With one exhibition in the books, we got our first look at Syracuse basketball ahead of the 2023-24 season. It was the first time seeing many players in an Orange uniform, like JJ Starling and Naheem McLeod. So how should SU’s rotation shape up based on what we saw and what we already knew from last year?
Starters: Judah Mintz, JJ Starling, Justin Taylor, Benny Williams, Naheem McLeod
This is probably what most Syracuse fans would predict, with one exception.
Mintz and Starling, who were each on the ACC All-Freshman team last year, are a lock to make up the starting backcourt duo.
Benny Williams has had an up-and-down career with the Orange, but as a returning starter at the forward position, he’s a popular pick to keep that job.
While transfer Naheem McLeod wasn’t a consistent starter last year at Florida State, the job is all but his at SU. The 7’4” center has the physical tools to succeed, and with Jesse Edwards at West Virginia, the spot is vacant. While Maliq Brown could get significant minutes at the five, McLeod should start, even if just for the opening tip-off.
The one point of contention is the second starting forward position. Chris Bell took up that slot last year, but I’m not convinced he’s earned the job again. His main role is to be a three-point shooter, but he hit triples at under a 35% clip last year. Justin Taylor, on the other hand, shot 39% from behind the arc. Plus, Taylor plays better defense and is a more aggressive rebounder.
On Friday, when Mintz was out for precautionary reasons, Taylor started in his place. When Mintz returns for the regular season, Bell is the wing that should slide to the bench.
Sixth Men: Quadir Copeland, Maliq Brown
Yes, technically one of these players would be the seventh man. But this is the duo that should be first to sub in.
Copeland showed what he can do with a big role against Daemen. He scored 12 points, tallied nine assists, and grabbed four steals as well. Yes, this was against a D-2 school. However, Copeland showed flashes of this talent last year as well.
Copeland may be the best defender of all the non-bigs on the Orange. He brings energy and grit on every possession. Copeland can also push the ball in transition and distribute well. The sophomore doesn’t have a three-point shot quite yet, but no one is perfect. Copeland deserves serious minutes as the first guard off the bench.
Brown should also receive starter-level minutes, even if he comes off the bench. Similar to Copeland, he’s a talented defender who plays bigger than he is. The sophomore is also efficient on offense, and led Syracuse basketball with a 70% field goal rate last season.
Brown can play forward, but he can also be a small ball center for SU. When the Orange want to move fast, he should be manning the five.
Bench Contributors: Chris Bell, Peter Carey/Mounir Hima, Kyle Cuffe
Chris Bell started last year for a reason. He can be a great shooter and boasts a lot of potential for athleticism. However, the sophomore has been streaky at times. Still, Bell is a bench contributor at the absolute worst and could be a solid starter when he’s at his best.
Rounding out the rotation is a true backup center, either Peter Carey or Mounir Hima. If McLeod gets into foul trouble, someone needs to rebound and guard the opposing five. Neither has proven to be much better than the other, but Coach Autry should pick one and stick with them. Consistency at that position is key.
Kyle Cuffe was, and still kind of is, an unknown. The redshirt sophomore played just six minutes across two years at Kansas. However, he showed off a solid shooting stroke on Friday. Cuffe shot 3/6 on three-pointers and had three steals as well. He can be a solid 3-and-D player off the bench for SU. However, when Syracuse basketball tightens up its rotation and doesn’t play ten guys, Cuffe will likely be the odd man out.