It is highly unlikely that any team will ever repeat what Syracuse accomplished in the 2016-2017 season. The team, which banned itself from postseason play the year prior (and was likely an NIT team without that ban), knew going into the season that they would be without head coach Jim Boeheim for its first nine conference games. It was expected to finish below the middle of the pack in the ACC, a reasonable projection for a team that lost an all-conference big man and had trouble scoring with him the year previous.
The team started hot, though, winning its first half dozen games, including beating a pair of ranked teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament over Thanksgiving. After the Orange lost their first game, the NCAA then upheld their suspension of Boeheim, only making it start immediately, six games earlier than originally expected. Mike Hopkins coached in Boeheim’s place, but the team went 4-5 in that span.
SU struggled to a 9-9 conference record, marked by some strong performances and puzzling losses, then had their rally fall short against Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament. The Orange squeaked into the NCAA Tournament with a 19-13 record as a ten-seed and turned their season around, reaching the Final Four before bowing out, the fifth time Boeheim had guided the Orange that far in the postseason.
That team is long gone, though, as forward Malachi Richardson and do-everything guard Michael Gbinije were both selected in the NBA draft. Trevor Cooney, who stands third in school history in three-pointers made, also graduated, leaving just two returning starters. Those two will be joined by a pair of graduate student transfers, a couple of last year’s reserves expecting larger roles on the team, and three incoming freshmen who are consensus top-100 recruits.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Syracuse Orange this season will be how Jim Boeheim blends together all of his talent. There are returning starters, transfers from other major programs, maturing returning reserves who should be in line for larger roles, and talented freshmen, all to be molded together.
At the same time, the roster offers lots of positional flexibility. Tyler Lydon played both forward spots and center last season, while both Andrew White and Tyus Battle offer the ability to play either top line of the zone at guard or at forward on the baseline. If the Orange want to go big, they can play Paschal Chukwu between Lydon and Tyler Roberson (or Taurean Thompson) down low with White and Frank Howard at the top of the zone. If the game dictates the need for three-point shooting, Boeheim can put John Gillon, White, Battle, and Tyler Lydon on the floor with another big man.
In short, Jim Boeheim is fortunate to have a very talented, versatile group for his next-to-last go-around. Should the group be able to blend its returning core with a handful of contributing new faces, the team should be quite successful. The ACC will be a meat grinder, as always, and if the team finishes fifth, as they were voted in the media poll, that is not a shame. That should also be good enough to win over 20 games before the end of the regular season, meaning the team will have a better than last year’s squad. Of course, getting to the Final Four again will be a stretch, but the Sweet Sixteen is a fair expectation for the 2016-2017 Syracuse Orange, especially knowing they have the capability to achieve even more.