Syracuse Basketball: SU is ‘biggest mystery’ in college hoops, analyst says

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

Undeniably, there is excitement in the air as Adrian Autry prepares for his first season as the head coach of Syracuse basketball, after Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim retired this past March.

I will say it over, over and over again. Autry and his assistant coaches have done a wonderful recruiting job this off-season, in terms of bringing in new players out of the NCAA’s transfer portal, retaining 2024 four-star commit Elijah Moore and picking up a verbal commitment from 2024 four-star power forward Donnie Freeman.

But off-season recruiting is one thing. How Adrian Autry fares in the upcoming 2023-24 season is something entirely different. He’s replacing a legend, and the Orange has also failed to make the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two terms, while also struggling in numerous regular seasons since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference from the Big East Conference in 2013-14.

Based on media reports and social media commentary from national and Atlantic Coast Conference pundits, the ‘Cuse isn’t projected as a preseason top-25 team. The Orange also isn’t showing up in super early bracketology predictions for the 2024 Big Dance.

I’m sure when the ACC releases its preseason poll this fall, Syracuse basketball won’t be highly placed. All of this is understandable. The team has a lot of new players, a relatively young roster, and a first-year head coach. Yet on paper, to me, the ‘Cuse boasts a talented and intriguing line-up – one that should contend for a March Madness berth next spring.

An analyst calls Syracuse basketball, this coming season, a “mystery.”

A few days ago, I came across an insightful and interesting tweet from Terrence Oglesby, who is part of The Field of 68 and also serves as a college basketball analyst on various networks, including ESPN and FOX.

He characterizes the Orange as “the biggest mystery in college basketball in my eyes.”

Oglesby wonders whether Autry will play zone or man (the Syracuse basketball head coach has said he’s likely to play both, although I envision him playing a lot of man-to-man defense).

Adrian Autry was an assistant for Boeheim for years, and he also worked at Virginia Tech under then-head coach Seth Greenberg. Thus, other than his time with the Hokies, Oglesby writes, “There’s no precedent outside of (Autry’s) experience with Boeheim to go on. We shall see… From a sheer talent perspective, this team is really intriguing.”

Oglesby goes on to discuss the Orange’s promising backcourt, led by sophomores Judah Mintz and J.J. Starling. The analyst highlights sharp-shooting wings Chris Bell and Justin Taylor, both sophomores, along with sophomore guard Chance Westry, junior forward Benny Williams and sophomore forward Maliq Brown, who “might be one of my favorite energy players in the country,” Oglesby says.

Oglesby closes with, “This team has loads of natural talent. How will (Autry) coach them?”

I’m with Terrence. I just love the Orange’s 2023-24 roster. But the squad’s line-up, and how its first-year head coach will lead them, is somewhat of a mystery. And I don’t mean that necessarily as a negative.

Mintz and Starling can be an elite backcourt. Westry was injured much of his freshman season at Auburn but is a former top-40 prospect. I think Williams will shine as a junior. Brown is underrated and could end up in the starting rotation, in my opinion.

Taylor and Bell provide shooting, and they have a year of experience in the ‘Cuse program under their belts. We’ll see how many minutes sophomore guard/wing Quadir Copeland and redshirt sophomore guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. get in 2023-24, but I’m high on both of them.

The presumed starting center, junior Naheem McLeod, has some big shoes to fill in replacing Jesse Edwards, who went to West Virginia. Backing McLeod up are junior Mounir Hima, sophomore Peter Carey and freshman William Patterson.

So the ‘Cuse has the full allotment of 13 scholarship players. It’s deep at every position. There’s a lot of versatility. Adrian Autry has said he will play man defense, and he will play up-tempo, wanting to get out in transition, being aggressive and forming a cohesive unit.

The intrigue is there. But, so are the question marks. In the off-season, Syracuse basketball lost an All-ACC performer in Edwards, a high-scoring guard in Joe Girard III and two others. The Orange brought in four transfers and a 2023 three-star commit.

As such, the ‘Cuse roster had a big makeover. It also has a couple of juniors on it, but no seniors, so it’s somewhat young. Can McLeod and his back-ups fill the void left by Edwards? Will the Orange have enough 3-point shooting? Assuming it does play a lot of man, how will the ‘Cuse do there? Will more man-defense enable the squad to rebound better on the defensive glass?

Plus, the Orange appears to have, at least on paper, a relatively challenging non-conference schedule, along with its usual slate of tough ACC contests.

That brings us to Autry. He’s crushed the recruiting trail this off-season, but how will he do on the sidelines as Syracuse basketball begins official games in earnest this November?

I was a big fan of Jim Boeheim, and I’m a big fan of Adrian Autry. Yet Autry, and this team, are somewhat of a mystery to me. And the analyst Oglesby, too.

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