Benjamin Sigel, who writes for our SBN pals at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, a Syracuse site (and a really good one too), asked us to swap Q&A’s for the Syracuse game. Here’s his answers for us.
1. Who’s the most underrated player on your team? Why?
I think it’s has to be Taurean Thompson. Boeheim only plays 6-7 guys, and he’s been starting for most of the season now. Offensively, he’s as naturally skilled as any freshmen big in the country. But he’s struggled in the 2-3 zone a lot this season. He’s given up a ton of backdoor layups and dunks. But like I said, he’s extremely skilled on the offensive end. He can go for 20 points any given night. He’s 6-foot-10 and can hit the 3-ball, but also has great footwork in the post.
2. Why has Syracuse had trouble defending this year? Boeheim has been pretty vocal about it. His 2-3 has always been a devastating weapon.
A lot of the trouble defending this year is because of all the new faces. Syracuse plays four first-year guys: John Gillon, Tyus Battle, Andrew White and Taurean Thompson — and the 2-3 zone is confusing. There’s so many different rotations and it takes a while to learn. For example, if the ball enters from a guard, the wings do one thing, but if the ball enters from a wing the forwards do another. There’s so many little details that take a long time to learn, and this team hasn’t picked up on them.
They’ve gone through solid stretches at times, but it’s no where near last year’s zone with Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney up top averaging five-plus steals per game.
3. Your transfers have been a real asset. How do you stop those guys?
Truthfully, it’s not all that difficult to stop them. Andrew White, despite an impressive scoring streak, is shooting the ball very poor of late. He went 2-of-14 from 3-point range against Louisville last week, and followed that up with another off night against Georgia Tech on Sunday. He’s a very good shooter, but that’s about it. He’s so-so on the glass, and doesn’t drive as well as some imagined he would.
As for John Gillon, he’s listed at 6-foot, but he’s more like 5-foot-9. He can hurt you from deep if he catches fire, and he’s been playing better and smarter as the season has gone on, but he’s struggled of late too. He went for 43 points against NC State earlier this year, and strung together a few great games — but he’s not someone that I would worry all that much about. Andrew White has the ability to go for 25 any night.
4. Now that you guys know the ACC better, what do you think of road trips like Clemson and Wake Forest? They’ve always been trap games for everyone.
We’ve learned quickly that you can’t take any nights off. Even in the Big East, it felt like games against DePaul were gimmes. Now, it really does feel like every game you have to be ready to play for 40 minutes or you could lose. And to be honest, it’s hurt Syracuse. Luckily, though, SU is 2-0 against the two teams you mentioned. The Orange came back from an eight-point second-half deficit against Wake Forest at home and won at Clemson a Tyus Battle buzzer-beater 3-pointer.
5. There was some mild disagreement between Boeheim and the new A.D. about his retirement plan. Where does that stand now?
As of right now, the plan is still to coach through next season and retire. Mike Hopkins has been waiting for so long, it would be hard to imagine Boeheim sticks around longer after publicly announcing a succession plan.
6. Your turn for a prediction.
Syracuse badly needs this game for NCAA Tournament purposes, but I think Duke is finally catching its stride and is an incredibly dangerous team.
Duke wins, 83-74