Judah Mintz is back, Adrian Autry has threaded the needle between keeping last year’s freshman core and augmenting the roster with transfers and Syracuse fans are widely excited for what’s to come. Despite the optimism and the return of SU’s best player, the Orange remain a team full of question marks.
The only sure things are Mintz and his backcourt mate JJ Starling, a former five-star recruit who averaged 11 points per game at Notre Dame last year. That’s the backcourt figured out. Every other player and position group on the roster has a wide range of potential outcomes associated with it. For Syracuse to be successful, it needs at least some of these questions to be answered in a positive way. So, let’s examine these questions:
Who is Benny Williams?
Williams, who averaged 7.2 points per game, scored in double figures in three of his final four games of last season, including 24 against Pitt and 18 in the ACC Tournament loss to Wake Forest. However, the third game of that four contest stretch was the final game of the regular season against Wake, in which he didn’t score in eight minutes.
Williams had 27 rebounds across those four games, only one came in the Dome finale.That, in a nutshell, is the problem. Williams has the talent to be a reliable scorer and dominant rebounder. The problem is he doesn’t show it on a consistent level. If Syracuse has a reliable wing that scores 13 points per game and grabs 7 rebounds per game, that transforms the team both offensively and defensively.
Who’s going to shoot?
Ideally, the answer is “take your pick.” Both Mintz and Starling shot around 30% from three last season. Mintz came on towards the end of the year, though. If they can both boost that mark closer to 35%, that should already do wonders. If one or both can exceed that and approach 40%, that would both make the team better and turn whoever reaches that mark a first round NBA draft pick.
The other two obvious candidates are Chris Bell and Justin Taylor. Bell, as Jim Boeheim will tell you, is a shooter. That’s what he was developed as throughout his youth career and he doesn’t bring much else to the table. He shot 34.5% last year, not a terrible mark but if he’s still going to be one dimensional, that mark has to go up. Taylor, meanwhile, shot 39%, an excellent mark, but at a low volume. Whether he can do that with a bigger sample size is yet to be seen.
The Orange need at least two of those four players to be consistent three point threats.
What will the center rotation be?
This may be the most open ended question. Naheem McLeod figures to start. He certainly has the size, listed at 7’4 255, but he was a career backup at Florida State. In 13 minutes per game, he averaged four points and three rebounds last year. What would he do in 25+ per contest? Can he be effective without being in constant foul trouble?
The backup situation promises to be fascinating. Mounir Hima is back, but coaches have said Maliq Brown will get his shot to play the five in smaller lineups. It’s certainly a far cry from Jesse Edwards’ 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. Center is the biggest question mark on a team full of them.