A look at the 2020-21 Syracuse basketball team:
2019-20 stats: 32 games, 35.6 minutes, .408 shooting percentage, .370 from 3-point line, .714 free throws. 15.3 points, 1.9 rebounds.
Strengths: Boeheim stepped into a starting role last year, and even as his attempts from 3-point range doubled, his shooting percentage actually improved from 35.3 percent as a freshman to 37.0 percent as a sophomore. He led the ACC in 3-pointers made per game. Boeheim also added a shot off a drive into the lane, which proved to be reliable.
Concerns: Boeheim figures to be the focus of opposing defenses this year, especially with the departure of Elijah Hughes. Can he find ways to get open and still knock down a high percentage of his shots? Rebounding is something of a concern. He needs to get more than the 1.9 rebounds he averaged last year.
Glens Falls, N.Y.
2019-20 stats: 32 games, 33.0 mpg, .347 shooting percentage, .323 from 3-point line, .894 free throws. 12.4 points, 3.0 rebounds.
Strengths: Girard took over as the starting point guard three games into his freshman year and enjoyed a lot of success. He can score via the 3-pointer or on drives to the basket. His assist-turnover ratio was nearly 2-to-1, which is quite good for a freshman. Defense was a concern, but he led the Orange with 47 steals.
Concerns: Girard needs to improve on his 3-point percentage. He says he wants his assist-turnover ratio closer to 3-to-1 this year. He added nearly 15 pounds in the off-season. Will that translate into converting on more of his drives?
Strengths: The Syracuse coaches have been raving about Richmond since his arrival on campus in the summer. Boeheim describes him as “a 6-6 point guard.” Assistant coaches like his grasp of the game and a willingness to work. Richmond’s athleticism and size should help him as a defense atop the 2-3 zone.
Concerns: Even though the coaches envision him as a point guard, Richmond still must make the adjustment to the position at the college level. His outside shooting was somewhat of a question mark in high school. Can he make enough jump shots to keep opposing defenders honest?
2019-20 stats: Sat out season with injury.
Strengths: Braswell can shoot the ball. He possesses good size for a college basketball wing and he was a two-time high school state champion in the high jump, which speaks to his athleticism. (He jumped a personal best 6-foot-10 to win his senior year.) His shooting stroke and his ability to rebound the ball are two aspects of his game that need to shine for him to play this season.
Concerns: Most of them are about his injury. He had nagging pain in his shins last season and elected to shut down his sophomore year to have surgery in an attempt to correct the problem. Nobody knows right now how successful that surgery was and whether Braswell will be able to play without pain this year. He has gained weight, which will help him from a basketball perspective. Can he emerge after a year of basically no basketball to crack a lineup ripe with promising forwards?
2019-20 stats: 32 games, 33.2 mpg, .507 overall, .143 3-point%, .747 FT, 10.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists
Strengths: Syracuse figures to lean heavily on Dolezaj this season. The do-it-all forward has improved his shooting stroke, comparatively built his body and is another year older and wiser in the Orange zone. His passing skills, his nose for the basketball, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win, his improved offensive repertoire – all of it will be vastly important for SU this season. He has the potential to be Syracuse’s most valuable player this year because of all the intangibles he brings to each game. And if his confidence, once a sticking point to his success, improves, he could soar.
Concerns: He must cut down on fouling people, something he inherently understands but struggled to achieve last year. Can he consistently make jump shots? He has extended his range enough to be a threat from the 3-point line? He was 1-for-7 there last year after making strides as a sophomore. Last year, he played catch-up on his shooting touch because a summer finger injury limited his preseason shooting reps. He spent most of the summer at his girlfriend’s family home in the Midwest, shooting on a neighbor’s outdoor basket.
2019-20 stats: 32 games, 22.1 mpg, .520 overall, .091 3-point%, .645 FT, 6.9 points, 5.3 rebounds
Strengths: None of Syracuse’s forwards possess his rebounding acumen or desire. And nobody possesses the kind of physical brutality he brings to the basketball court. Guerrier had a typical freshman season last year; he fought for playing time, struggled to learn positioning in the zone and could not make a 3-point shot. By the end of the season, he learned to avoid foul trouble and play to his strengths: His ability to rebound the ball and bully defenders close to the basket. One year older, one year wiser, he should be a key cog in the Syracuse machinery this season, especially if he can coax his shooting stroke to consistently extend to the 3-point line. Double-doubles last year against Penn State, N.C. State and Louisville underline his potential.
Concerns: Guerrier is coming off the same hernia surgery Frank Howard endured the summer before his junior year. Guerrier, the sophomore who puts the “power” in forward, has spent much of the summer rehabbing from the surgery and has eased into workouts for 2020-21. SU coaches say he is tracking to be completely healthy for this season, but he missed valuable summer workout time (as sporadic as it was because of Covid.) Can he make jump shots? He was 3-for-25 from the 3-point line and was discouraged from trying many. His inability to stretch defenses from the forward spot was an issue last year. Also, he needs to shoot the ball better from the free-throw line. No Syracuse player drew more fouls than Guerrier last year.
