Men’s Basketball looks to replace multiple starters in 2019-2020 season
Men's Basketball looks to replace multiple starters this season
The Syracuse University men’s basketball team is coming off a productive 2018-2019 season that ended with a loss to 9 seeded Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Orange finished the season with an overall record of 20-14 with a conference record of 10-8 in the ACC, which featured 10 first-round picks including the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Zion Williamson, and the national champions in Virginia.
Syracuse had several impressive wins last season, including a dramatic road victory over rival Duke, who was at the time, the No. 1 team in the country. The team also had a 20-point victory to Louisville who finished as a 7 seed in the NCAA tournament. The 10-8 conference record earned the Orange the No. 6 seed in the ACC tournament as they defeated No 14 Pitt before losing to the eventual conference champion Duke in the quarterfinals.
But now it is time to assess this year’s team, which will be led by sophomore guard’s Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, both hoping to grow upon solid freshman seasons. Rounding out the team’s starting unit should be Elijah Hughes, Slovakian Marek Dolezaj and freshman standout Quincy Guerrier. Aside from the standout Guerrier, Joseph Girard III, Brycen Goodine, Jesse Edwards, and John Bol Ajak lead an unproven yet incredibly athletic freshman class. Head Coach Jim Boeheim will seek to implement his trademark zone defense to help the team build upon last year’s totals, which ranked 3rd in the ACC per 100 possessions.
The losses of Frank Howard and Tyus Battle present opportunity for the younger squad, but ultimately their shoes may be too big to fill. The team features just seven upperclassmen as opposed to five freshmen, which normally spells an underwhelming season. Impact player Elijah Hughes and fan-favorite Buddy Boeheim need to play with energy and command the offense. If the Orange want to be successful, it must come from an up-tempo pace that includes many fast-break buckets. If the Orange execute the above aspects in their conference games, they can be formidable.
The schedule for the Orange, despite playing in the toughest basketball conference in the country, is not as bad as it could be. The out-of-conference schedule only has one tournament team from a season ago in Iowa, with the possibility of two depending on whether they matchup up with Ole Miss or Penn State, and one pre-season ranked team in No. 20 Georgetown.
In conference, Syracuse avoids home and homes with the powerhouses of Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, and Florida State who come into the season as all top five teams in the preseason conference polls. Instead, outside of Virginia who is No. 2, the only team that is ranked higher than the Orange who are listed at No. 8 in the conference is Virginia Tech who is No. 7 as Boston College, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and Pitt, who enter the season as ranked Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 14 in the conference respectively will be the only conference teams they will play twice.
The ACC itself looks as tough as it ever has. Duke once again comes into the season as the 4th ranked team in the nation and the preseason conference favorite. The Blue Devils have Tre Jones and Alex O’Connell both returning and have added four 5-star recruits Vernon Carey Jr., Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley, and Wendell Moore.
North Carolina landed the number two commit in the country, Cole Anthony, who ESPN’s Jonathan Givony projects will go top three overall in the NBA draft. UNC also features the number 18 recruit, center Armando Bacot who will play along with returners Leaky Black and Garrison Brooks making the Tar Heels ranked 10th in the country to begin the season.
Louisville comes into the season as a team expected to take a major leap. The Cardinals are coming off a first-round loss to 10th seeded Minnesota in the NCAA tournament but might have the best returning player in the conference in Jordan Nwora. Nwora, the reigning ACC most improved player, will look to combine with top recruit Samuell Williamson to make Louisville a top contender in the ACC and the nation.
The ACC is loaded, with five teams rounding out the AP top 25 preseason rankings. The Syracuse Orange must play physical basketball with an extreme emphasis on transition offense for things to finish the way they hope. Backcourt and wing play will ultimately prove crucial for the Orange this year, as the team needs to assert its athleticism to compete in the ACC.
In terms of season outlook, the most likely scenario for the Orange is a bubble team needing a strong performance in the conference tournament to make the field of 68. With an otherwise inexperienced group of guys, and a general lack of depth, I feel the best-case scenario is a top four finish in the conference and a shot at a potential sweet 16 berth in the NCAA tournament. In order for this scenario to play out, guard play needs to improve and the team must be healthy down the stretch. At worst, the Orange stumble in the conference and fight for a .500 season plus making an early exit in the conference tournament, consequently missing March Madness entirely.