Hillsman, Boeheim preview upcoming SU basketball seasons

Coaches preview upcoming SU hoops seasons

Both Orange conference seasons start on the road in December.
Published: November 13, 2020
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Coach Quentin Hillsman and the women's basketball team open up home conference play on Dec. 31 against North Carolina.

The ACC Network featured head coaches and players from around the conference in two virtual events that previewed the upcoming 2020-21 women’s and men’s basketball seasons on Thursday.

The Women’s Basketball Tip-off program provided a glimpse into how the approaching women’s season might unfold.

Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman spoke alongside coach Jeff Walz of Louisville and coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee of Boston College in a roundtable discussion.

Starting the dialogue, Hillsman expressed how happy he was just to be on the court with his team and playing basketball. He then went on to praise the incoming freshmen players on the roster, explaining how they are going to add significant depth to the SU roster.

“We have a lot of young talent that’s come in,” Hillsman said. “They’re picking up what we do right away and hopefully they can step in the team, do what they’re doing now, and make a big impact for us.”

Hillsman was also excited for the return of 25-year-old guard Tiana Mangakahia, who missed all of last season due to treatment for breast cancer. Mangakahia currently has 591 assists throughout her college career, which makes her SU’s all-time assist leader.

Hillsman plans to start Mangakahia next to Kiara “Kiki” Lewis in the backcourt this season. Lewis played point guard in Mangakahia’s absence and will shift to the shooting guard position for the 2020-21 season.

Both have been named to watch lists, Mangakahia for the Nancy Lieberman Award and Lewis for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, which recognize the top point and shooting guard in D1 NCAA women’s basketball respectively.

“With Tiana back, obviously we’ll keep the ball in her hands as much as we can, but Kiki played the point for us all last year. I thought she gained some great experience doing that,” Hillsman said. “We’re going to play them both together as much as we can.”

The combination of a talented freshmen class led by an all-conference backcourt could see SU women’s basketball make a postseason run.

Switching gears to men’s basketball, head coach Jim Boeheim spoke later in the evening during the ACC Operations Basketball program that gave an inside look into how the men’s season might play out. Boeheim spoke alongside coach Mike Brey of Notre Dame and coach Kevin Keatts of NC State.

Throughout this discussion, Boeheim highlighted the struggles he and his team faced due to COVID-19 in the past few months, which included holding practice with coaches 10-12 feet away from players and having no on-court meetings or film sessions.

Despite these challenges, he commended his team for their efforts in dealing with the many complications that this pre-season has brought upon them.

“They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve bonded together, they’ve hung out together.” Boeheim said. “Our players have hung in there and just keep going day to day.”

Together as a team for four months now, Boeheim shares the same excitement his players have for the season to finally start. He is also confident that his team has improved defensively since the end of last season and can compete with any team in the conference.

“Last year we were a really good offensive team, we were not a good defensive team, that’s why we struggled,” Boeheim said. “I think we’re going to be a better defensive team this year which is really important.”

Outside of losing Elijah Hughes after he declared for the 2020 NBA Draft, the Orange will have six of their top seven players returning. Despite Hughes topping the ACC scoring leaderboard last year, this familiarity among the rest of the players will help the team find their rhythm quickly and should bode well for them going down the stretch of the season.

Both the women’s and men’s teams will be starting conference play away from home, with women’s basketball playing three road games before returning to the Carrier Dome on New Year’s Eve to play against UNC.

Men’s basketball will start their ACC campaign against Boston College in Chestnut Hill on Dec. 12 and will host their first game in the Dome on Dec. 22 against Notre Dame.