Syracuse basketball opens up the 2023-24 season tonight with a clash against New Hampshire. Before the first opening tip of the year, let’s hand out some preseason awards to the Orange.
Most Valuable Player: Judah Mintz
This is Judah Mintz’s team, no question about it. While there’s lots of talk about the backcourt duo of Mintz and the talented Notre Dame transfer JJ Starling, Mintz is the true star of the team.
The sophomore was SU’s lone preseason All-ACC team member, getting a nod to the second team. There’s plenty of good reasons for those high expectations.
Mintz scored 16.3 points per game last year, while also leading the Orange with 4.6 assists per contest. The only downside to his offense as a freshman was his three-point shooting. Mintz shot just 30% behind the arc on the season, but it did improve as the year went on. In February and March, he hit 52% of his triples. If Mintz can keep that up, he won’t have a true weakness on offense.
On defense, Mintz is already a proven commodity. He led the conference with 1.8 steals per game last year. While there might be a short adjustment period going from zone defense to man-to-man, Mintz will still hold his own on defense.
Mintz could have gone to the NBA last season. In what will almost certainly be his last year of college basketball, Mintz will do it all for Syracuse.
Defensive Player of the Year: Naheem McLeod
This award could go to several different players. Last year Judah Mintz led the conference in steals, Quadir Copeland was a scrappy defender off the bench, and Maliq Brown played bigger than his 6’8” frame. Still, center Jesse Edwards was the most important defender for SU last season because of his rim protection. That trend should continue this year, with Naheem McLeod taking over in the paint.
While McLeod was a backup last year at Florida State, he dominated down low any chance he got. He led the Seminoles with 1.2 blocks per game and disrupted shots left and right. With Syracuse basketball playing man-to-man defense this year, the pressure will be even higher on McLeod to lock down the ACC’s best centers one-on-one. If he lives up to that challenge, McLeod will be the defensive player of the year for SU.
Sixth Man of the Year: Maliq Brown
There’s a two-man race for this award between Maliq Brown and Quadir Copeland. While Copeland will have a great season off the bench, he’s stuck behind Mintz and Starling, so he might not get as many minutes as he deserves.
Brown, on the other hand, can come off the bench in a wide variety of roles. If one of the starting forwards is pulled, Brown can take over and work inside next to McLeod. Or, if head coach Adrian Autry wants to work quickly in the fast break, Brown can play center himself.
Brown is a great defender. Offensively, he doesn’t put up a lot of points, but he’s efficient. Brown led the Orange by shooting 70% from the field last year. His ability to succeed in multiple roles on both ends of the floor should make him the best man off the bench.
Most Improved Player: Quadir Copeland
Quadir Copeland played under 10 minutes per game last season, but there were flashes of greatness. The guard is energetic on both ends of the court. He can drive and distribute on offense, and can lock down players on defense.
This year, Copeland will be the first guard off the bench. His skills fit the complementary role he’ll play alongside Starling or Mintz whenever he’s on the floor. Copeland should finally be able to shine as a sophomore.
Rookie of the Year: William Patterson
There’s only two freshmen on SU, so there won’t be fierce competition for this award. William Patterson didn’t play at all in the first exhibition game against Daemen, and didn’t score in five minutes of action against St. Rose. He likely won’t play much this year, but will a bigger impact than Chris Gatty.