Three predictions for Syracuse basketball

Midnight Madness may be months away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start to figure out the personality of next year’s Orange based on how the team has performed in the past. Here are three (possibly) surprising predictions:

1. James Southerland will lead the team in scoring.

With Syracuse losing its top two scorers from last year’s team and four of its top six, the role of go-to scorer is up for grabs. As the team’s top returning scorer at 9.4ppg, Brandon Triche is the most obvious candidate to fill the void.

Although SU has had its fair share of high-scoring guards, including Eric Devendorf, Jonny Flynn and Gerry McNamara, five of the past six top scorers, and eight of the last 10, have been forwards.

Moreover, although Triche has exploded for many high-scoring efforts, he has never had the consistency to get his per-game average above 11.1 and his offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) above 111. There is too much history to think that Triche will drastically improve on these numbers as a senior.

After Triche, the next logical candidate is C.J. Fair. Fair may be the most consistent and even the most important returning player for the Orange, but he is simply not well suited to lead the team in scoring.

Although Fair considerably improved his jump shot from his freshman year to his sophomore year, his offensive game is focused around slashing to the basket from the weak side.

There is no recent example of an Orange leading scorer who fits this mold. The closest is Kris Joseph, but his game was better rounded, featuring a smoother outside shot and more strong-side moves.

This leaves us with Southerland, who also had the highest offensive rating of the three last year (122 versus 115 for Fair and 111 for Triche). Southerland displayed an improved ability to drive to the basket at the end of the season.

Even if this aspect of his game remains secondary to his three-point shooting, there is precedence for a player like this leading the Orange in scoring, including Donte Greene and Demetris Nichols.

Southerland may not even be a starter, but he will lead next year’s team in scoring.

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2. Trevor Cooney will play over 20 minutes per game.

It is amusing for Orange fans to read predictions and rankings of next years team that don’t even mention Trevor Cooney as an “addition” or a “returner.” We saw him light it up in the preseason, and we have heard the stories of his shooting in practice. But is it realistic to expect the redshirt sophomore to play over 20 minutes per game behind Triche and Michael Carter-Williams?

Over the last 10 seasons, the third guard in the Orange rotation has averaged 20.2mpg. The fewest minutes per game, 14.0, were played by Louis McCroskey in 2005-06. But that was mostly the result of a crowded bench that included Andy Rautins and Josh Wright behind McNamara and Devendorf. McCroskey played 19.9 the season before.

And Trevor Cooney is no Louis McCroskey. Cooney can clearly shoot with the best of them, and that is a skill the Orange will covet next year.

The Syracuse regulars (this excludes Mookie Jones) went 223 for 636 from behind the arc last year (35.1 percent), but the team loses 131 of those makes and 364 attempts to graduation and the NBA. The returners only shot a collective 33.8 percent, and there is a lot of production to make up for.

It is not unreasonable to think that Cooney could even reach the high 20s for minutes per game. Perhaps the closest comparison to his role on next year’s team is Andy Rautins’ role on the 2008-09 Orange.

Rautins played behind two scoring-first guards, Flynn and Devendorf, and came off the bench to score 10.5ppg and shoot 38 percent on 3-pointers in 28.6mpg.

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3. DaJuan Coleman will not average more than 11 points per game

Incoming freshman DaJuan Coleman is Syracuse’s sixth five-star recruit in the last seven years, according to Scout.com. He comes to the Orange highly touted and relatively familiar, having played at near-by Jamesville-Dewitt High School.

Coleman is expected to step in immediately and contribute scoring and rebounding from the low block. His 6-foot-9, 280-pound frame is ready to compete at the college level, but it is unrealistic to expect him to contribute more than 11ppg.

When it comes to top-tier recruits, for every Carmelo Anthony, there are countless Rakeem Christmases – players with great potential who simply aren’t prepared to significantly contribute as freshmen.

Most experts would rank DaJuan Coleman’s game somewhere in the middle – he comes in with more offensive moves than Christmas, but he may lack the stamina to play extended minutes.

Although Coleman will likely be the most offensively talented big man on SU’s roster, even if he did play 30 minutes per night, post-up big men do not play a large enough role in SU’s offense to score that many points.

You need to go all the way back to Hakim Warrick to find a forward who primarily posted up who scored more than 13ppg.

More recently, Rick Jackson had the kind of year in 2010-11 as a senior that should have earned him Big East MVP. But even at the pinnacle of his career, he only managed to score 13.1ppg. Arinze Onuaku, who perhaps resembles Coleman physically more than any SU player in recent memory, had his best season in terms of scoring average as a sophomore when he put up 12.7ppg.

Even the great Derrick Coleman, whom DaJuan will be unfairly compared to throughout his career as “D.C. 2.0,” only scored 13.5ppg as a freshman. It is too much to expect DaJuan to match even these numbers when his future role in the offense is considered. He simply won’t get enough opportunities.

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Jeff Irvine

About Jeff Irvine

Jeff has covered Massachusetts Minutemen basketball for The Maroon and White and The Daily Hampshire Gazette. He has also written for The Daily Orange. Jeff is an Amherst, Massachusetts native, and graduated from Syracuse University in 2006. Follow him on Twitter @jeffreyirvine.
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