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ACC Preview #5 - Syracuse

A lot has changed for Syracuse in the last few months

Virginia Tech v Syracuse
 SYRACUSE, NY - JANUARY 07: Associate head coach Adrian Autry of the Syracuse Orange looks on prior to the game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at the Carrier Dome on January 7, 2020 in Syracuse, New York
Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

You could reasonably start the discussion about Syracuse with two propositions: 1) this could be the most interesting team in the ACC this season and 2) Adrian “Red” Autry is a good candidate for ACC Coach of the Year.

Let’s discuss!

You might find a couple of Jim Boeheim lifers who didn't think he needed to retire, but for the most part, we think everyone agrees: it was time. Past time.

Boeheim’s program had gotten musty. The offense was mediocre and Syracuse’s famous 2-3, Boeheim’s bread and butter, just didn’t work anymore. It worked fine when he had aggressive, long-armed defenders who could push the offense out and contest perimeter shots, and before three point shooting was revolutionized and guys started reliably chunking up 30 footers.

But over the last several years, he didn’t have the defenders to make it work properly. The 2-3 still gave SU a puncher’s chance, but since joining the ACC in 2013, which was the high water mark for the Orange in the new league, Boeheim’s record really fell off. Check it out:

  • 2013-14: 28-6
  • 2014-15: 18-13
  • 2015-16: 19-9
  • 2016-17: 19-15
  • 2017-18: 23-14
  • 2018-19: 20-14
  • 2019-20: 18-14
  • 2020-21: 18-10
  • 2021-22: 16-17
  • 2022-23: 17-15

Note - in 2015-16, Syracuse finished 23-14 but Boeheim was suspended for nine games.

Any way you look at it, there was a significant decline and with Boeheim now 78, the odds of anything changing much were vanishingly small. Boeheim is still healthy and sharp and doesn’t look 78. His program didn’t age as well though. Syracuse used to be a load for anyone; it was the pride of central and upstate New York.

Well, not lately.

So Boeheim stepped aside before he became a latter day Joe Paterno (minus a Jerry Sandusky, thankfully) and turned the program over to young Autry.

Well, comparatively young anyway: at 51, clearly he’s no Jon Scheyer. But Jim Boeheim became head coach two years after Autry was born. And keep in mind that Boeheim got to Syracuse in 1962 as a freshman walk-on and, other than some brief and mostly pointless meanderings around the Eastern League, he’s been there ever since.

Trivia: Autry was born in Monroe, NC and his family moved to Harlem when he was about five.

Autry is smart enough to know that he has to shake things up. This can’t be one of those transitions where the assistant promises to keep everything the same as his predecessor - in other words, he can’t be Bill Guthridge at UNC - because Syracuse needs an overhaul and a serious spring cleaning and Autry clearly gets it. For one thing, he’s already said he plans to play a lot more man-to-man.

The irony of that is that Syracuse finally has the sort of defenders who might make the 2-3 work again, or at least better than it has the last few seasons.


The losses: Joe Girard, Jesse Edwards, Symir Torrence and John Bol Ajak are gone but only Girard and Edwards, who both transferred, matter much and both are flawed. Girard, who is not at Clemson, can’t do much about his size but his shooting, which was his calling card, was erratic. Edwards was foul prone for most of his time with the Orange. He really improved last year but he’s not a phenomenal talent or anything. And he’s got bad luck, bad judgement or both: he chose West Virginia just as coach Bob Huggins was about to pull the grenade pin on his long and productive career over the summer with a disastrous radio interview and following that up with a DWI.


Autry gets the following players back: 6-5 sophomore Judah Mintz, 6-9 junior Benny Williams, 6-8 sophomore Maliq Brown, 6-6 sophomore Justin Taylor, 6-6 sophomore Qadir Copeland, 5-10 junior Niko Ruffin and 6-11 junior Mounir Hima.

Getting Mintz back was a break. He checked out the draft before deciding to return. It was a good decision. He would have been drafted, but would he have stuck? Hard to say. He’s talented, but everyone up there is talented. He’s smart to improve his skills.

