An early look at the 2016-17 Syracuse basketball team

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Gbinije and Cooney are among two players to move on

With the basketball offseason officially underway, here’s a quick look at the 2016-17 Syracuse basketball team:

WHO’S OUT: Syracuse will lose a pair of fifth-year seniors and its starting backcourt in Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije. Gbinije was SU’s most consistent player all season, leading the team with 17.5 points per game and 4.3 assists per game, and was in double figures in all of SU’s game this season. Cooney, who endured one of the worst shooting stretches of his career to close the regular season (a combined 9 for 44 from the field in his last four games), resuscitated his legacy by becoming the only SU player ever to appear in two Final Four games. His 22 points in his final appearance against UNC kept the game from being a rout.

Syracuse also loses sophomore point guard Kaleb Joseph, who will transfer. After appearing in every game as a freshmen, Joseph fell out of Jim Boeheim’s tight rotation once conference play started, as Boeheim opted instead to go with freshmen Frank Howard in his place. Joseph appeared in 17 games this season, played just 6.7 minutes per game, and finished the season averaging 0.9 points while shooting 17.9 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from 3.

The Orange will also lose Chinoso Obokoh, who will be graduating early and be immediately available to play at another progrm. He was unable to crack the Syracuse rotation, despite the lack of depth at the center position. Obokoh played just 67 minutes this year, down from 89 in his first season.

WHO MAY BE OUT: Syracuse’s sensational freshmen, Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson, were two of the most important cog in the Orange’s improbable run to Houston. Richardson finished second on the team in scoring at 13.4 points per game, and lifted the Orange to the Midwest Regional Championship with 23 points against Virginia. He shot a solid 35 percent from downtown, though just 36 percent from the field.

Meanwhile, Lydon finished with 20 blocks during the NCAA Tourney, and perhaps the second most memorable block in SU history to lift the Orange past Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. Both should at least test the draft waters, though Lydon has already stated he’s coming back for his sophomore season. Richardson, immediately following the UNC loss, declined any comment about his future.

WHO’S IN:

  • Tyus Battle: The highly touted combo guard from New Jersey averaged 19.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.7 steals per game in his senior season at St. Joseph. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Jersey, and figures to compete for a starting spot right away.
  • Matt Moyer: The spindly Moyer fits the classic wing build of a Syracuse recruit at 6’8″ and 215 pounds. How much playing time he gets depends on if Lydon returns and if SU adds another big man for the 2016 class. He was also named the Gatorade POY in Connecticut.
  • Paschal Chukwu: The 7-2 center was forced to sit out a season due to NCAA transfer rules. The former Providence product’s sheer size alone will help shore up what was at times a leaky back line, especially in the rebounding department.

» Related: Syracuse’s dream run ends in nightmare against North Carolina

WHO MAY BE IN:

Syracuse has been aggressive in recruiting 2016 big man Taurean Thompson, though it is competing with Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and Kansas for his services. The Orange has also shown interest in Scotland Performance Institute (PA) big man Cheickna Dembele.

If Richardson doesn’t return, and with Joseph transferring, the Orange will also need to bolster its backcourt depth. Columbia graduate transfer Grant Mullins may be an option. He averaged 13.3 points on 43.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 31.1 minutes per game. Syracuse contacted him in late March along with Michigan, California and Hawaii.

WHO’S BACK:

  • DaJuan Coleman: In his first full healthy season in two years, Coleman’s production was predictably a mixed bag. Though he started all of SU’s games, he was frequently pulled in favor of Lydon for long stretches of time. If the Orange can get more production inside from Coleman next season, that would certainly be a bonus.
  • Tyler Roberson: The “plugged in” version of Roberson was there throughout the NCAA Tournament, averaging 11.2 rebounds in five contests. He’ll need that kind of consistency for Syracuse next season. Adding a jumper wouldn’t hurt, either.
  • Franklin Howard: The freshman point guard displayed plenty of potential, especially in the second half of the season. He will certainly be in the running for the team’s starting point guard spot next season, though he will need to work on his shooting for the next few months.
  • Malachi Richardson: If Richardson does indeed return, he will be looked at as the team’s primary offensive option. He’s never been shy about shooting, and this role should suit him well.
  • Tyler Lydon: With Chukwu eligible to play again, Lydon can return more to his natural wing position. A front line of Chukwu (7-2), Lydon (6-8) and Roberson (6-8) sounds tantalizing. If Lydon returns, he will be one of the team’s top scoring options, as well.

EARLY MVP: As mentioned above, the job of go-to scorer will be Richardson’s role next season. He was third on the team with 412 field goals attempted last season, and will absorb the shots left behind by Gbinije and Cooney.

EARLY MIP: Howard found a role in Boeheim’s rotation late last season, and will certainly improve on his 1.6 ppg and 1.8 apg output. “Frank Howard made some of the best passes we’ve seen in years here,” Boeheim said following SU’s win against Georgia Tech. “When he stops shooting 10-foot floaters, he’ll stay in the game.”

EARLY DARK HORSE: When Syracuse landed Battle, he said this to ESPN: “They told me I could be a versatile guard who could have the ball in my hands a lot.” You can only score if you have the basketball in your hands, and that will immediately position Battle to be one of SU’s top scorers.

BURNING QUESTIONS:

  1. Will Richardson and Lydon return? The two freshmen coming back would go a long way to helping SU return to the Final Four.
  2. How good will Chukwu be? Of course, he is a perfect fit for the zone because of his size. But he was used sparingly as a freshmen, and hasn’t played in a year.
  3. Who will replace Cooney and Gbinije’s production? Certainly Richardson and Lydon can, but if they don’t return, that places a huge burden on Battle, Howard and Roberson to be scorers.
  4. Who will start at point guard? Assuming that everyone returns, it seems the starting lineup will be Coleman, Lydon, Roberson and Richardson. Will Howard or Battle be the point guard?
  5. Will Syracuse add Thompson, Dembele or Mullins (or anyone else)? Backcourt depth seems to be the bigger concern, but adding another capable big man wouldn’t hurt.

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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