Season overview — 2014-15 Syracuse basketball preview

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Jim Boeheim’s team had plenty of turnover in the offseason

The problem with starting 25-0 is things can go south very quickly. The Syracuse Orange can speak to that with firsthand experience from last year. Blending veterans and youth, SU started off the 2013-2014 season with 25 consecutive wins, including C.J. Fair leading the team on a roll through the Maui Invitational, pulled out arguably the best game of the college basketball season when they edged Duke in overtime at home, and ripped out Pitt’s heart when freshman Tyler Ennis drained a 40-footer at the buzzer.

While the victory over Duke nudged Syracuse to the top of the polls, a place they would stay for three weeks, the team soon showed cracks and began a precipitous fall. SU lost to ACC bottom-feeder Boston College, then head coach Jim Boeheim received the first ejection of his 38-year career as a head coach when a crucial call went against the Orange late in the return game at Duke. Those back-to-back losses triggered a slide where SU dropped four of their final six regular season games, then were quickly bounced from the ACC Tournament in the quarterfinals. Syracuse righted the ship with an impressive first-round win over Western Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, but they did not last the opening weekend, as they were defeated by Dayton in a game where the Orange barely made 30 percent of their shots from the field.

As they seem to do every year, the Orange went through a series of losses to the professional ranks after the season. Both Ennis and Jerami Grant opted to jump early to the NBA and both were drafted. Top scorer C.J. Fair and defensive ace Baye Moussa Keita are also gone, having completed their eligibility.

» Related: Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim reflects on walk-on days, Big East, referees

Those absences create an interesting situation for head coach Jim Boeheim. Once again, the Hall of Fame coach will have to blend a little experience with a lot of youth. Boeheim has two starters returning, as well as one of his primary bench contributors from last year. Also at his disposal are four sophomores, three who combined to score a total of 85 points and the fourth coming off a redshirt season where he did not play a meaningful game. What Boeheim also has is a small freshman class. It only numbers two players, but both head into the season as starters.

WHO’S BACK:

  • Rakeem Christmas – (senior 6’9” forward) – Christmas scored in double figures six times last season and snared double digit rebounds four times, highlighted by a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double against N.C. State. He also blocked seven shots in that game.
  • DaJuan Coleman (junior 6’9” forward) – After appearing in 13 games last season, Coleman was shut down for the season with a knee injury. Coleman is still recovering from that injury and his status for the upcoming season is unknown at this time.
  • Trevor Cooney – (redshirt junior 6’4” guard) – A first-time starter last season, Cooney hit nine three-pointers to power SU to a win over Notre Dame. He also drilled 11 triples in three days to help the Orange to the 2013 Maui Invitational title.
  • Michael Gbinije (redshirt junior 6’7” guard) – Gbinije was a key contributor off the bench, logging 20 or more minutes eight times, including four of the team’s final eight games. The swingman provided a spark by making four-of-five shots from the field off the bench against Dayton in the NCAA Tournament.
  • B.J. Johnson (sophomore 6’7” forward) – Johnson saw limited action as a freshman, playing in only ten games. He made a splash in his first game at SU, scoring seven points against Cornell.
  • Tyler Roberson (sophomore 6’8” forward) – As a freshman, Roberson saw action in 20 games, including a start against Georgia Tech. The active forward averaged over nine rebounds per 40 minutes of play.
  • Chinonso Obokoh (redshirt freshman 6’10” center) – Obokoh redshirted last season, adding upper body strength. He figures to be the backup center this season.
  • Ron Patterson (sophomore 6’2” guard) – Patterson saw playing time in ten games as a freshman and scored ten points in limited time against Binghamton.

» Related: Will another year of turnover affect Syracuse basketball?

WHO’S NEW:

  • Kaleb Joseph (freshman 6’3” guard) – Joseph is a top-50 recruit nationally and guided Cushing Academy to consecutive New England Prep School Championships. He rolled up a personal-best 37 points in one game as a senior.
  • Chris McCullough (freshman 6’10”) forward – A top-25 national recruit, McCullough averaged 22 points and nine rebounds a game at IMG Academy. McCullough was also honored as a Third-Team All-American and played in the 2014 Jordan Brand Classic.

LEADING RETURNERS:

  • POINTS: Cooney – 12.1/game
  • ASSISTS: Gbinije – 41, Cooney – 38
  • REBOUNDS: Christmas – 5.1/game
  • THREE-POINTERS: Cooney – 90
  • FG%: Christmas – 61.3%
  • FT%: Cooney – 84.1%
  • BLOCKED SHOTS: Christmas – 66
  • STEALS: Cooney – 64

PRESEASON PREDICTIONS:

  • ACC Media Poll – fifth in conference
  • AP Poll – #23
  • ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll – #24

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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