Do you remember our ‘Cuse basketball report cards from last month? Well it’s time to update them right before Syracuse’s final lengthy break of the season. With only two ACC games in SU’s back pocket, take these grades with a slight grain of salt, considering a vast majority of the Orange’s opponents were the likes of Oakland, Monmouth, Lehigh and Northeastern.
It’s been a mixed bag for JG3 over the first 13 games. After taking the country by storm, shooting over 50% from distance (albeit with a small sample size) over the first couple weeks, the senior showed his streaky nature. He shot two-of-25 from the field and just one-for-13 from three-point range over a three-game stretch, which begged the question to whether Symir Torrence and Judah Mintz make up a better backcourt. But almost in a blink of an eye, December rolled around and ignited the Glens Falls native. Girard has rattled off six straight games with 15 or more points. That includes a 47% shooting clip but one that is bogged down by just 36% from downtown over that six-game stretch.
So what does this all amount to? Well, at times it has shown that the senior can be a reliant number one option.
But that’s not always the case. In SU’s most recent loss to Pittsburgh, Girard failed to make a bucket in the first half. Now he redeemed himself with a heroic second half scoring effort, but the ‘Cuse fell just short. This should concern Syracuse fans. How reliable is Joe? 13 games in and the answer is similar to the start of the season: let’s wait until ACC play to find out.
The portion of Girard’s game that rises his stock revolves around getting his teammates involved. For a player that averaged a quiet four assists per game last year, the Orange’s starting two guard isn’t letting up in his new hyper-scoring role, dishing out 21 assists over the last six contests.
But a grade ultimately comes down to expectations being met with an additive of surprise improvements along the way. The expectation was that JG3 would efficiently dominate from behind the arc and although he has hit four or more threes in nearly half of Syracuse’s games, it has materialized to a lower clip than last season and one that has lost the Orange a few games.
This blurb would take two sentences if Edwards stayed discipline throughout the entire season. But that’s not the case. Fouling out against St. John’s kept the senior’s aggressiveness at bay, which didn’t benefit the Orange. Exiting the Bryant game with five fouls was detrimental in an abysmal loss because the Bulldogs game winner would have been contested by the seven-footer. That only docks the Netherlands native a tad though. That’s due to the fact that Edwards’ positives have outweighed those minuscule lapses.
SU’s starting center has scored in double figures in 11 of the Orange’s 13 games. He has also snared ten or more rebounds in seven contests this year, more than he did in over double the number of games last season. But the senior isn’t just dominating offensively.
Edwards leads the ACC with over three blocks per game and has swatted an unthinkable 20 shots over the last four contests.
The one underrated aspect of the senior’s game that needs to improve is getting to the free throw line. Edwards shoots 65% from the field, but when ACC play ramps up, expect the Netherlands native to shoot more free throws, a part of his game that has lacked as of late. Over the first eight games, Edwards shot over five free throws per game, an average that has nosedived in the last five contests where the seven-footer has attempted only 12 free throws.
Let’s put the Pittsburgh final possessions blunder behind us for a second. That and the ejection against Bryant, plus a horrific game against Notre Dame spell the only negatives exuded by Mintz. Other than that, he has been everything expected and more for the Orange.
His toughness and tenacity is exactly what the Orange expected to get out of Darius Bazley before he decommitted, and in turn, what Syracuse hoped Benny Williams would become. For a freshman to lead the Orange in scoring on 43% shooting is impressive, but to add eight games with at least six made baskets and ten double figure scoring outputs in just the first 13 games is next level.
Not to mention that Mintz leads the conference in steals per game with a little over two and has taken over as the point guard on offense too, averaging four assists per contest, which ranks top 10 in the ACC.
There have been some growing pains, including a 9-of-33 stretch of games against Bryant, Illinois and Notre Dame. Plus, an awful five-of-27 from long range. But that’s to be expected when a team hands the reigns of the offense to a freshman and adds the responsibility of over 30 minutes per game.
But what should stand out the most about Mintz is his short memory. Even in the midst of a rut, the Maryland native shows up for his team in the biggest moments.
Let’s start out with the positives. Williams looks as explosive as advertised.
But, SU’s lone commit last season was most recently described as lacking effort by Jim Boeheim, a similar sight to Williams’s freshman campaign. The difference is the IMG academy product looks more comfortable shooting from the mid range and even occasionally from long range. The issue is his defense and rebounding.
Although the rebounding criticism was squashed from the Oakland to Cornell game, where Williams averaged 5 boards per contest in four games, its his inconsistency that doesn’t sit well with Jim Boeheim.
After scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds against Colgate, the sophomore followed that game up with only 11 points over the next two contests. Williams followed those two duds with a double double in 45 minutes against St. Johns. But subsequently averaged just five points and three rebounds over the next four games. The most recent example occurred in a 13-minute yawning effort against Pittsburgh after two 13-point outings.
This level of inconsistency is concerning every time the starting forward takes the floor and for a former four star heading into his first substantial runs in conference play, that’s disheartening. Williams would receive a much higher grade if his defense and fiery nature translated to hard-nosed defense and snaring rebounds no matter the obstacle. Though, it is not the case right now.
He is the Benny Williams of last season. Unless Bell follows Boeheim’s blueprint of what makes a good forward at the collegiate level, he will never strive in a Syracuse uniform. That’s why the 6’7 freshman has averaged only 16 minutes per game over the last six. His production has warranted limited time too. In a six game span where the Cuse went 5-1, Bell averaged seven points and two rebounds per contest. The way every Orange fan should look at it is a clear peg down from both Cole Swider and Jimmy Boeheim. Bell’s freshman status is also no excuse with how well Mintz is playing.
REST OF THE TEAM
As much as the rest of the team deserves grades, further description on them isn’t as warranted as the starting five:
- Justin Taylor: 10 min/game over last four (only five points) –> GRADE: B
- Symir Torrence: 10 min/game over last seven (11 points in last four games) –> GRADE: B-
- Mounir Hima: 5 min/game over last six (12 pts & 10 rebs combined) –> GRADE: B
- Maliq Brown: 21 min/game over last three (7 pts/game + 7 rebs/game) –> GRADE: A
- Quadir Copeland: 10 pts (4-5 FG), 5 rebs, 2 blks, 1 stl in 13 min vs. Pittsburgh –> GRADE: A-
- John Bol Ajak: 2 min over the last two games –> GRADE: B+