When Adrian Autry was announced as Jim Boeheim’s successor as the head coach of Syracuse basketball, there was a lot of excitement and positives, but also some significant questions about how he would play stylistically, recruit, and rotate his players. Boeheim was obviously known for his zone, but also his very short leash with players and having a tight rotation. Autry has adapted to some of those qualities, but as he said in his opening press conference, he’s a new face with new ideas but wants to uphold the Orange standard and culture.
Through 11 games, Autry has played some games with only eight guys, and others where 10 players have gotten game action. Managing minutes and egos is always one of the most difficult things a basketball coach has to do, and on a team where a lot of the guys are a similar age, level of experience, or caliber of recruit, that could breed competition within the team, but it seems to have a positive affect, and that is due to Autry.
Furthermore, he inherited a team that had its top two scorers enter the transfer portal as grad students, its star freshman guard enter his name in the NBA Draft and not announce his return until the very last second, and had to deal with the scar tissue of players who did not have great early returns playing for Boeheim. So, he retained all of the talent from last year’s roster in terms of underclassmen and hit the transfer portal to bring in four players with some college experience at big programs.
Early on, it was clear that this team was still learning how to play with each other, like when they were down by 24 in the second half to Colgate or fell apart in the second half against Tennesse, Gonzaga, and Virginia. But, they’ve been steadily improving, and have gotten contributions from different parts each night. Lately, it’s been Quadir Copeland off the bench who has provided a constant spark on both ends of the floor. Some nights, it’s Chris Bell who looks like he cannot miss no matter how close a defender is to him. Others, JJ Starling has the hit hand and is getting to the basket, finding his teammates, and hitting jumpers from everywhere. It’s a group that is deep and versatile.
If it’s not those guys, who all play consistent minutes, then there are times when others have to step up, like Benny Williams and Kyle Cuffe did in the first half against Oregon on Sunday. Those two led the Orange in scoring after 20 minutes against the Ducks and turned a 10-point Orange deficit into an eight-point halftime lead.
“I was really just happy for Benny and Kyle,’’ Autry said after the 83-63 win over Oregon via syracuse.com. “(They) hadn’t really gotten a good rhythm the last couple of games, but they stepped right in and made huge contributions on both ends. I think going forward, I think that’s what makes this team special. I think we can be special. I think we can be really good.’’
Against Georgetown, it was Mounir Hima who made a huge contribution off the bench, some nights, it is Justin Taylor who finds his shooting stroke. Maliq Brown always does his thing, and him scoring is a bonus. Naheem McLeod used his size advantage against a depleted Oregon team well, as he had seven first-half rebounds. Judah Mintz is always on (unless Reece Beekman is guarding him), and he has to be for SU to have a chance to beat high-caliber teams and finish in the top half of the ACC.
This all comes back to Autry, who is developing this group on the fly and has a group galvanized and ready for ACC play to make a run back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2021.
“I’ve been preaching from when we started in July,’’ Autry said after the Oregon win via syracuse.com, “we can go nine or 10 deep, sometimes 11, depending on the game and the situation.’’