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Q and A with The Athletic’s Matthew Gutierrez

Q and A with The Athletic’s Matthew Gutierrez

I recently chatted with The Athletic Syracuse men’s basketball beat reporter Matthew Gutierrez. We jumped into the Orange’s future, roster development, the transfer and more.

ML: What does Syracuse’s roster look like next season?

MG: Quite different from last season, with only two starters back in. Buddy Boeheim, the presumptive MVP, and Joseph Girard. The other three to round out the starting five is likely freshman forward Benny Williams, who is the program’s first five-star commitment to arrive on campus since 2014; plus graduate transfer forward Jimmy Boeheim and fifth-year center Bourama Sidibe. Cole Swider, a Villanova transfer wing, projects to come off the bench as sixth man, and backup guard Symir Torrence, from Marquette, should spell for Girard at the point. The backup centers, Jesse Edwards and Frank Anselem, probably will split minutes behind Sidibe, if he’s healthy enough to go. All together, you have a fairly young team with an experienced backcourt and possibly a preseason First Team All-ACC guard in Buddy Boeheim. The Orange are popping up in a lot of early Top 25 rankings, which might be realistic, or it could simply be the benefit of a Sweet 16 run. But defense will remain the biggest question with this group, and I think the zone will dictate how good this team becomes. There’s no question they have shooters and scorers. Can they get stops against top-half ACC clubs?

ML: Has the transfer portal gotten out of control?

MG: I might have an unpopular thought on this: Not really. I’m for it. Let guys move around. First of all, it’s a one-time transfer rule, meaning guys can move to a new school for immediate eligibility only once. You can’t bounce a second time without sitting out. So I wouldn’t fully say it’s “free agency.” Not that crazy by any stretch. And a lot of emphasis in this conversation is put on the schools losing guys, but what if you consider this: It’s never been this easy for coaching staffs to search the portal and reload with talent, quickly. I just don’t want to say right now that it’s out of control and bad for the game. Let’s give it a year or two and see how it plays out. I think many guys will find the grass isn’t greener elsewhere. And others will find the decision to transfer was smart. Let players move around if they aren’t happy with something, want to move closer to home, or want a fresh start. It happens. We all need change sometimes. Let the free market play out. That’s my thought here.

ML: How down was the ACC last year and will it be bad again this season?

MG: It was pretty down. Only Syracuse and Florida State went to the Sweet 16, nobody else. No ACC team made the Elite Eight. Duke was a mess. North Carolina was not itself either. Virginia was good but a step below its elite self. The middle of the conference was a bunch of decent but not good teams. As for next season, it’s a little early to tell. Ask me again this fall. If I had to guess now, I’d say it will improve at least a bit. Duke, UNC and Florida State reloaded with quality recruits. It will remain a very good conference.

ML: Who retires first? Jim Boeheim or Coach K?

MG: Coach K. Boeheim might coach three, five or closer to eight more years or so, based on the public indications he’s given. He wants to coach as long as he’s happy and healthy, and he is. The popular narrative seems to be that he’ll call it quits when his sons graduate, but I doubt it. He’ll coach as long as he’s able to.

ML: Latest in SU recruiting?

MG: Just wrote on this for The Athletic on Tuesday, so shameless plug to check out our breakdown there, with insight on six priority recruits plus trends as it relates to the transfer portal and 2022 outlook. Syracuse is looking for a top-100 center who can impact the team right away, with Donovan Clingan, a 7-footer from Connecticut, high on the list. He’ll be a tough one to land because in-state UConn is really recruiting him hard, as well as Michigan, a title contender with Juwan Howard as coach. But landing a good center is a priority for SU. Other names to know: Chance Westry a guard from Pennsylvania, Justin Taylor, a shooting guard from Virginia and Chris Bunch, a forward from California. I think Syracuse will be able to land one of those guys. Remember: There’s always the transfer portal to make late additions if you miss out on high school prospects.

ML: What does Buddy Boeheim need to improve on most in 2021-2022?

MG: Defense. He can shoot, score and challenge a defense, three things we saw during his hot streak late last season, especially during the surprise Sweet 16 run. But he’s been open about his athletic and defensive shortcomings, and the top of the Syracuse zone needs to look the way it did late last season, not the way it looked from November through February. It starts with Girard and Boeheim limiting high-post access and dribble penetration, getting back in transition and being better, more active overall.

ML: Player Syracuse misses most next season?

MG: Tough one. Can’t say just one. I think it’s a combo of Quincy Guerrier and Kadary Richmond, two of the more high-upside guys the program has had the last couple of years. But to say one? Richmond. His talent aside, he bolstered depth at a spot that’s somewhat thin. He was a creator off the bounce on a team with not many creators. He provided length and activity to a zone that has been very up and down the last two seasons. Even if Girard improves, I think there will be a noticeable difference in the SU backcourt without Richmond creating for others.

ML: Matt, you’re the best. Thanks for this.

MG: No, you’re the best. Give your pup a hug for me.


Mike Lindsley
Follow Mike Lindsley on Twitter @MikeLSports and download his podcast the “ML Sports Platter” on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify.