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Syracuse Basketball: Adrian Autry thinks the ‘Cuse backcourt can be elite

Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) /

First-year Syracuse basketball head coach Adrian Autry feels that his ‘Cuse backcourt in the upcoming campaign can be an excellent one, according to a national analyst.

In a tweet published on Monday afternoon, Stadium analyst Jeff Goodman wrote, “Syracuse coach Red Autry told me he’ll play a ton of man-to-man defense this season. Also feels as though his backcourt of Judah Mintz/JJ Starling can be elite.”

Now, in all fairness, the Orange backcourt extends beyond sophomore point guard Mintz and sophomore guard Starling, a Central New York native who transferred to the ‘Cuse from Notre Dame this off-season.

In the 2023-24 term, Syracuse basketball has 13 scholarship players, and its guard rotation consists of Mintz; Starling; sophomore guard/wing Chance Westry, a transfer from Auburn; redshirt sophomore guard Kyle Cuffe Jr., a transfer from Kansas; sophomore guard/wing Justin Taylor; and sophomore guard/wing Quadir Copeland.

That’s a lot of new faces in the backcourt, and it’s also a relatively young group of guards. At the same time, on paper, this is a talented bunch. Starling was a five-star, top-25 prospect. All of the rest of them were four stars, and both Mintz and Westry were in the top 40 nationally.

Adrian Autry is high on the Syracuse basketball 2023-24 backcourt.

As I and others have opined of late, Mintz and Starling figure to be the starting guards when the Orange commences its upcoming season in early November. The ‘Cuse has a challenging non-conference docket, and it has no seniors on its 2023-24 roster.

Mintz and Starling not only are likely to start for Syracuse basketball, but they’re also presumed to be two of the leaders of this team. Both were on the Atlantic Coast Conference’s All-Freshman team a season ago.

In 2022-23, when the ‘Cuse went 17-15 overall in the final season of Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim’s legendary head-coaching career in Central New York, Mintz averaged 16.3 points, 4.6 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.4 turnovers per game.

As I noted in another recent column, top NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony of ESPN said via Twitter that Mintz “showed improved shot-making” at two recent showcase events, the 2023 Nike Skills Academy in Portland, Ore., and the 2023 CP3 Elite Guard Camp in Los Angeles.

Starling, who also reportedly was on hand at the CP3 Elite Guard Camp, averaged 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists per contest for the Fighting Irish in 2022-23. Both he and Mintz, without question, will have to improve their 3-point shooting percentages in 2023-24 if Syracuse basketball wants to halt its two-year absence from the NCAA Tournament.

This off-season, Starling was one of the highest-ranked transfers around the country. Mintz tested the 2023 NBA Draft waters but ultimately decided to come back to the Orange for another year.

I wholeheartedly agree with Adrian Autry that the Orange’s backcourt can be one of the best nationwide in 2023-24, and that starts with Mintz and Starling. But I wouldn’t sleep on the team’s other guards.

Taylor can shoot and is an underrated athlete. Copeland is a glue and hustle guy. I love his energy and facilitating. Westry was injured for much of last year while at Auburn, but he oozes with potential. Cuffe is immensely athletic.

How Adrian Autry and his staff divide up the minutes at the guard spots remains to be seen. I assume Mintz and Starling will lead the way. They both shine out in transition and in weaving their way into the lane while finishing through contact.

I hope as 2023-24 progresses, the guard unit becomes a cohesive, lethal force that national pundits are, in fact, deeming elite. Just as the ‘Cuse first-year head coach had predicted.

Oh, and a “ton” of man-to-man defense this coming term, as Goodman tweeted, sounds phenomenal to me.

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