In Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology for the 2020-21 NCAA Tournament, Syracuse basketball made the cut and is slotted against a former Big East rival.
Yes, I am a VERY soon to be Seton Hall University graduate and Syraucse Univeristy graduate student. No, I do not have any influence on Joe Lunardi’s bracketology, although that would be pretty darn cool. But interestingly enough, in Lunardi’s latest edition of forecasting the 2020-21 NCAA Basketball Tournament, he decided to grant Syracuse basketball AND Seton Hall basketball 11 seeds, in the same region, facing off against each other.
Sorry, let me collect myself here.
Instead of explaining why this is good for the ‘Cuse for what this means for the state of Syracuse basketball, I decided to take this a bit differently. Let’s imagine this prediction – ten months before the NCAA Tournament field is even picked – actually does happen. Here is a scouting report you can expect both teams to have, and who I ultimately believe would come out on top.
For article purposes, let’s also consider Alan Griffin as ineligible, since, well, he still is, and I’m guessing that’s what Lunardi has in mind too, with the NCAA nowhere near passing the new transfer rules they’ve held us in hopes for.
Point Guards – Joe Girard III vs Bryce Aiken
Obviously with the Syracuse basketball / Jim Boeheim patented 2-3 zone, Girard won’t actually be guarding Aiken, but with the Hall often going with a man-to-man defensive strategy, we’ll do it this way anways. This matchup is virtually a lock for 40 points combined. Girard had a fantastic freshman campaign, averaging 12.4 points per game, 3.5 assists, and 3.0 rebounds. His confidence alone leads me to believe that those numbers will only go up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes one of the All-ACC teams at the end of the season.
The Pirates will most likely start Aiken at point guard. A four-year player at Harvard, Aiken has career averages of 16.8 points per game, 2.7 assists, and 2.4 rebounds. However, an injury kept him hobbled for most of last season, so it’s really important to look at his junior campaign, in which he put up an astounding 22.2 ppg, shooting 39.8% from downtown. Like Girard, he can shoot from anywhere, and really makes the point guard matchup a fun one to watch.
Shooting Guards – Buddy Boeheim vs Takal Molson
At the 2-guard position, Buddy Boeheim will be entering his third season as a starter for Syracuse basketball and may even look to lead the Orange in scoring, now that Elijah Hughes is gone to the NBA Draft. Boeheim’s biggest threat is his ability to hit from range, knocking down 97 treys a year ago, good for a tie for 14th in the country. However, last season, it was clear that he made a nice jump from his freshman to sophomore year. His ability to put the ball on the floor, both to create his own shot and facilitate for others was a nice addition to his game. Expect an even bigger jump this season, as his green light may be as bright as anyone’s.
The Pirates will complete their backcourt with yet another transfer. Unlike Aiken, Molson had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, so he may need a month or so to get his basketball game feet up to par again. However, like Aiken, he can also really score the basketball, winning MAAC Rookie of the Year in 2018, while putting up 16.9 ppg and 5.4 rpg his sophomore season at Canisus. The biggest if factor here, is if Molson will be able to adjust from a mid-major conference to the Big East. Sacred Heart transfer Quincy McKnight surely did, but Molson is obviously a different person. His 15 point, 6 rebound, and 5 assist performance against Florida State in 2018 does stand out to me, but we won’t fully know how much of that will translate consistently until the season is up and running.
EDGE: Boeheim, slightly
Small Forwards – Quincy Guerrier vs Jared Rhoden
With Elijah Hughes decided to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft and Alan Griffin’s status still up in the air, Quincy Guerrier is really the only guy that makes sense to slot in at the small forward position. While he may not be the typical small forward in the year 2020, given his lack of a consistent three point shot, he does bring tremendous hustle and can rebound with the best of them. This also isn’t to say that he can’t score the basketball. Guerrier was fifth on the Syracuse basketball roster in scoring a year ago, at a decent 6.9 points per game. This number is almost certain to grow, as he will most likely take on a bigger role next season.
For Seton Hall, I could have gone with Myles Cale at the three, or even at two-guard for that matter, but given how Rhoden outperformed Cale in most of the major categories last season, the rising junior gets the nod at small forward. Rhoden was an animal on the boards in 2019-20, leading the Pirates in rebounds per game with 6.4. This is more noteworthy than it sounds: Seton Hall was one of the tallest teams in the nation last season, with multiple 7-footers and two two other guys at 6-10 and 6-11 in the regular rotation. However, at 6-feet-6-inches, Rhoden led the Pirates in that category, proving his worth on the boards. He can also score from all three levels, averaging a nice 9.1 points per game last season, good for fourth on the team.
EDGE: Rhoden, very slightly.
