Syracuse basketball is back. Granted, the first game in the Dome this year was an exhibition versus Division II Holy Family, but Syracuse fans have been anxious to see this team with their own eyeballs. Syracuse had no trouble with Holy Family and cruised to a 79-41 win. Let's take a look at what stood out from the exhibition.
Perhaps the biggest question heading into this season was how Tyler Ennis would play. Ennis, a true freshman, has been thrust into the starting point guard role after Michael Carter-Williams took his talents to the NBA.
Ennis looked very comfortable in his first game in front of the home crowd. He played at a good pace and didn't allow Holy Family to speed him up when they extended their zone. He ended the game with 12 points and three assists in 18 minutes. Ennis showed how important he will be in this offense as he set up teammates with nice passes on the break.
Obviously, Ennis can't play 40 minutes a game at the 1. There will be times when he gets into foul trouble or just needs a break as he adjusts to the speed of college hoops. Someone is going to have to run the show when Ennis hits the pine, but the guard play from the bench against Holy Family was less than encouraging.
Michael Gbinije shouldered most of the point guard minutes when Ennis went out. The offense as a whole seemed to stall a bit when the second unit came in. Now, that can be expected with inexperienced players like Gbinije, Ron Patterson, B.J. Johnson and Tyler Roberson getting run. But as the season wears on, someone will have to step up in Ennis' stead.
Patterson played well, hitting three of his five attempts from three. His ball-handling was a bit sloppy, so he seems better suited as a shooting guard. Gbinije went against Carter-Williams in practice every day last year, so Syracuse fans are hoping he can use that experience this year as he spells Ennis. These early-season games will be big for Gbinije.
Let's be real here: A Division II team can't be expected to light it up against a preseason top 10 team. However, Jim Boeheim's defense looked dominant for the duration of the game.
Syracuse held Holy Family to 41 points on just 26 percent shooting. Teams sometimes look to the three-ball against zone teams, but Syracuse locked up the perimeter and Holy Family made only one of their 16 long-range attempts. The younger players looked comfortable on defense, and Syracuse kept coming with long, rangy forwards that can cover from the paint to the three-point line.
The offense won't be there every night for the Orange. But if the defensive intensity stays high, it can keep the team in games when the offense isn't clicking.
Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney had limited roles on last year's team. This season, however, much more will be asked of them. Both players looked ready to embrace a larger role and made contributions early and often.
Grant is noticeably bigger and stronger. He said he is 215 pounds now, compared to 199 at the start of last season. The extra bulk really helped as Grant scored 13 points in 18 minutes. Seven of those points came from the free-throw line, where he was 7-of-9.
We have already covered how important Cooney is to the offense this year. He showed he has been working hard on his shot as he hit three out of his four three-pointers. His shooting stroke looked smooth and he shot with confidence. If he continues to thrive from deep, Cooney will add another dimension to the offense and create more space for Grant and C.J. Fair to operate down low.
A 38-point win is never anything to complain about. The Orange went out and handled its business at home against an overmatched team. At the same time, the performance was far from perfect.
Holy Family was able to force 18 turnovers, several of which led to fast breaks and lobs on the other end. Gbinije had five turnovers himself, so he will have to clean that up if he is going to back up Ennis. Some jogging back on defense also led to open looks for Holy Family.
This version of Syracuse basketball is certainly capable of playing into late March. But March is a long way away, so you know Boeheim and his staff will push these guys every day to help them improve.