Since we last saw the Syracuse basketball team getting ousted by Marquette in the NCAA Tournament, a few things have taken place. Rival UConn took home the NCAA Championship. Syracuse football is inching closer to another bowl berth. And, oh yeah…something about an upcoming move for Orange athletics, leaving behind the Big East for the ACC.
So, while there are some who are lamenting what will be the loss of decades of rivalries, others will be wiping drool off their chins as they daydream about the likes of UNC or Duke invading the Carrier Dome for a primetime hoops matchup. No matter what side of the fence you fall on, though, it would behoove you to focus on this year’s Syracuse hoops squad. With the NBA in hibernation for now, college hoops is alone in the basketball spotlight and the Orange have one of the nation’s premier teams, carrying with it heavy expectations.
In 2003, Syracuse knew it was going to have to rely heavily on its freshman if it was going to succeed. As was needed, Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara put the team on their shoulders to capture the title.
With the 2011-12 team, coach Jim Boeheim has a great mixture of talent assembled on his roster. Despite losing double-double post man Rick Jackson, Boeheim has solid upperclassmen leadership, something seldom seen these days in the college ranks.
In fifth-year senior Scoop Jardine, Syracuse boasts one of the best guards in the Big East, despite his inconsistencies. A heady, battle-tested point guard will be invaluable when navigating through the rigors of the Big East schedule and into March.
The Orange also bring back last season’s leading scorer, senior wing man Kris Joseph. Plagued by injuries last year, Joseph still managed to average over 14 PPG and added a jump shot to his slashing offensive game.
Junior guard Brandon Triche comes off a sophomore campaign where he was asked to switch from point guard to shooting guard. And, towards the latter part of the season, Triche began shooting, and shooting well. With this trio, Syracuse brings back over 37 PPG from last season.
While many schools do not have the quality upperclassmen that Syracuse has, the big trend since Syracuse won it all in 2003 with Melo and the gang has been to win with uber-talented youth. Enter a Top 10 recruiting class for Boeheim’s bunch.
One of the top post players coming out of high school, Rakeem Christmas will vie for the starting power forward spot. Known more for his rebounding and shot-blocking ability, the McDonald’s All-American is said to be oozing athleticism.
Another McDonald’s All-American, Michael Carter-Williams is an offensive point guard who averaged 24 PPG last season in high school. At 6-foot-5, Carter-Williams has great size for the point, though he is lanky and has yet to fill out. But, just picture that wing span at the top of the 2-3 zone…
And don’t forget Trevor Cooney, the freshman sharp-shooter from Delaware who has been wowing teammates with his marksmanship in practice already. While not an All-American, Cooney should find himself in the guard rotation throughout the year.
So, the Orange have a steady diet of leaders and a nice dose of young blood. What about the glue guys? The role players? Syracuse has a handful of players who all have received significant minutes under Boeheim.
After coming nowhere near living up to the expectations coming into Syracuse, Fab Melo will look to build off a couple of solid outings towards the end of last year in hopes that his 14-point, nine-rebound outing in the preseason opener against Cal State LA might be a sign of things to come in his sophomore season.
If Melo’s performance is mellow for a second straight year, Baye Moussa Keita will once again back up Fab at center. However, this year, Keita will have the benefits of two healthy hands. Even with a bum paw last year, Keita proved he could rebound and defend at a steady output.
On the wings, mercurial (moody?) Dion Waiters can come off the bench and fill the bucket with the best of them. Now, will the sophomore keep his head on straight this year? If so, he could be a great 6th-man type weapon for the Orange.
The last of the four sophomores, C.J. Fair, seemingly outperformed his expectations. Better yet, Fair showed an uncanny knack of having a nose for the ball. Key rebound? Fair is there. Loose ball? Fair is there. He’s got a Josh Pace-like YMCA game…nothing overly flashy, just gets results.
Wait…we’re not done yet, though. In need of a 3-pointer? Maybe these guys can help you out. James Southerland’s long 6-foot-8 frame makes it easy for him to get his shot off over perimeter defenders. And, if you can stomach the maniacal pace at which Mookie Jones shoots once he’s in the game (something yours truly has trouble maintaining patience with much of the time), Jones will drop close to 40% of the shots he flings up there. Neither guy does much else well besides shoot. But, in a pinch, you know they’re sure not afraid to hoist the rock towards the basket.
Here’s a depth chart for this year’s Orange crew:
PG: Jardine, Carter-Williams
SG: Triche, Waiters, Cooney
SF: Joseph, Southerland, Jones
PF: Christmas, Fair
C: Melo, Keita
Boeheim’s got 12 guys who could all warrant playing time throughout the year. For a guy who despises going more than six, seven, (maybe) eight deep most seasons, Coach will have some tough decisions to make when it comes to possible redshirts and playing time.
Rest assured, though, Boeheim will have options. He can go big. He can small. He can go with vets. He can go with youth. He has high-end potential. He has solid contributors. He has role players to plug in.
Four starters are back. Nine of the top 10 scorers from last year return. There’s a trifecta of freshmen any program would love to welcome into the fold. For a team with 27 wins last season, Syracuse will have expectations this year. A Top 5 preseason ranking is something the Orange basketball team has not seen in a while, not since the days of Derrick Coleman and Billy Owens in 1989-90 when they were ranked #1.
How will they handle those expectations? While change engulfs the university and its athletic programs, one thing should remain constant: a 20-win season for Boeheim and the Orange. The only other certainty is that anything beyond that will have to be earned throughout a tough Big East schedule as the Orange hope their season runs through the ides of March towards a Final Four run in The Big Easy.
We all know who hoisted the trophy the last time the Final Four resided in New Orleans. As the season approaches, the prognosticators seem to think Syracuse will be one of the teams in contention to do some trophy-lifting come April.
Matt Dagostino currently works as an on-air talent and producer for Turner Sports in Atlanta. Among his responsibilities are voicing over highlights for NCAA.com, NBA.com, WNBA.com, and PGA.com. He has also served as an associate producer for TNT’s coverage of the NBA Playoffs and TBS’s coverage of the MLB Postseason. Matt also has experience as a minor league baseball play-by-play announcer and as a PA announcer in D-I college athletics.