Mintz put up 16.3 ppg as a freshman, which nearly led the team (Girard got 16.4) and averaged 4.6 assists. Oh, and nearly two steals an outing as well. He’s going to be tough to deal with.

Williams hasn’t been what was expected yet, but at a minimum he’s competent, knows his coach and has room to step up. It wouldn’t surprise us if he made a major jump. He has the talent to do it.

Malik Brown got rotation minutes, playing 20.2 per game and was a solid contributor. Copeland got 9.2 mpg and could reasonably step up. Hima was not a huge presence but he did get into 27 games and played 7.4 mpg while Ruffin has not been an important player, only getting into four games last year.


The transfers are where things get much more interesting.

We’re not big fans of former FSU big man Naheem McLeod but he is 7-4 and that means he’ll pose some challenges just by standing in the lane, which was pretty much his role in Tallahassee. He’ll be a major asset when Autry calls for the 2-3.

Like McLeod, 6-4 sophomore JJ Starling transfers in from an ACC school. In his case, he left Notre Dame when Mike Brey did, and he had a solid freshman year with the Irish. His shooting was not impressive, however: he shot 29.9 percent for threes, 42.1 percent overall and just 63.8 from the line.

But in fairness, Notre Dame had a tough year and a lot was on his shoulders. He’s a good ball handler and he can usually get his shot off even when tightly guarded. Being in the same backcourt with Mintz should give him more opportunities. He should be fine and we expect his shooting to become much more efficient.

Chance Westry, a 6-6 sophomore, comes to Syracuse after a frustrating year at Auburn, where injuries limited him to 11 games. He had his knee ‘scoped in October and eventually Bruce Pearl decided that he was too far behind to get into the rotation so he just sat.

He was really good during Auburn’s international tour last summer. If he’s fully healthy, Syracuse may have a good one. Are you noticing the theme of more versatile, athletic players yet?

As for Kansas transfer Kyle Cuff, a 6-2 sophomore, he also had a knee injury last year, tearing his MCL and PCL ligaments in practice. His time in Lawrence was not productive: he reclassified and joined the team two years ago but sat out his first season as a redshirt.

It’s hard to know what to expect from him, but he’s a third-year player and that’s helpful. Unfortunately, after falling behind at KU with his knee injury, not long after he transferred, he injured his hand...and had to sit out most of the summer, putting him behind once again.


As for the freshmen, Syracuse brings in two: 7-2 William Patterson and 6-2 Chris Gatty.

Patterson didn't just commit to Syracuse; he posted on Instagram that he’s “1,000 percent committed,” so you can probably look for him in the portal this spring.

Kidding! But if he does, you heard it here first.

He’s not that highly regarded - a three star prospect, and the idiots who try to granulize every possible bit of information have him as the #33 center prospect and the #10 prospect in New York State.

How stupid is that? He’s #33? Who did he beat out for #34? Who’s #32? Who’s the ninth best player in New York? It’s just mindless Spaulding masturbation. Here’s a ranking we’d rather see: pick the Top 20 players and as for the rest, give them a development ranking: how hard do they work? What do their coaches think? Do they come from an athletic family? Are they likely to grow a lot? Are they committed?

Factor in stuff like that and there’s a ranking we could respect. But the 33rd best center in high school? Who cares?

In Boeheim’s system, he would have been valuable like McCleod would have been: he could stand in the paint and discourage penetration if someone got past the perimeter defenders.

So when you break it down, Autry has multiple big men for defense, a highly promising backcourt in Mintz and Starling, a raft of midsized players who should be able to attack offensively and defensively, and (perhaps) at least three guys who can play point.

Syracuse is going to be different. It’s going to be fresh. And, if things go well, it’s going to be a lot of fun for some of the best fans around.

That said, it’s hard to predict what will happen with this group. It could be a mediocre transition season and nothing special. Or it could be a fantastic Magical Mystery Tour as the Orange roars back to life.

We’d bet more on the latter. Autry has put in the hard work to be a solid coach and he has assembled a nice collection of athletes. And in the end, speed kills.