Syracuse basketball has grown a lot this season, but this team is far from perfect. Here’s what the Orange should have asked for on their Christmas list this year.
A Consistent Second Option
Every Santa needs his Rudolph. Judah Mintz has been a star this season, leading all sophomores in the country with 19.8 points per game. After him, SU hasn’t had a player it can always look to for scoring.
At one point, wing Chris Bell was averaging 15 points per game, but he’s only scored double figures once in all of December. JJ Starling has had a few outings with 20-plus points, but the guard has really struggled from behind the arc. He’s shooting just 26% on triples. Even Quadir Copeland has stepped up recently, with big games against Oregon and Niagara, but that’s just a flash in the pan for now. None of these options have been consistent.
While one of Syracuse’s secondary players usually steps up to help Mintz, it hasn’t been a certainty. Finding a reliable number two would be huge. Despite his slow start to the year, don’t be too surprised if that player is Starling. His abilities to drive and create his own shot should pay dividends in conference play.
A True Upset Win
Syracuse basketball doesn’t have any losses to bad teams this year, and don’t have many chances to pick up one moving forward. Losing to any team other than Notre Dame and Louisville wouldn’t be catastrophic. While a lack of bad losses is great, SU will need more than that on its resume to get into the NCAA Tournament.
A great win could be the differentiating factor come March. Luckily, there’s plenty of opportunities for one in the near future. In January alone, Syracuse basketball has road trips to Duke, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh. Winning one of these will show that the Orange don’t just have a high floor, but a high ceiling too.
Naheem McLeod to Figure Things Out
Maliq Brown has been perfectly serviceable closing games out as a center. However, against the conference’s best big men, he’s undersized at just 6’8”. Having the ability to look towards a 7’4” center would be very nice when the opponent has someone like Armando Bacot on the court. Unfortunately, Naheem McLeod just hasn’t been reliable.
Despite starting, McLeod averages just five minutes of playing time in second halves. Production-wise, the center puts up 4.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest. Those aren’t impressive numbers.
If McLeod could take over the offense or become reliable on defense, the Orange would have more good options late in games. For now, McLeod just isn’t reliable to be trusted in clutch time for Syracuse basketball.