Orange Watch: Can Syracuse basketball duplicate last year’s victory total despite distractions?

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Syracuse has lost several pieces from last year’s team

Item: Heading into last season, Jim Boeheim needed to average 27 wins a year to reach the unthinkable 1000 victory mark by the end of the 2015-16 campaign, potentially ending an even 40 year Orange head coaching career while culminating with a final go-round next to Mike Krzyzewski at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Last year’s team went one better with 28 wins, albeit dwarfed by losing six of the last nine and an early NCAA Tournament exit. Now, while the end is nearing the NCAA’s prolonged program investigation, a lineup featuring three new starters takes aim on year two in the ACC.

Only a couple of matters remain certain as Orange Nation can merely wait to find out what the NCAA has on the basketball program following its multi-year, molasses-paced, inquiry dating back to the ill-fated 2012 season which ended with a disappointing Elite Eight round loss to Ohio State, with some NCAA nuggets revealed to promote the upcoming release and book signing schedule of Coach Boeheim’s much discussed memoir “Bleeding Orange,” including the academic travails of Fab Melo during that ’12 season.

While conjecture runs rampant in the instantaneous world of Tweets, texts, and online forums, just a select few people know the depth of the Syracuse transgressions in the eyes of the NCAA’s infractions committee, and the level with which the university cooperated with the organization’s investigators, although it’s clear that with an upcoming hearing scheduled it’s likely at least a Level I or Level II violation of the rules which seemingly could lead to sanctions that run the gamut of what’s being thrown about – including recruiting restrictions and forfeiture of wins, which could lessen Boeheim’s current mark of 948 victories.

» Related: Boeheim mum on NCAA investigation, Syracuse looks forward to season

The visual of Boeheim waving off the NCAA hearing question at last week’s media day event at the Melo Center brought back memories of the coach keeping it close to the vest at the pre-NCAA Tournament press conference in Pittsburgh in 2012, insisting that Fab Melo hadn’t let him or the team down two days after he was ruled ineligible for the second time that season, subsequently ending his two year Orange career and hurting the ‘Cuse bid for the Final Four that would instead surprisingly come a season later.

As Boeheim mandated preseason questions be directed solely towards this year’s under-the-radar team, the obvious one centers around how freshmen Chris McCullough up front, and Kaleb Joseph running the attack, along with sophomore Tyler Roberson mesh with Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas as the starting group, backed by utility man Michael Gbinije, B.J. Johnson, and Chinonso Obokoh and perhaps Ron Patterson, along with the huge unknown of Dajuan Coleman.

You basically have to go back to the fall of 2002 when Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara brought massive speculation as to how much impact two freshmen starters would have on another unheralded team that had it lost its leading scorer and rebounder (Preston Shumpert) from the previous year.

The pre-conference schedule is tricky for this young team, and the Orange aren’t going to be one of the preseason league favorites when ACC media day is held next week at Charlotte, where no doubt the NCAA inquiry will be bandied about by the national and regional media on hand.

However, in 38 years Coach Boeheim has averaged just a notch under 25 victories a year, so there’s a starting point to gauge where this year’s new-look group should aim. That pace would keep Boeheim right on target for hitting 1000 wins in 2016, provided the NCAA doesn’t have something to say about his career first.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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