Through Syracuse’s first 11 games of the season, Jim Boeheim has used the same starting lineup. That’s not uncommon, most years when Boeheim picks a lineup he tends to stick with it unless something drastic happens or there’s an injury. This season, it’s been Joe Girard III, Judah Mintz, Chris Bell, Benny Williams, and Jesse Edwards.
It’s safe to say three out of those five spots are locks to start the entire season, Girard, Mintz, and Edwards. Williams would also be close to if not a lock because he’s the most experienced forward on the roster, the most talented, and has the best combination of size, athleticism, and shooting (crazy right). But, Chris Bell, Syracuse’s second highest-ranked freshman recruit behind Mintz, has struggled, particularly defensively and rebounding.
At least once a press conference, if not more, Boeheim goes out of his way to comment on Bell’s rebounding, and after the Orange’s 86-71 win over Monmouth, did not make a clear statement that the starting lineup would change, but that he might be thinking about it.
“Chris had zero rebounds, which is nothing new,” Boeheim said. “And I can’t play somebody that can’t get a rebound in the game. I just can’t do it. We can’t win that way. So we’re going to have to think about that and think about what we’re going to do going forward.”
If Boeheim does remove Bell from the starting lineup, then he has a couple of options as to who he’d insert in his place. Maliq Brown played the most minutes of any other forward against Monmouth, but his lack of shooting clogs the paint and prevents Jesse Edwards from establishing himself on the block, but he does help with rebounding.
“We did try Benny at the 3 because it gets Maliq in the game to rebound,” Boeheim said. “I think that’s something that might work. But at the end of the day, Benny’s gotta be able to score.”
Score he did. In the second half, Williams came alive, getting to double figures and helping out more rebounding. Edwards concurred with his coach after the game about how much Brown helps with rebounding, and that he’s someone who should get into the game more than he has thus far.
“What helps is when they are in there, (the defense) can’t help as easily,” Edwards said. “One time when I got the ball, an offensive rebound, I took one dribble, they kind of came up and I had an easy pass to Maliq. So they can’t really help as much on post-ups and drives.”
The other two options are Justin Taylor and John Bol Ajak. It’s pretty easy to cross off Ajak just because he clearly does not have the stamina to compete against high-class athletes for more than 10-15 minutes. He’s a spark and change-of-pace off-the-bench type of guy, and if he’s playing at all that’s the best role for him.
Taylor seems like the obvious conclusion. He shoots the ball very well, provides spacing on the floor, and is a better rebounder than Bell partly because he is more built than his fellow freshman. That requires Williams to move to the four and play inside more. If Boeheim trusts the sophomore to rebound, then Taylor should start, but if he does not, then Brown should get the start at the four and Williams should be the three.
In reality, it’s all about who finishes games and not who starts them. But, when you’re starting slow in the last three games against teams who you should be punished in the paint, then it does matter who starts because you won’t be able to make up for slow starts in ACC play and against better teams.
So, we’ll see what Boeheim does, but it seems like a change to the starting lineup might be coming, and we’ll have to wait until Saturday’s game against Cornell to find out what that just might be.