Power Forwards – Marek Dolezaj vs Sandro Mamukelashvili
Marek Dolezaj is the senior to watch for Syracuse basketball next season. The ‘high flying Slovakian’ or whatever type of name you want to call when he flushes it in the basket, is energetic, an underrated scorer, and the heart and soul of Orange basketball. He’s played in more games than any other Orange player on the current roster and has improved every season he’s donned the Syracuse uniform. 10.4 points per game and 6.4 rebounds last season were both incredible upticks from Dolezaj’s 2018-19 campaign, proving his work ethic to always get better. His very light frame does cause concern, as he’s often a recipient of bail out foul calls and can get out rebounded against bigger guys. However, his pure basketball knowledge and hustle always stand out above the competition.
Mamukelashvili, formally known as ‘Mamu’, would be the best player on the court if these two teams faced of next season. A native of the country of Georgia, Mamu averaged 11.9 points per game and 6.0 rebounds, after making the switch from center to stretch forward. At 6-feet-11-inches, he is an exceptional three point shooter, connecting on 43.4% of his attempts in 2019-20. An injury cost him a lot of gametime last season, but his return to the lineup was the difference between the Pirates being one of the best teams in the Big East, and a National Championship contender. Two 20-point outings in his final three games stand out, showing that his senior season is one to keep an eye on.
Centers – Bourama Sidibe vs Ike Obiagu
Like Dolezaj, Sidibe is also one of the most experienced players on this Syracuse basketball team, appearing in 91 games over his first three seasons on the Hill. His worth is mostly defensively, averaging a modest 6.0 points per game last season, but bringing down 7.6 rebounds per contest, to go along with 1.4 blocks. His 69.2 field goal percentage does stand out, but he will never be a top three option at any time on the court, so that needs to be held with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, Sidibe showed really big signs of coming into his own last season. After two seasons filled with knee troubles, last season was his first without major injury concerns. Sidibe ended the season with six straight games of ten boards or more, including a season high 15 against North Carolina. If he can keep that up for his senior season, it would be a tremendous gift for an Orange team that’s struggled at the center position for quite some time now.
This leaves us with Ike Obiagu, one of the prospective options at center for the Pirates in 2020-21. They could go with Mamu, but since he excelled at the four spot last season, Obiagu seems like the best option, at least to start. A transfer from Florida State, he really made his mark as a freshman with the Seminoles, averaging an out-of-this-world 2.1 blocks per game while getting only 10.7 minutes of playing time per contest. That type of ratio point all types of signs to his potential and worth as a defender. However, Obiagu’s Achilles’ Heel has actually been his feet. Offensively, he had trouble with his footwork last season, often getting called for travels in the low post. However, if he can get it together a little bit, he stands at an impressive 7-feet-2-inches and 265 pounds. That type of frame can be of use against anyone, but he still has a lot of work to do.
EDGE: Sidibe, slightly
Notable Bench – Kadary Richmond / Jesse Edwards vs Myles Cale/ Shavar Reynolds /Tyrese Samuel
Syracuse basketball has a very thin bench. This is nothing new, but if Alan Griffin doesn’t get approved to play next season, the Orange will rely on a sophomore project in Jesse Edwards two freshmen in Kadary Richmond and Woody Newton, a redshirt freshman in John Bol Ajak, and a very sparingly played junior in Robert Braswell. In other words, it will be a total work in progress for an Orange team that already loses their top scorer in Hughes. However, head coach Jim Boeheim has long been known to run a short team, very rarely playing over eight guys consistently. If Edwards can blossom into a reliable back up center, and one of the freshmen into a nice scoring option off the bench, the ‘Cuse will be just fine. However, on paper, it does look a bit concerning.
Seton Hall basketball has a totally different problem. Head coach Kevin Willard has been known to play perhaps more guys than the average coach. However, it’s turned into a blessing, as the Pirates seem to know exactly what they have coming into each season. This season, it will include two seniors, a rising sophomore, and three freshmen. However, notably, if Cale, Reynolds, and Samuel do come off the bench – that is an extremely good bench. Together, the three combined for nearly 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists per game a year ago. Cale has also been a starter more often than not, and Reynolds has the ability to guard anyone put against him. The younger gun in Samuel gives length and bounce, as an athletic 6-foot-10 forward.
EDGE: Seton Hall by a decent amount
Who Wins and By How Much?
There’s obviously a lot more I could take into account here. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and mastery in Jim Boeheim would obviously benefit the Orange. Boeheim also has much more experience in March than Kevin Willard, and as this is a ‘March Madness’ predicted game, that would most certainly matter.
Looking at everything put together, this game is about as close to being an even matchup as one could be. With that being said, I would have to go with the Pirates over the Orange, by no more than three or four points. If the two faced ten times, I think each would take five games. However, if I had to choose, the Pirates have scoring options at all three levels. The lack of size with the Syracuse bigs could be a problem, especially allowing the Pirates to neutralize Obiagu’s lack of scoring ability as well.
Score? Don’t ask. I’m just hoping this doesn’t have to happen for my sake!