Benny Williams, Syracuse Orange, Syracuse basketball, ACC Basketball

Syracuse basketball defeated Division II Daemen, 81-68, Friday night in the team’s first exhibition game of the 2023-24 season.


There’s a lot to like with this year’s Syracuse basketball squad, and we knew this going in. There are also a few things to ponder after seeing this year’s Orange for the first time. Here are 3 takeaways from Friday’s game.

Takeaway #1: The offense has its ups and downs

We finally got a chance to see the new offense, and if run properly it has the potential to be dangerous. There are a lot of things to like when Naheem McLeod runs at center. 

Running big opens up so many holes in the defense. McLeod starts in the high post and travels up to the top of the key on occasion to keep the ball swinging. Then, in a blink, he’s slipping past his matchup and catching a pass at the rim. McLeod is known for his height, but his finishing ability is elite.

Now, Daemen is a Division II team. Their tallest player is listed at 6-9, and their primary matchup for McLeod was 6-5 Joey Atkins. We will not truly grasp his impact until he goes up against a Division I big man, but the potential is there. And Coach Autry is right: McLeod does change ends well. REALLY well.

Six Syracuse players recorded 10+ points. There are more than enough capable scorers on this squad, and we didn’t even see Mintz on the floor. When he gets added to the mix, watch out.

Sophomore guard JJ Starling was a spark on offense. He facilitated the offense for the full 40 minutes. Questionable to say the least, as it really made no sense to stick with anyone that long in an exhibition game, but we got a great first look at the Central New York native. He finished with 10 points, six assists, and six boards in his Orange debut.

Starling said after the game that he could play another 40 if he had to. His upside is tremendous.

Along those lines, there are some negatives. Once again, Starling should not have played the entire game. Not only do you risk potential injury, but we did not get a chance to see any of the bench that we didn’t hear much about. Only nine Syracuse players logged minutes. We didn’t see Willie Patterson, and Autry said he was healthy in the postgame press conference. 

We also didn’t see Kyle Cuffe Jr. take the ball up the floor. That’s really the only question in the uber-talented backcourt: Who runs the point when Mintz and Starling take a seat? Cuffe showed glimpses of what he brings to the team, going 3-of-6 from the three-point line to go along with 11 points and three steals. He’s athletic, and he almost ended up on SportsCenter when he attempted a poster in the first half. 

It’s also safe to say that Starling is a serious threat when the offense runs through him. We all know what Mintz brings to the table. How does Syracuse balance their touches?

A lot to consider, but overall the team looked good.

Takeaway #2: Running small has its disadvantages

There were whispers in the preseason about Syracuse basketball running small ball with Maliq Brown at center, something Brown is accustomed to. We saw it Friday night… It was somewhat underwhelming.

Not because Maliq Brown isn’t a good center; he is. He finished with 10 points, two blocks, and a steal, everything you want from a defensive-minded forward. But the small-ball offense just doesn’t have the same zest as it does with McLeod on the floor.

For as large a man as Naheem McLeod is, he is incredibly sneaky. Daemen played him as you would expect, keeping the 7-4 big away from the paint and doubling when he got there. But every time Daemen forgot about him, McLeod ended up under the basket with decent position. It wasn’t because he powered his way into the spot, but rather he would wait for a pass to shift his matchup’s gaze and slide to the block.

Because of this, Daemen started playing tighter on McLeod. When he started high to set a screen, the defense stuck to him and left the paint exposed. This led to multiple opportunities for Starling, Benny Williams, and Quadir Copeland to drive. McLeod’s sheer presence creates opportunities.

Brown does not attract as much attention, and he does not move as well as McLeod near the basket. Allowing Daemen to clog the lane led to turnovers and bad shots. If the small lineup is going to work, Syracuse needs to rely on the fastbreak and that isn’t a guarantee.

Just some food for thought.

Takeaway #3: The defense is stifling

11 steals. Nine blocks. That’s really all that needs to be said. The defense was on point.

The guards swarmed the ball handler. The bigs protected the rim. The Orange looked good when they applied pressure. 23 Syracuse points came off turnovers. 

The only area they could have done a better job in would be rebounding.

Syracuse outrebounded Daemen, but only by a +3 margin. As previously mentioned, Daemen’s tallest player is 6-9. McLeod, Peter Carey, Benny Williams, and Maliq Brown all clear 6-8 and they combined for just 7 defensive rebounds (Carey had none, and also fouled out in just eight minutes). Daemen outrebounded Syracuse on the offensive glass. The Orange need to do a better job of ending possessions because an ACC opponent will capitalize on those opportunities.

Overall, it was a great first showing for the Orange. Coach Autry said he liked what he saw and you can’t blame his excitement. The team has one more exhibition against the College of St. Rose on Nov. 1 before beginning the regular season at home with a three-game homestand.

By TJ O'Sullivan

TJ is a grad student at Syracuse University and an alumni of Coastal Carolina University. He is primarily a play-by-play broadcaster, having covered football, basketball and baseball for Coastal Carolina, UMass, Sacred Heart, and Syracuse.

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