Before any sports season, especially in the college ranks, people are always scouring the rosters to see who has gone and who remains. And in college basketball, there’s always going to be players who graduated and players who left early for the NBA. On the other end of the spectrum, you have teams with key guys returning and hyped freshmen coming in. Usually, a team will have a mix of both.
In the past few years, Syracuse has lost a decent amount of players early to the NBA. There have been seasons where I have been concerned at the start (2012-2013 comes to mind–the Orange lost Dion Waiters, Fab Melo, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, but MCW was gold). That squad went to the Final Four. Because the Orange is consistently good, the team is used to losing big minutes and not missing a beat.
This year won’t be different in terms of players lost. SU lost Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant, C.J. Fair and Baye Moussa Keita. But this year I question whether SU can continue the winning as it has in past years. A lot of talent has left the past few years.
SU has set a precedent of overachieving when losing key players. But the team has not felt this thin since that 2012-2013 season.
If SU is to keep up the pace, it will be because of Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney. But can they handle the burden? Hopefully, they’ll receive some help.
This team has a lot of unknowns. However, that could be a positive. We don’t know how good or bad freshmen Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough will perform. And unexperienced sophomores Ron Patterson and Tyler Roberson could come out of nowhere and become breakout players. Plus, Michael Gbinije is still around to provide steady play.
Ultimately, though, Cooney and Christmas will have to fill the voids left by players who went to the NBA and graduated. They will have to step up big time as the most familiar and experienced returnees.
Christmas is a senior, and seniors are an underrated asset in these days of one-and done and two-and dones. Cooney is in his third year playing, but he is going into his fourth year with the program. They’re used to being complementary players, but that can’t be the case this year.
The freshmen also can’t simply be complementary players. Joseph is the new starting point guard, following in the footsteps of Brandon Triche and Tyler Ennis, two former freshman starting point guards. Triche and Ennis set the bar high.
So there is a bit of pressure on Joseph. Less pressure will be on McCullough to score (though his scoring would certainly help).
Because, despite the recent success of Cuse’s starting freshmen point guards, other SU freshmen haven’t necessarily lived up to their hype in Year 1. DaJuan Coleman has mostly been injured. Christmas took a few years to develop, while Waiters, Melo, Grant and MCW broke out their sophomore years, respectively.
Still, the Orange will be in a much better position in ACC play if everyone plays beyond their years.
Even with the losses, you can never count out a Jim Boeheim-coached squad. Every time I doubt Syracuse basketball, the Orange come through–especially in the last five seasons, some of the best years put together by each of Boeheim’s teams.
We’ll see if SU can uphold that standard yet again this season.