutes while Bell saw 10. An interesting trend, isn’t it?
Additionally, the eye test says an awful lot about all four of these players’ games. Ajak has the highest basketball IQ on the team (yes, you read that correctly), and it shows with how effective he is as a passer. One play in particular where he found Mounir Hima on the backdoor cut for an easy slam sticks out. Do you (realistically) expect Williams to make that pass? Didn’t think so. Also, both Ajak and Taylor have more defensive awareness and for the most part are crashing the glass with more aggression than Williams and Bell. Last time we checked, both of those are critical aspects if you want to succeed in Boeheim’s system.
Let’s finally look at what’s to come. The slate before the New Year isn’t exactly difficult with Monmouth, Cornell, Pittsburgh, and Boston College at home. The Orange are rated higher than all of those teams in KenPom adjusted efficiency. Theoretically, games you should win. Then after a meeting with the hapless Louisville Cardinals, it gets tough with Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame. What message does it send if both Bell and Williams continue to struggle before SU meets a top-3 UVA squad in Charlottesville on 1/7? If you can’t play well against, frankly, bad competition, you have no business being in the starting lineup.
Sure, Syracuse has rattled off three straight wins (and it honestly should be eight a few weeks from now) with its current starting lineup. But Ajak and Taylor have played at a more energetic and efficient level than both Bell and Williams so far, sparking a debate over whether a lineup swap is necessary.