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ACC Preview #10 - Syracuse

Will the ‘Cuse have the juice?

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 01: Syracuse Orange Guard Joseph Girard III (11) shoots a layup with Duke Blue Devils Forward Jack White (41) defending during the first half of the College Basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Syracuse Orange on February 1, 2020, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Syracuse may have been a good move for the ACC, but was the ACC a good move for Syracuse?

Consider: in three of Syracuse’s last five years in the Big East (due to NCAA violations, the official record in 2011-12 is 0-3 so we’ll discount that one), Syracuse won 28, 30, 20 and 30 games.

That’s an average of 27 wins per season.

In those seasons the Orange made the Sweet 16 twice, the Elite Eight and the Final Four. In the probation season? Elite Eight, not that it counts, but still.

In the ‘Cuse’s first ACC season, with brilliant point guard Tyler Ennis, Syracuse won 28 games.

Since then? 18, 19, 19, 23, 20 and 18.

That’s an average of 19.5 wins per year and that’s a big drop-off.

Part of the problem is that lately, although that may have changed a bit this year, Boeheim hasn’t been able to recruit the long-armed athletes to man his remarkable zone.

It still works, but when you have really tall and long players, it’s a nightmare and he hasn’t had those for awhile now, particularly at center.

Another problem, which is delicate for a guy who has been at his school since he enrolled in the early ‘60s, is simply age.

Older coaches tend to lose a step, if you will. A few don’t. John Wooden went out with his tenth national championship. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has not only kept winning but has adapted to multiple changes late in his career which is pretty unbelievable.

In general though it’s true. Dean Smith lost some of his genteel but nonetheless total control over his program at the end. Denny Crum certainly faded at Louisville. So did John Thompson, Louie Carnesseca, Frank McGuire, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight, Gene Keady, Lefty Driesell, Sonny’s sort of an occupational hazard. And it’s probably not that they lose their abilities. It’s that the game changes and their era slips away.

In Boeheim’s case, it may also be switching conferences. The ACC is more heirarchical than it used to be and escaping the basement is not easy. Even so, if you go to Clemson or Wake or Georgia Tech, you’re going to get a game. Even BC, arguably the worst ACC program in recent years, has registered upsets of Duke and UNC.

It’s just in the ACC’s DNA.

This year, Syracuse loses Elijah Hughes, who transferred to Syracuse from ECU and is currently projected as a late first-round or early second round pick.

That’s about it.

They return some decent rotation players:

Buddy Boeheim, a 6-6/195 lb. junior, Joe Girard, a 6-1/195 lb. sophomore, Marek Dolezaj, 6-10/201 and a senior, Bourama Sidibe, 6-10/218 and also a senior, and Quincy Guerrier, a 6-7/220 lb. sophomore.

When he committed, Boeheim seemed like just the coach’s son. Sure he could shoot a bit but a meaningful player?

Most people didn’t see it.

Well he is now.

Boeheim is one of the ACC’s finest shooters and a real threat to break a game open. Remember when Mike Dunleavy hit three straight threes against Arizona in the 2001 title game?

Buddy could have a night like that too.

He would be a liability for some other teams on defense but the zone hides him pretty well.

Girard may ultimately be more valuable. He averaged 12.1 ppg as a freshman and in all seriousness, could double that. We’d expect him to get 18-20 per game but if he averaged 24, it wouldn’t surprise us in the slightest.

He hit nearly 90 percent from the line last year but didn’t shoot very well from the floor at all, managing just 34.8 percent overall and 32.4 percent from deep. This is the guy who shattered New York’s high school scoring record by a staggering 1,383 points.

He didn’t do that, or average nearly 50 ppg, by shooting 34.8 percent. Expect him to be much more efficient as a sophomore.

Dolezaj came to Syracuse weighing about 175 and he is likely to be thin for his entire life, so getting to 201 is a real accomplishment. He’s no doubt being encouraged to eat vast amounts of food and we’re guessing he gets tired of it.

He’s a very smart player, not to mention brave: we believe he was one of only two NCAA players to try take a charge from Zion Williamson and watching his frail body fly past the baseline was simultaneously hilarious, frightening and inspirational. He may be a fence post, but he’s a fence post with courage. That took him out of the game and he missed the following game against Pitt, but there’s no doubt: that kid has guts.

Guerrier is a sophomore now and should be a help on both ends of the court. He averaged 6.9 ppg and 5.3 rpg last year. That’s not a bad freshman year really and he should improve in general.

Sidibe? He’s a senior now, not all that much thicker than Dolezaj really and he hasn’t been a huge factor. He’s also heavily foul prone.

Given his druthers, Boeheim would probably rather have someone else at center.

Fortunately he has some options now. This is probably one of Boeheim’s taller teams recently and if nothing else, numbers should make Sibide’s fouls less critical.

John Bol Ajak is done with his redshirt year but outside of the program, no one really knows what to expect from the 6-10, 215 native of Sudan.

Jesse Edwards is back too. He’s 6-11/215 and played minimally last season but young big guys...who knows? He could become a factor.

Freshman Frank Anselem, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, may be the guy to watch though. Also tall and slim - 6-10/200 - Anselem started playing fairly recently. He’s long and agile though and plays hard. He’s also an outstanding student. It wouldn’t surprise us if he ended up starting sometime this season. A 7-5 wingspan can’t hurt.

Syracuse can now put Boeheim and Girard out with 6-5 Illinois transfer Alan Griffin. That may give them as strong a perimeter game as anyone in the ACC because Griffin, older brother of future Blue Devil AJ Griffin, has a sweet stroke.

Aside from Anselem, Syracuse brings in freshmen Kadary Richmond (6-5/180), Woody Newton (6-8/200)

Richmond is getting some early buzz so he might be pretty good. We don’t know enough yet to say but the buzz is definitely intriguing. He could help out at point and also is a solid three point shooter. At 6-5, he has the kind of size Boeheim likes at the top of the zone.

Newton has some buzz too. Best case scenario: he’s an under-the-radar guy who’s highly athletic and fits Boeheim’s zone like a dream. On offense he’s worked hard to get perimeter skills so he can shoot or get to the basket when opponents focus on Boeheim, Girard or Griffin.

Worse case scenario: he’s a thin but long defender who takes a while to get his offense in gear.

He sounds like a steal and a great fit for the zone and he might be able to play all five spots defensively. We’re really intrigued with him.

So what to make of this year’s Syracuse team?

Well, Boeheim has more options for the zone and that gives him a puncher’s chance in every game. Add in the very solid perimeter game and some promising young front court players and this team could make a bit of noise.

Keep this in mind though. Guerrier is the only guy who weighs as much as 220. This roster has some real promise but we’ll look at two other rosters without having thought about weight...let’s say Clemson and Louisville.

The Tigers have three guys who are at least 6-8. Lynn Kidd weighs 220, PJ Hall 235 and Aamir Simms, 240.

Louisville has seven guys over 220 and five guys over 230.

Syracuse has some potential, but they’re probably going to get pushed around a fair amount.

If they can keep the core of the younger players around until next year, it might be a really, really good team.

This year? We’d say somewhere between sixth and ninth in the ACC.