It seems like every season, Syracuse University’s Jim Boeheim lines up and takes down another impressive coaching mark. Sometime early in the 2012-2013 season, the man entering his 37th season steering the Orange men’s basketball team will win his 900th game and shortly after that will win his 903rd game, passing the legendary Bob Knight for the second most wins all-time in Division I.
Boeheim stands at 890 wins entering the season, having guided SU to a school record 34 victories last season. That team won a school record 20 games to start the season, spent six weeks of the winter atop both national polls, and tied a Big East record with a 17-1 conference mark.
The current edition is without four players from that team, from that squad, including three NBA draft picks, but the roster is far from empty. This group sets out on its final trip through the Big East with the goal of collecting another conference title on the way out the door.
Shooting guard Brandon Triche is one of two starters to return and is far and away the most experienced member of the squad. Triche is expected to carry the leadership mantle for the team and was named to the All-Big East Second Team prior to the season.
The other returning starter for the Orange is center Rakeem Christmas. Christmas was more a starter in name only in his first season with the Orange, logging limited minutes as a freshman before being removed. The player who frequently replaced Christmas was C.J. Fair, who, while not regularly getting his name called by the announcer before the game, often saw starter’s minutes off the bench. Now a fixture in the lineup, Fair is expected to be a primary contributor for the team to the point that he was named All-Big East Honorable Mention on the preseason ballot.
Returning players who should see expanded roles are Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland. Carter-Williams was stuck in the fourth guard role behind three strong, experienced guards last year and saw limited action as a result. The sophomore will get the reins to the team and is expected by many experts to be a breakthrough player.
Southerland will bring his combination of length, athleticism and shooting range off the bench this season and is expected to see some time at guard in addition to his usual role at forward. The fifth starter will be freshman DaJuan Coleman, a local product who was a McDonald’s All-American in his senior year of high school. A strong low-post player, Coleman will play power forward and is a load, listed at just shy of 290 pounds.
For the second straight season, one of the biggest knocks on the Orange is its lack of a definitive go-to guy for crunch time scoring. Last year, it was a pointless question. While Dion Waiters developed into a guy who could score big buckets over the course of the season, the team was good enough, particularly on the defensive end, that they rarely found themselves in need of a big basket to win a game.
Even when they were in need of a clutch basket, various players were capable of rising to the occasion and make big plays. Once again, the team is talented enough to spread things around on offense with five different players capable of scoring 20 points on any night and has the athletes who can fluster opponents with their athleticism and length in Boeheim’s trademark 2-3 zone.
Syracuse will make a splash to start the season in the Battle of the Midway, opening up the slate at #20 San Diego State in a game held on an aircraft carrier. They will also take on Arkansas on the road as part of the Big East-SEC Challenge and battle Temple at Madison Square Garden in the Gotham Classic. Beyond those headliners, the usual assortment of small name schools will come calling at the Carrier Dome. However, this year’s crop features a couple teams with the chops to bite Syracuse. Among them are:
Syracuse’s last trip through the Big East will not be quite as rigorous as it has been in recent years, simply because the conference is not as strong as in recent seasons. Only three other teams from the conference were named to the preseason top 25 – #2 Louisville, #22 Notre Dame, and #24 Cincinnati.
Of course, the Orange get to bang heads with those Cardinals twice, but they do get the other two squads at home for their lone matchups. Three other Big East teams got votes in the poll – Pittsburgh, Marquette, and Georgetown. SU will visit the first two and get their longtime rival, the Hoyas, in a home-and-home set, including the finale on the road.
Most programs in the country could not withstand the loss of talent like Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Fab Melo, and Dion Waiters. Fortunately for Syracuse, they are not one of them.
While the departure of those four players leaves several large holes, there are players ready to step in. The loss of Jardine and Waiters in the backcourt is significant, but Michael Carter-Williams was a McDonald’s All-American less than 18 months ago and Trevor Cooney made the 2010 USA Men’s Under-18 gold medal-winning squad.
Yes, they lose significant experience, but Carter-Williams looks like a star in the making who will free up Brandon Triche to be more of a scorer and Cooney should give the Orange their best perimeter shooter since Andy Rautins (and the coaching staff speaks of Cooney as more the complete player Rautins was at the end of his career than just the designated shooter he was at the onset of his time in Orange).
Joseph’s departure allows C.J. Fair to step into the starting lineup and James Southerland slides into Fair’s former “first forward off the bench” role. DaJuan Coleman comes straight from high school to the starting lineup, which does not usually happen under Jim Boeheim unless the player deserves the spot.
Coleman is a bull in low post with strength well beyond the norm for his age. Rakeem Christmas has improved his strength, so he should be better serve to hold his own in the paint, and Baye Moussa Keita will be the third big man down low, a role he has filled the last two seasons. While none of them are the seven-foot shot-blocking force Melo was, they should provide strong rebounding (Coleman’s bulk and nose for the ball are keys here) and capably defend the rim (the latter two combined for nearly two blocks in less than 24 minutes per game combined last season).
The talent simply keeps coming to Syracuse. Just because it is not a parade of elite freshmen passing through on the way to the NBA does not mean they are a group that do not fit the system Boeheim operates.
There are easy questions to come up with – who becomes the lead scorer, is there a go-to- guy, can so many young players contribute in meaningful ways. The bottom line is that Jim Boeheim knows what he is doing. He has 890 wins to back it up. Look for him to collect victory #900 and pass Bob Knight on the all-time wins list as the calendar turns to 2013, then finish the campaign with around 30 victories. A trip to the Sweet Sixteen should be the minimum expectation for this talented group.Jim Stechschulte (Follow on Twitter @dsafetyguy)