Syracuse basketball is in a very interesting position. The Orange have not suffered a bad loss so far in its first season under Adrian Autry, but they don’t have a standout win either besides the drubbing they put on Oregon in Sioux Falls back in December. SU has started ACC play 2-2, with blowout road losses to Virginia and Duke, and narrow home wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College. The Orange are among the middling group of the conference, and the ways they are successful continue to change.
Early in the season, it was all about Judah Mintz and Chris Bell scoring the basketball. If they did not score, Syracuse did not win. But, in the last month or so, Quadir Copeland and Maliq Brown have come off the bench and become arguably SU’s two most consistent players in every way: effort, intensity, defense, rebounding, and even scoring at times. Brown especially has taken his offensive game to the next level with a career-high 26 points in the loss at Duke, and at least 13 in each of Syracuse’s last five games.
“He’s special. I don’t think we win many games without him,” Justin Taylor said about his teammate after BC via syracuse.com. “He’s kind of, as you say, a cheat code for our team. He does everything. He doesn’t care about stats. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win. He scored well. He’s always going to rebound. He’ll make the right play defensively. He was special. Moving forward, he’s going to be huge for us.”
Brown’s days of playing 20-25 minutes per game are probably over, and with Naheem McLeod now out, potentially for the year, it might be more like 35 a night. The sophomore big has strong chemistry with Copeland, who expertly ran the pick and roll with Brown throughout the second half to create open looks for each other, and when the Eagles came back to take the lead in the second half, that was the play SU went to time and time again to score.
“Knowing we were down Naheem (McLeod). His wingspan takes up so much of the paint,” Brown said postgame via syracuse.com. “Just knowing that we were down him today, everyone had to step up and be together and fight as a team. When Quadir and the guards attack the paint and are going to the rim, whoever my guy was contesting shots helped me get there for putbacks and I took advantage of it.”
Syracuse is winning games because of what Copeland and Brown provide. They are the heartbeat of the team and starting against Boston College might have been a sign of things to come. Adrian Autry addressed why Judah Mintz did not start after the game and said there was a little violation of team rules and he should be back in the starting lineup against North Carolina on Saturday.
“Whether I’m off the court, whether I messed up off the court or I’m on the court playing with my team, I’ve got to be the leader,’’ Mintz said postgame via syracuse.com. “I was here last year. We’ve got a lot of new faces. I’ve got to stay consistent no matter what’s happening with me personally.’’
Regardless, Syracuse’s best offensive play against Boston College had Copeland as the lead ball-handler and Brown directly involved in the action, not Mintz. SU needs all of its players to contribute, whether it’s JJ Starling, Justin Taylor, or anyone else who sees the floor. But, to continue evolving, developing, and playing team basketball, continuing to run things through Copeland and Brown might be the way to success on both ends of the floor.