Since Syracuse has over a week off in between games, now feels like a good time to evaluate the Orange’s individual grades almost halfway through the season. SU sits at 10-4 now, and once Wednesday hits it will play two games every week until the first full week of March. Let’s get into the gradebook.
JUDAH MINTZ: A-
The big ask of SU’s star coming into the season was to improve his jump shot, and he has delivered. The numbers from beyond the arc aren’t eye-popping (35.7%), but that is a remarkable improvement from where he was last year, especially when you factor in the volume. 19 points per game is nothing to scoff at either. The only thing keeping from an A is his tendency to get erratic at times. This team can not afford to have him have a bad game.
JJ STARLING: A
When he started the season 1-18 from three-point land, there was serious concern about the Baldwinsville native’s offensive effectiveness. Recent developments have changed that. Starling has grown into a true three-level scorer as the season has progressed while maintaining a strong defensive presence and a major threat as a passer. There’s a decent argument to be made that Starling has developed into Syracuse’s most well-rounded player overall.
CHRIS BELL: B
There was a stretch where Bell was looking like Mintz’s number two scorer, but the last five games have changed that narrative. In the five games since Bell’s 19-point showing against Cornell, he has failed to reach the 10-point mark. Bell has also gone 2-12 from beyond the arc in that stretch, but remember that he’s made five trifectas in a game on three separate occasions. The offensive threat is there, the consistency is not.
JUSTIN TAYLOR: B-
Taylor started his season on fire but has since fallen back to Earth. For someone with as much offensive talent as he has, it’s very frustrating to see the inconsistency. There are nights he can approach 20 points, and others where he is a non-factor offensively. However, the rebounding jump has been astounding (over five per game). You’d love to see Taylor become a more consistent scorer in addition to that.
NAHEEM MCLEOD: D+
Let’s be honest, the expectations pinned on McLeod coming into the season felt unfair. He was heralded as a center that could change the Orange offense, but he hasn’t. Being 7-4 certainly helps him out, but other than that there hasn’t been a ton of upside to his game. Going up against bigs that can stretch the floor has exposed McLeod, and his stats haven’t exactly made up for it.
QUADIR COPELAND: A
What’s not to love about Syracuse’s energizer bunny this year? He put up 200 shots every day this past summer in an effort to improve his offensive game, and the results have shown. Copeland has scored over eight points per game, including a recent stretch of 69 points in five games. It really is remarkable how much Copeland has grown his offense while maintaining his hustle and energy.
MALIQ BROWN: A
Another player who has shown continued growth while maintaining the identity that made him so successful last season. Make no mistake, Brown’s M-O is still being a strong interior presence, but his perimeter defense has gotten so much better, and he’s even shown the threat of shooting the three-pointer. If he continues to expand his game, look out.
BENNY WILLIAMS: C+
You’d be hard-pressed to find a player on this team fans want to succeed more than Williams. Adrian Autry alluded to it in his press conference after the Pittsburgh game, it’s been all about personal growth for him. A few recent good games have started to turn his season around, but missing two games due to suspension and two due to coach’s decision make it hard to justify a higher grade. But it’s hard to not root for him.
KYLE CUFFE: C
It’s getting harder to fully evaluate Cuffe as his playing time has gone down. That’s in large part due to Copeland’s recent surge. The Kansas transfer does a lot of things well, he can score at all three levels and is a solid defender, but he isn’t great in any particular aspect. Hopefully he still plays every game, how many minutes is the question.
ADRIAN AUTRY: B
When you looked at Syracuse’s schedule coming into the season, the first 14 games included three games in Hawaii, the ACC-SEC Challenge, a neutral site clash with Oregon, and a trip to face Duke on the road. 10-4 is not too shabby. What’s keeping Autry at a B is the consistent struggle for his team to play a full 40 minutes. But overall, it’s hard to complain about the Orange’s record.