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Syracuse Orange Basketball Q&A

With The Athletic’s Matthew Gutierrez

I had a chance to break down the SU men’s basketball team and the upcoming season with Matthew Gutierrez from The Athletic (www.theathletic.com). Topics include the freshman class, the key player, best and worst cases for the team and more! Enjoy.

ML: What’s the best case/worst case for this team in 2019-2020?

MG: Best case: Syracuse punishes teams with the deep ball. Elijah Hughes matures into an All-ACC player. Bourama Sidibe stays healthy and rebounds. Offensive balance. There’s a path for the Orange in the ACC as long as they stay at full strength and things click offensively. Worst case: Middling team all year that shoots well but doesn’t defend or rebound well. Sidibe doesn’t stay healthy. Yikes. All of that could put Syracuse on the wrong side of the bubble.

ML: Key player this season?

MG: Junior forward Elijah Hughes. As coach Jim Boeheim noted last week, Hughes was the “fourth-best option” last season but the second-highest scorer, behind Tyus Battle. He’s efficient. He showed he can really shoot the basketball. On a good day, he can go for four, five, six 3-pointers. He blocked a lot of shots. He rebounded. He pushes the pace and plays fast. There’s a lot to appreciate about him. He is going to finish his career as a really good college player. The next two seasons are important not only for Syracuse but his prospects as far as the NBA. We’ll see. The big question will be whether he can create more off the bounce and drive to the rim. Combining that with his 3-point shooting would elevate him and the Orange. He needs to be the go-to guy this year.

ML: Break down the freshman. How good are they?

MG: They’re ready to play. They’re all going to see time at least a little bit. Brycen Goodine and Joe Girard are good shooters who could be sneaky good contributors. Quincy Guerrier is versatile and is a star in a year or two. The two big guys, Jesse Edwards and John Bol Ajak, need a lot of work. For now, they present shot-blocking forces inside. If they can rebound, that’s helpful.

ML: Will a down ACC help or hurt this team?

MG: I think it helps in both ways, certainly in the win total. I think Syracuse earns some wins this year in ACC play that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise in a stronger or more average year for the conference. Outside of the top four, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty in the conference, which bodes well for the Orange. Of course they could drop a game to Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, for instance, and that’s not good. But I think in the bigger picture they win more than they lose because of the down conference.

ML: Man-to-man defense. You know who mentioned it. Do you believe it?

MG: Burying this as question five, mate? Haha, kidding. I think we’ll see it in experiment mode during the two exhibitions at the end of the month. I believe it because, unlike in some other years, this Syracuse roster has players who would thrive in a well-coached man-to-man defense. You need higher-IQ, quick, athletic guys, which SU has. That said, the 2-3 zone is this team’s defense. Always has been, won’t change anytime soon. What I think we’ll see more this season is full-court pressure in man form. This does two things: functions as a change-up to the 2-3 zone and helps spark the offense. Full-court pressure could win this team a few games. It almost could be an X-factor.

ML: Crazy to think about, but this is the seventh ACC season coming up. Where do you think Syracuse basketball/athletics has benefited most from this move other than the bank account?

MG: Ah, I was about to answer this in two words —bank account— as I read the first part of this question. Then I read the second. I think the secondary benefit is exposure, although that’s so hard to quantify. The old Big East had it – eyeballs, rivalries, sellouts, great conference tournaments. I think the ACC checks off each of those boxes at least to some degree. Playing Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville every season is good competition against big-time blue bloods with large followings.

ML: Is the Carrier Dome in any way a home court advantage anymore?

MG: Hardly. Venues are bigger now than they were when the stadium was built in 1980. The noise is a factor when it’s 25,000-plus, and there are times you see visiting teams experience communication mishaps. The depth effect is interesting, though it’s unclear whether it has a true impact. Over the course of a few months, I asked 88 people who’ve played at the Dome and 45 percent believe there’s a depth effect. For many of them, only the first few shots are challenging. Then you adjust. So, aside from the occasional loud sellouts, I don’t think it’s much of a home-court advantage. Maybe a little bit. Certainly not what it once was. Again, hard to quantity. Maybe a few communication lapses if it’s really loud.

ML: Projected record/predictions?

MG: I’m trying to remove expectations from life, man. That way you’re not disappointed. Things just play out. But hey, talking Syracuse hoops is fun. For this Syracuse team, and this is based on not yet having seen a single regular-season game, I’d say it’ll be a 20- win season. History tells us SU is going to be OK. No need to fret after a non-conference loss or an ACC skid as long as in the grand scheme the team is headed in the right direction. And as you mention, the conference is down. That bodes well for the Orange. I think SU barely cracks into the Big Dance. Anything can happen from there.

You can follow Matthew Gutierrez on Twitter @MatthewGut21 and subscribe to The Athletic at www.theathletic.com.

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