Five things Syracuse basketball needs to do to compete next season

Assuming Jerami Grant bolts for the NBA, Trevor Cooney is going to be the centerpiece of the Syracuse Orange offensive attack next season. Behind him, Syracuse has a plethora of unproven young guys, and no-flash role players. Can they succeed? And if so, how?

1. Get Cooney Open

Despite his shooting struggles late in the season, Cooney still shot 37.5 percent for the season from three. That’s only 1.4% worse than Gerry McNamara as a sophomore. McNamara’s percentage proceeded to drop in each of his next two seasons because he was forced to shoot too much off of the dribble at a variety of tough angles.

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Syracuse will need to find more open shots for Cooney

Cooney was forced into similar situations at times this season, which accounted for a lot of his struggles. When he was able to get open off of a screen, and square his body, he was much more effective. Counting on Cooney to knock down a high percentage of shots, without plays designed to get him open is foolish. Even the great G-Mac didn’t really pull it off.

Of course McNamara was forced to take those shots because there wasn’t anyone else to set up the offense.

» Related: A look ahead to the 2014-15 Syracuse team

2. Follow the Ennis Point Guard Model

Cooney will have Kaleb Joseph. If Kaleb is smart, he watched Tyler Ennis very carefully and learned that to be a successful point guard on the collegiate level, especially as a freshman, the key is to limit your mistakes. Only time will tell if Joseph has Ennis’ flare for the dramatic, but by all accounts he is a solid point guard who can control an offense.

As the team’s floor leader, Joseph will need to find Cooney in the spots that give him the best opportunity to score. He’ll also need to make sure the Orange maximize a weapon they rarely used this year.

3. Feed the Post

Three out of this year’s Final Four Teams have dominant post players. That’s not a coincidence. Feed the post and you get easy buckets, put other teams in foul trouble, and most importantly, open up your shooters. Yes it all comes back to Cooney.

If Rakeem Christmas continues to show improvement on his hook shot, DaJuan Coleman comes back healthy and in shape, and Chris McCullough pans out to be the low-post threat he’s being billed as, there’s no way Cooney can’t get open looks.

Get any of those three guys the ball down low and make the defense collapse. If they don’t, make them pay. This is such a critical part of well-rounded basketball that has been missing for the Orange the last few seasons. Especially, this past season when it seemed getting a bucket was impossible in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Pressure the High Post

Those big men will have another job to do, and it will be the key to the 2-3 zone. As the ACC coaches adjusted to the zone this season, Syracuse went on a downward spiral. The biggest weakness was the high post.
Opponents found the hole and exploited it time and time again. The only way that changes is for the big guys to step up further in the zone, forcing the 2-1-2 match-up zone that it used to look like with Fab Melo, and before that with Rick Jackson patrolling the middle.

We all know coach Jim Boeheim is not going to abandon the zone, but just as quickly as ACC teams adapted to it, the Orange will need to counter. The good news is there should be depth on the front line this year for Boeheim to use to throw different looks at opponents.

» Related: What happened to a once 25-0 Syracuse team?

5. Stay Healthy

Speaking of which, injuries cannot be overlooked as a major reason the Orange struggled at the end of the season. Health is even more important next season, especially in the backcourt. Beyond Cooney and Joseph, there isn’t much that we know yet. BJ Johnson and Bus Patterson are likely going to be good role players and eventually more, but for now they are an unproven commodity that is not ready to step up should one of the starters go down.

If Syracuse can cover all five keys for success next season, they should win 20 games again, an annual tradition, and potentially make some noise. I don’t think they will be as good as this year’s squad, and if they don’t stick to the plan, I fear they could be a whole lot worse.

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Matt Goodman

About Matt Goodman

Matt worked for the Westchester Journal News, covering a variety of sports. He has also covered Syracuse University basketball from 2003-05 in both online and print. Matt graduated from Syracuse University in 2004 and currently resides in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @mattgoodman44.
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