Rumors are swirling that the NCAA may finally announce the outcome of its investigation into the Syracuse University athletic program, and sanctions may be looming. How will this affect the Syracuse men’s basketball lineup over the next several seasons?
First, let’s start with what the sanctions might be. It’s possible that Syracuse will lose scholarships, but it’s unlikely they will be from next year’s team. It’s more likely that Syracuse will lose one or two scholarships in the 2016-2017 season. If there is a post-season ban it could come possibly as early as this season.
So, if Syracuse keeps all of their scholarships for next season, what will the team look like? Rakeem Christmas, as the team’s lone senior, is the only member of this year’s team guaranteed to not return in 2015-2015. As a potential ACC Player of the Year and 1st round NBA draft pick, he will leave a giant hole at center for Syracuse next season.
For months, the presumed replacement for Christmas was 6’10’’ Thomas Bryant, the 28th ranked 2015 recruit in the RSCI. Syracuse does not currently have a scholarship to offer Bryant, but head coach Jim Boeheim alluded to a fifth “mystery recruit” last July who would join the four high school seniors who have already signed letters of intent.
Most assumed that Bryant, a Rochester native, was that mystery recruit. But after presumed one-and-done Chris McCullough tour his ACL and saw his NBA draft stock drop from the middle of the 1st round to the early part of the 2nd, it’s not clear how Syracuse will open up a scholarship for Bryant.
McCullough was never as likely to leave early as many assumed. Players of his high school rank have historically gone pro after their freshman year 7 percent of the time. Historical precedents actually give a higher likelihood that another player will leave early for other reasons, either playing overseas like Eric Devendorf, transferring, or being dismissed from the team.
So, what happens if McCullough stays? Assuming Bryant wants to attend SU, the team will find a way to make it happen. The most likely outcome is that another player, such as BJ Johnson or Ron Paterson, will transfer.
Both of these players will be hard pressed to find playing time next season. Incoming freshmen Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson will take up time at the small forward position where Johnson is trying to establish himself. Incoming freshman Frank Howard was recruited to play point guard and will likely play the back-up minutes behind Kaleb Joseph that Patterson has managed to find this season. Richardson will also compete for minutes at the shooting guard.
There’s also a non-zero chance that an upperclassman leaves early. Michael Gbinje would be a senior this season if not for sitting out a year after his transfer from Duke. He might decide to pursue a professional playing career, if not in the U.S. then in Europe.
But let’s assume that no one on the current team leaves, and Syracuse is unable to land Bryant. Kentucky, always a hot destination for recruits, has been giving Syracuse a run for Bryant recently, anyway. What then?
Syracuse will need to hope that Dajuan Coleman has recovered sufficiently from his knee injury to occupy the middle of the zone. The only other option on the roster would be junior Chinoso Obokoh. Obokoh has played increased minutes after McCullough’s season-ending injury, but he has looked far from ready to occupy the starting center spot.
A dark horse for the center position – particularly if Coleman is limited – is incoming freshman Moustapha Diagne. Diagne has played center in high school and possesses a capable offensive arsenal, but at 6’8’’ and weighting considerably less than Coleman, he would be undersized for a college center.
In contrast to the questions on the front line, Syracuse’s backcourt should be more experienced than it has been in years. Kaleb Joseph will return at the starting point guard spot, and sharpshooter Trevor Cooney will play the 2 in his senior season.
Michael Gbinije will have the capability to spell either Joseph or Cooney, but it will be less necessary with Howard and Richardson joining the team. This will allow Gbinije to flourish in his natural small forward position. Richardson, who has a similar skillset to Gbinije, will likely split time backing up him up at the 3 or giving Cooney a rest at shooting guard.
All in all, you can expect a starting lineup of Joseph, Cooney, Gbinije, McCullough and Bryant. Coleman will replace Bryant off the bench while Tyler Roberson gives McCullough a rest when needed. With the addition of the other four highly touted freshmen, it has the makings for one of SU’s deepest teams in recent memory.
But what about the following season, when Syracuse is more likely to lose scholarships? In 2016-2017, Syracuse will have lost Cooney and Gbinije to graduation. Only one recruit, Ohio native Matt Moyer, has committed to the Orange for the 2016 class.
If Syracuse loses two scholarships, that would mean they would need to take one from a current scholarship player, all else being equal. But assuming McCullough’s knee rehabilitation goes well, he will likely have departed to the NBA after next season, if not this one. That leaves Syracuse even.
Would Syracuse then be done for the 2016 class? Syracuse has continued to recruit at least 5 players in ESPN’s top 60 for 2016, including No. 2 Harry Giles and No. 15 Tyus Battle.
Given historic precedent, it’s like that Syracuse will find a way to make room for this level of recruit if they are willing to journey to upstate New York. There are a few ways this could happen, even if Syracuse lands Bryant. Multiple players could transfer between now and then. There is also the possibility of a player turning pro unexpectedly. Not many analysts thought Tyler Ennis would be in the NBA this season.
Regardless, Syracuse is well prepared to weather the loss of scholarships. The Orange will continue to be a power both on the court and on the recruiting trail in the years to come.