College basketball: Syracuse demonstrates unpredictability of freshman class

Jan. 20—SYRACUSE — The past week for Syracuse University men's basketball illustrated the inconsistencies bound to accompany its historical reliance on production from freshmen.

The Orange rode key contributions by four rookies to a comeback win last Saturday against Notre Dame but all four failed to reach double figures and combined to shoot just 5-for-19 in a loss at 17th-ranked Miami on Monday.

Syracuse (12-7 overall, 5-3 ACC) will keep seeking steady contributions from freshmen when it faces Georgia Tech (8-10, 1-7) at noon Saturday in Atlanta, to be televised on the Yes Network locally.

The Orange enters with four freshmen ranking among its top seven for scoring average and minutes played — Judah Mintz, Chris Bell, Justin Taylor and Maliq Brown — for just the second time since the ban on active freshmen was lifted by the NCAA for men's basketball in 1972, per sports-reference.com.

Approaching the halfway point of the ACC schedule in the coming week, the foursome ranked third for combined freshmen scoring average in the last 50 years among the top seven rotational players for SU.

The six-player freshman class overall matches 2007, 1988, and 1991 for the largest in Jim Boeheim's 47 seasons as SU head coach.

"I like these guys, I think they're getting better," Boeheim said after the Jan. 14 victory over Notre Dame. "My whole goal coaching this year was to get this group in here, get their feet wet, see how much better they can get during the course of the year."

He continued: "We're still a long way away from being a good team, which is what I would expect playing so many young guys, and we got a fierce road ahead of us, we know that, but they've really come up big."

Mintz is coming off his worst performance with three points on 1-for-7 shooting in 31 minutes against Miami, including a key turnover with a chance to tie in the final 30 seconds, but has been the most prominent among the SU contributing rookies thus far.

He enters the weekend averaging 14.9 points per game to rank seventh among NCAA Division I freshmen, and his two steals per game is on pace to rank fourth among SU rookies all-time.

The point guard has been joined by Bell in the starting lineup for all 19 games while Taylor and Brown have flashed bright spots off the bench throughout the season.

The grouping has combined for 32.4 points per game ranking behind the 2002-03 trio of Carmelo Anthony-Gerry McNamara- Billy Edelin (44.8 points per game) and the 2007-08 triad of Donte Green-Jonny Flynn-Scoop Jardine (38.9) for highest-scoring freshman groupings among SU top-seven rotational players.

The only other time four freshmen appeared in SU's top seven for scoring average and minutes played among players with at least 10 appearances came in 2017-18 as Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Matthew Moyer, and Bourama Sidibe achieved the feat, combining for 26.6 points per game.

"Seeing guys come into their own, seeing (Taylor), seeing Maliq, it shows that I'm not the only freshman here, we got other hoopers," Mintz said after a recent victory over Virginia Tech.

Entering the weekend, only three other teams leaned on four freshmen in their top seven scorers among the top 50 recruiting classes in the country, per 2022 rankings by 247Sports. Syracuse is joined by Duke, Alabama, and Minnesota.

Duke was the only team among the top 50 with seven incoming freshmen while SU matched Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida State for the next highest total.

Syracuse also has freshman Quadir Copeland waiting for an opportunity after displaying ability to contribute as a guard or forward in limited chances. Center Peter Carey, who was recently ruled out for the season due to knee surgery, rounds out SU's freshman class.

Boeheim has no recruits committed from the 2023 cycle and has expressed his desire to retain the entire freshman class and continue building around the group into next season.

SU-DUKE TICKETS ON SALE

Individual game tickets for the always-anticipated Syracuse-Duke men's basketball game went on sale this week at cuse.com/tickets.

The game is slated for 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, to be televised on ESPN. The matchup has eclipsed the SU single-game attendance mark three times since SU joined the ACC — establishing a new record in 2014, 2015, and 2019.

BOEHEIM CREDITS BREY

Boeheim commended Notre Dame coach Mike Brey during his weekly radio show Thursday night, hours after Brey announced plans to retire at the end of the season.

"He's been a great representative for that school, and he's just a good guy," Boeheim said. "He's done about as well as you're going to do at Notre Dame, he's won a lot of games there, taken them to a bunch of tournaments, pretty good."

Brey has accumulated a program-record 481 wins in 23 seasons at the helm for the Fighting Irish and has been an annual foe for Boeheim since the Orange joined the ACC in 2013.

WARRICK TO BE HONORED

Former star Hakim Warrick will be honored with the Vic Hanson Medal of Excellence at the 51st annual SU Men's Basketball Hardwood Banquet on March 5 at the Syracuse OnCenter.

Warrick ranks fifth in program history with 2,073 career points as a four-year starter, helping lead SU to its only national championship in 2003.

Seats can be reserved online (cc.syr.edu/hardwoodclub) or by calling the 'Cuse Athletic Fund (315-443-1419) by Feb. 26.

Warrick and former teammate Gerry McNamara will have their respective jerseys retired by the team the day prior in SU's regular-season finale against Wake Forest in the JMA Wireless Dome.