In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics in Syracuse basketball. Today’s topic: How will Syracuse do in 2012-13 without Nerlens Noel?
Wesley Cheng: Saugat, now that Nerlens Noel is taking his talents to South Bea… I mean, Kentucky, what do you think of Syracuse’s chances in the 2012-13 season?
Saugat Sen: Well it is going to be an interesting year. We are not as deep and the starting rotation is still up in the air. For example, who starts at center? Coleman? Christmas? Keita? My vote would be Christmas. He improved a lot during the season last year. Being in the middle is his natural position and you could tell he is much more comfortable there than on the wing. He was the No. 3 center on the ESPNU 100, and I think he will shine in that spot once given the chance. But then we have Coleman and Keita behind him and no real depth at wing. So Syracuse might be forced to play Christmas at forward, which I believe is not his best position.
WC: I agree. Syracuse will need some instant offense off the bench like they had this year with Dion Waiters. If they start Southerland/Fair/Christmas like in your first scenario, that leaves only Grant as a backup wing on the bench. A lineup that has Keita/Coleman with Christmas on the wing, Fair on the other wing and Southerland as the first option off the bench makes a lot more sense given their personnel. That being said, if Grant is ready to contribute right away, that could change the equation.
Let me digress a moment — what did you think of the ESPNU broadcast? I had figured from the beginning that Noel was going to Kentucky, so I was anything but “shocked” when he made his announcement. But Noel using the phrase “I’m going to take my talents to…” made me cringe. That phrase has been used to vilify Lebron James. I know that this is the ESPN world that kids grow up in, but couldn’t Noel have said something else?
SS: I see where you are coming from but I am willing to give Noel a pass. He is a kid. From everything I have seen and read, he seems to have his head set right. Doesn’t seem to be too flashy or too full of himself. And even if he was, Calipari is the perfect guy to coach him. Coach Cal reigned in guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Terrence Jones. He is the Phil Jackson of college coaches when it comes to dealing with egos.
Back to your main point, maybe Noel could’ve used a different phrase, but it didn’t bother me much. Mostly because Lebron did it as a grown man at age 25. Noel did it at as a teenager who is still in high school.
WC: That comment about Noel may just be the old man in me shaking his stick at the young whippersnappers stepping on his lawn.
Anyway, getting back to our original topic, I think Syracuse, even without Noel, can be a Final Four caliber team. That being said, many things need to happen: 1) Triche needs to become the go-to scorer; 2) Michael Carter-Williams needs to improve from his freshman to sophomore year like Melo/Waiters did; 3) One of the centers needs to develop a low post scoring game; 4) Cooney/Southerland need to become automatic from downtown; 5) CJ needs to develop into a reliable scorer. That is certainly not an exhaustive list, and SU can be a pretty good team if only three out of those five happen. What else do you think belongs on this list, and how many of them do you think will happen?
SS: That is a very good list. But let me be the pessimist and shoot down a few of those. I don’t think Triche can become the go-to scorer. We have seen him for three years now, and he isn’t the type to take over a game. He may become the go-to guy just because he is a senior, but I don’t see him as the one that takes over a game when it is on the line. Syracuse will lose four out its top six scorers next year. So I think it will once again be scoring by committee. I agree with you, Carter-Williams will need to do a Waiters-like improvement. And I strongly believe he will. I think Cooney will be instant offense. Southerland? I am not so sure but I will talk about him in a bit. Christmas showed promise towards the end of the season. I have faith. And CJ will be CJ, and that’s a good thing.
Here is a list of things I believe will happen:
1) Carter-Williams will be a star. When he got the minutes, he showed us why he was a McDonald’s All American. The guy is 6-foot-5, has a good outside shot, can handle the ball and he rebounds. He will be getting significant minutes with Scoop and Dion gone. In MCW we trust.
2) Syracuse will be a better rebounding team. Coleman takes up space and rebounds well on both ends. Carter-Williams is probably the best rebounding guard Syracuse has had in a while. CJ and Southerland were fantastic rebounders off the bench. And after last year, this team has no where to go but up.
3) A lot of next season will hinge on how much will Southerland improve. The guy can shoot, jump, and prance (he doesn’t run, he prances down the court, and it’s awesome). Yet he never seems to have the consistency needed to be a starter. If we can somehow inject him with Devendorf like cockiness/confidence, J-South can be a First Team All Big East player. Will it happen? Who knows.
What are your predictions for next year’s team?
WC: I think Syracuse has a solid regular season that results in the 23-9 range and nets them a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They go to the Sweet 16 and possibly the Elite 8. Brandon Triche leads a balanced attack in scoring at around 14 points a game, and, like you said above, Carter-Williams develops into a 13 point, 6 assist, 2 steals kind of player. Christmas and Coleman lock down the middle and become a formidable duo. What do you think happens?
SS: I think you are right on point there. The Big East will be slightly weaker next year except for Louisville and Providence. I think 25 wins and a 4 seed is a good prediction, more if we see a big improvement from Southerland and Christmas. The second weekend of the NCAA tournament would be realistic. But as an ever optimistic Orange fan, I will say this team does have what it takes to make it to the Final Four.