Syracuse enters the 2015-2016 basketball season facing a long list of circumstances they have not experienced before. Due to NCAA decision, the team has lost a handful of scholarships, creating to a shorter roster. Head coach Jim Boeheim will spend the first nine games of ACC play away from the team due to suspension, meaning Mike Hopkins will get a trial run for a month. Oh, and Boeheim established a timeline for his retirement, giving himself three more seasons at the helm before handing the reins to Hopkins permanently.
On the floor, the team comes into the season in the very unusual spot of having not made the postseason at the end of the previous campaign. While the team removed itself from all postseason play as a punishment in an effort to gain leniency from the NCAA, the team was much more likely to be headed to the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament. Sporting an 18-13 overall record and a 9-9 conference mark, the team would have been the #8 seed in the ACC tournament and maybe would have won a game before getting bounced.
That level of accomplishment came with center Rakeem Christmas powering the team by performing beyond almost all measure last season. Christmas, who had 504 points in his first three seasons at SU, rolled up 542 points as a senior en route to posting averages of 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. His rewards? He was named both ACC First Team and Third Team All-American, then had his name called as an NBA second-round draft pick.
The Orange will move on without Christmas and fellow NBA draftee Chris McCullough, who had his lone season on campus ended prematurely by a knee injury. The squad will, however, add three freshmen to a core featuring four players who each started at least 19 games and logged over 800 minutes apiece. All of that experience comes from guards and forwards, leaving a big question in the middle of the 2-3 zone. It remains to be seen if there is a big answer.
- Dajuan Coleman (senior 6’9” center) – Coleman returns to the active roster after sitting out all of last season and over half of the prior season. As a sophomore two seasons ago, Coleman showed a developing inside game to pair with his strong rebounding prowess (12.6 boards per 40 minutes).
- Trevor Cooney – (redshirt senior 6’4” guard) – Cooney looks for a bounceback season after his shooting suffered after being thrust into a primary scoring role. The guard’s field
goal shooting slid last season, dropping from 40.4% to 36.1% overall and from 37.5% to 31.3% on three-pointers from two years ago.
- Michael Gbinije (redshirt senior 6’7” guard/forward) – Gbinije was a swiss army knife for the Orange in his first extended playing time, finishing in the top ten in the ACC in seven different categories. He also topped 20 points on four occasions, including a career-high 27 points against Duke.
- Tyler Roberson (junior 6’8” forward) – Roberson developed nicely in ACC play after being thrust into the lineup after Chris McCulloch was injured. As a sophomore, he had three double-doubles, including a 19-point, ten-rebound effort against Duke and a 16-point, 12-rebound game against NC State.
- Chinonso Obokoh (junior 6’9” center) – Obokoh saw his first action for SU last year, but it was very limited, as he logged only 89 minutes in 13 games.
- Kaleb Joseph (sophomore 6’3” guard) – Joseph started most of the season, but was an up-and-down performer, including making only 20.0% of his three-point shots, but logging a double-double against Villanova. The point guard also handed out seven assists or more in seven games.
- Paschal Chukwu (sophomore 7’2” center) – Chukwu must sit out this season as a transfer from Providence, where he averaged 2.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks in just under ten minutes per game.
- Franklin Howard (freshman 6’4” guard) – A top 100 recruit nationally, Howard is an athletic shooting guard who is trying to develop his point guard skills.
- Tyler Lydon (freshman 6’8” forward) – Also a top 100 national recruit, Lydon played on the 2014 USA Under-18 FIBA Americas gold medal-winning team.
- Malachi Richardson (freshman 6’6” guard) – Richardson is the highest-rated of the three Syracuse freshmen, being ranked in the top 35 of their recruiting class. Richardson also played in the Jordan Brand Classic Game following his senior year of high school.
Head coach Jim Boeheim noted in the run-up to the season that the Syracuse offense will be much more reliant on the three-point shot than it has been in seasons past and it certainly appears that way from the two exhibition games where the Orange put up 61 treys. That plays into the strength of the team, which lies in its experienced backcourt comprised of Trevor Cooney and Mike Gbinije. Cooney’s reputation is as an outside shooter, as evidenced by his 464 three-point attempts as a starter in the last two seasons and over two-thirds of his career field goal attempts coming from outside the arc, but he is capable of showing off a more rounded-out game. Last season, Cooney averaged 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game and should be able to do the same, if not better, this season. While Michael Gbinije came to SU as a small forward, he will close his time there mostly as a point guard. Gbinije proved he can do a lot of different things in ACC play last year, averaging 14.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.1 steals per conference contest. It will be interesting to see if his summer experience with the Afrobasket title-winning Nigerian national team (the championship comes with an Olympic berth) builds his confidence.
Whichever spot Gbinije is not playing is likely to be filled by one of two players. When Gbinije is at the small forward, last year’s starting point guard, Kaleb Joseph, will return to that spot. Joseph returns for his sophomore season stronger and with an improved shooting stroke. If his improvement is for real (he made five three-pointers in exhibition play), he will allow Boeheim to have a lot of options with his short roster. Freshman Malachi Richardson is expected to start (he did in both exhibition games) and play extensive minutes at small forward for the Orange. A strong perimeter shooter, Richardson is expected to benefit from open looks allowed by defenses focusing on his veteran teammates.
The fourth starter from last year who returns to the Orange is Tyler Roberson. Roberson was in the lineup when last season got underway, slid to the bench for a handful of games,
then returned to the starting lineup when Chris McCulloch was injured. Roberson evolved from an energy guy to a more polished player over the course of the season and averaged 8.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in ACC play.
After missing essentially the last season-and-a-half, Dajuan Coleman will be the man in the middle replacing Rakeem Christmas. Coleman’s health, however, is a looming question. When he played during his first two seasons on campus, Coleman was a load inside whose strengths lied in his offensive play near the basket, including pounding the glass. Coleman has remade his body, which should help him reduce stress on his knee and be more of a defensive presence on the inside of the 2-3 zone. Chinonso Obokoh will back up Coleman at center. Raw on offense, Obokoh showed some rebounding acumen in limited action last year, grabbing at least three rebounds in all five games where he logged at least ten minutes of action.
Two additional freshmen will be in the mix, including Franklin Howard, who rounds out the backcourt. Howard is more of a shooting guard or combo guard who, while an excellent athlete who can slash to the rim and knock down the open shot, also needs to improve his playmaking ability. The other freshman, Tyler Lydon, is more of a wild card. Lydon is an athletic 6’8” forward whose strong shooting will allow him to be used in a variety of positions. Lydon, however, needs to add strength and could have issues matched up with bigger, stronger opponents.