2019-20 stats (at Illinois): 28 games, 18.1 mpg, .483 shooting percentage, .416 from 3-point line, .861 free throws. 8.9 points, 4.5 rebounds.
Strengths: Griffin, a transfer from Illinois, should add outside scoring punch to the SU offense. The Orange will need him to help make up for the loss of Elijah Hughes. Griffin’s 3-point percentage last year was outstanding, but can he keep up that percentage while likely doubling the number of attempts?
Concerns: Griffin is listed at 6-5. That’s a tad short for a small forward in SU’s zone defense. Can he defend and rebound well enough to handle the position? He also had just 18 assists last year. The ball needs to move in SU’s offense to get open looks for shooters like Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard. Griffin’s willingness and ability to pass the ball quickly will be critical.
District Heights, Maryland
Strengths: Much like Robert Braswell, Newton is a long, lanky wing who can make perimeter shots. Newton can attack the basket and score off the dribble, too. He was widely viewed as a solid defender in high school and in the EYBL, his ability to lock up numerous positions a testament to his athleticism and his quick feet.
Concerns: He’s a freshman playing on a team loaded with good forwards. Newton likely will need to exhibit some patience this season. He will need to learn the intricacies of the zone, which takes time, repetition and film work. He will also need to prepare his body for the more brutal college game.
Blue Bell, Pa.
Strengths: Owens, a late commitment, is the son of former SU star Billy Owens. Not as tall as his dad, Chaz Owens is an athletic wing. His versatility would allow him to play the two or the three. He is a good passer, a willing defender and an eager rebounder.
Concerns: Owens didn’t receive any other scholarship offers from Division I schools, which casts some doubt on whether he will be able to compete against ACC competition. He was never a big scorer in high school and will have to prove himself from beyond the 3-point arc. That said, programs need guys like Owens who are willing to work, be a good influence in practice and realize their path to the court may not be a direct one.
John Bol Ajak
Natinga, South Sudan
Strengths: Excellent teammate who openly embraces the idea of doing dirty work, screening and playing hard. Strong basketball IQ and has a good sense of what Syracuse is trying to accomplish on offense and defense.
Weaknesses: Sat out last season working on developing a raw offensive game. Lacks the high-end explosiveness or fluidity of the other two options at the center position. Still needs to add strength to be able to compete at center or skill to be able to help Syracuse elsewhere on the floor.
Strengths: Syracuse’s most explosive athlete at the center position giving him a high ceiling. Those gifts eventually should make him an excellent rebounder and a handful around the rim. The question is how quickly he can take advantage of them. He has been playing basketball seriously for just five years and was a top 100 recruit in the Class of 2021 before reclassifying.
Weaknesses: While his limited time playing basketball contributes to the high potential, it also means he arrives at the school with raw offensive skills, and the coaches are working with him on fundamentals like catching and going straight up. Like most young players, he will need to get stronger in order to compete with ACC bodies.
2019-20 stats: 21 games, 6.9 minutes, 79.2 shooting percentage, .632 shooting percentage, 2.4 points, 1.7 rebounds
Strengths: The most offensively-skilled option among Syracuse’s four players listed as center, Edwards plays with a European style and likes to face up opponents, using his ability to drive, shoot and pass. He is a fluid mover, a potential nod to his upbringing as a soccer player and a testament to his athleticism. That athleticism, combined with excellent length and height, made him an effective shot-blocker in limited minutes last year.
Weaknesses: Edwards’ offensive strengths aren’t things Syracuse centers are asked to do with great frequency, and he has been a finesse player in brief appearances. He needs to work on his strength and was stuck outside the country for much of the pandemic, forcing him to play catch up with his conditioning. While he has range, it’s unclear whether those shooting skills will translate into live action.
2019-20 stats: 32 games, 24 mpg, .692 shooting percentage, .554 free-throw percentage, 6.0 points, 7.6 rebounds
Strengths: Syracuse’s veteran option at center. Sidibe is the Orange’s strongest body in the middle and understands what the Orange are trying to accomplish on offense and defense and has shown the ability to thrive on both ends. While he isn’t flashy, Sidibe can catch and score close to the rim, is the Orange’s best shot-blocker and can be a capable rebounder. He actually finished third in the ACC in offensive rebound percentage in league games, trailing only Malik Williams (Louisville) and John Mooney (Notre Dame). He’s put on around 15 pounds in an effort to get stronger.
Weaknesses: Needs to stay on the floor. Sidibe committed more fouls per 40 minutes (6.82) than any player in the ACC. His offensive game doesn’t extend much further than around the rim and his inconsistency over three seasons has been frustrating. Part of that is likely due to knee injuries, which have hampered him for parts of two seasons but have improved. He shot just 55.4 percent from the free-throw line last year, an improvement from previous seasons, making it attractive to foul him whenever he catches around the rim. While he is SU’s strongest body, that still hasn’t kept him from being over-powered.
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