No. 21 Rutgers (3-0) hosts Syracuse (3-0) on Tuesday night at the RAC at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. The matchup between former Big East foes is part of the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Scarlet Knights have lost 13 straight to the Orange with the last meeting coming in 2013.
In an effort to find out more about tonight’s opponent, I was fortunate to speak with Kevin Wall of Syracuse’s SB Nation site, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician. The Orange will be down two key players and Kevin discusses how they will be replaced, as well as much more on the current state of this team.
AB: Syracuse was shutdown for part of November due to COVID-19 issues and had another player test positive just a few days ago, which kept three players total out of the game. How has the virus impacted the program from a operational standpoint in getting ready for this season and is there a concern the Rutgers game might not happen due to the new positive test?
KW: After Thursday’s game Jim Boeheim said the team had missed 17 of the last 20 practice days and while there isn’t concern about playing the Rutgers game, the Orange are likely to be missing Buddy Boeheim who was the returning leading scorer to this year’s squad. His loss means that freshman Kadary Richmond slides into the starting line-up and Syracuse doesn’t have a true guard on the bench.
AB: What were expectations for this team heading into the season and how concerned are you about their ability to develop as a team due to the early disruptions due to COVID-19?
KW: Expectations have varied among the fans. Even though Syracuse brought back four starters, the one they lost in Elijah Hughes was the biggest part of last year’s offense. The hope was that the addition of transfer Alan Griffin would help replace some of Hughes’ outside shooting and scoring and that experience would lead to an improved defense. The disruptions are a bigger concern with the defense as Bryant got plenty of good looks in the opener and the zone is better when the five-man unit is working in unison.
AB: How big of a loss is Bourama Sidibe and how will Syracuse replace him?
KW: Marek Dolezaj moves over to the starting center spot and he gives Syracuse much better spacing on offense. He’s the best passer on the team and when the offense runs through him in the high post it makes the Orange harder to defend. The problem comes in on defense where Sidibe is a bigger body in the middle and for a team that struggles to rebound that’s a concern. Syracuse needs everyone else to help on the defensive glass and if Dolezaj gets in foul trouble then Syracuse turns to inexperienced players in Jesse Edwards, Frank Anselem or Jon Bol Ajak.
AB: How surprising has the development of Quincy Guerrier been and is he the biggest factor in how far Syracuse goes this season?
KW: With Sidibe out, Guerrier becomes the only Syracuse player with the ability to score inside. He played hurt last season and we were told he wasn’t 100% yet but his play around the rim makes the Orange harder to defend. If you force Guerrier away from the basket then he’s not effective so it will be interesting to see how he handles himself against a bigger team.
AB: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the backcourt led by Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III?
KW: These two guys are in range when they get over half-court and both can make tough shots and heat up quickly. Without Boeheim teams can focus more on Griffin and Girard but Kadary Richmond gives Syracuse a player who can beat his man and get into the lane. Where the Boeheim/Girard backcourt struggles is on the defensive end as they lack the quickness to be disruptive at the top of the zone. Richmond is a long 6’5’ guard who has shown the ability to defend so it’ll be interesting how he handles his first test in a Syracuse uniform.
AB: Syracuse has struggled shooting the basketball in the first two games against inferior opponents. Is it a matter of extra rust from a disjointed offseason or is there cause for concern?
KW: As I’m writing this Syracuse has started off 8-11 from 3 against Rider and that makes Orange fans a little more relieved. (Editor’s Note: They shot 15-30 for the game.) Obviously you don’t declare that everything is ok based on 12 minutes against a weak opponent but I do think the lack of recent practices has an impact. Syracuse is also playing in an empty Dome and you wonder if that took a little more time to adjust to as the Orange don’t hold many practices there- even during the season. The bigger question for Syracuse is how will they score if the 3s aren’t falling?
AB: How effective do you expect the 2-3 zone defense to be this season with the personnel that Boeheim has to work with?
KW: Not very effective at all....unless the recent play of Kadary Richmond and Woody Newton forces Boeheim to adjust his rotation. Last year Buddy and Girard played over 35 minutes per game and despite Jim’s constant protest against analytics they were not good on defense. Opponents were able to get the ball into the middle of the zone and get lots of clean looks as the zone scrambled to cover the open spaces. Syracuse was also a poor rebounding team and that’s where Sidibe’s absence could be costly. If Syracuse can be average on defense they could ride their offense back to a NCAA Tournament berth.
AB: What is your prediction for the game?
KW: I’m going to go #disloyalidiot here and take Rutgers by double-digits in a high-scoring 85-73 game. Without Boeheim and Sidibe, Syracuse is very thin and I don’t see them being able to defend the perimeter players that Rutgers will throw at them. If the Orange want to steal this road win they will need to shoot very well.
Thanks to Kevin for taking the time to give such great insight on Syracuse basketball ahead of tonight’s game. You can follow him on Twitter here and make sure to visit Nunes Magician for complete coverage of Syracuse athletics. To read my answers to Kevin’s questions about Rutgers, click here.