Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #2 SyracusePosted by Dan Lyons on November 11th, 2012
In our St. John’s preview, we stated that the Johnnies went through about as much adversity as one team could in a single season. If that’s the case, Syracuse was a close second. The Bernie Fine scandal would have been enough to derail most teams, but it seemed to put a chip on the shoulder of the Orange, who spent a portion of the year ranked first in the nation after Kentucky lost at Indiana. The Fab Melo saga was harder to overcome, and came to a head in Syracuse’s Elite Eight loss to Ohio State. Syracuse lost four of its main rotation players from last season – guards Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters, forward Kris Joseph, and center Fab Melo – but look to plug in a couple of impressive underclassmen and make another run at a final Big East championship and perhaps a Final Four.
Syracuse doesn’t have too many marquee games on the non-conference slate. Their most intriguing match-up is their first game against San Diego State, which will be played on the deck of the USS Midway in San Diego on Sunday afternoon. SU also travels to Arkansas for the SEC-Big East challenge, and will take on one of the teams filling the void they are leaving in the Big East – Temple – at Madison Square Garden. In the Big East schedule, Syracuse shares home-and-homes with Villanova, Providence, Louisville, and Georgetown. The Hoyas host the Orange in their last ever Big East game, which should be one for the ages.
Syracuse lost a significant portion of its rotation from last season’s elite eight team. Point guard Scoop Jardine and forward Kris Joseph were both steadying presences in the Orange lineup for years dating back to their split Sixth Man of the Year awards following the 2009-10 season. Guard Dion Waiters made the jump to the NBA, where he was taken fourth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers following a big season coming off the bench for Boeheim. Waiters was a huge sparkplug for the Orange on both ends of the court. He was liable to score in bunches, and was among the conference leaders in steals. After a hugely disappointing freshman year, Fab Melo was a force on the inside for Syracuse last season, and had one of the most dominant defensive years of any big man in the country not named Anthony Davis.
Syracuse native DaJuan Coleman is the only true freshman to break into the starting lineup, and will spend time at both post positions along side Rakeem Christmas. Coleman was a huge priority for Jim Boeheim, Mike Hopkins, and the Syracuse staff, as he was heavily pursued by Kentucky and Ohio State, but he ultimately decided to stay with the hometown Orange. Coleman is a much more polished offensive post player than the last few big men that Jim Boeheim has brought in – Melo, Baye Keita, Christmas and others included – and should create match-up problems with his 6’9”, 288-lb frame. The other true freshman in the class is rangy forward Jerami Grant, who looks to be the prototypical Syracuse wing player and has proven to be an efficient finisher around the rim during the exhibition season. Grant probably won’t figure into the main rotation come Big East play however, as he sits behind veterans C.J. Fair and James Southerland on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman guard Trevor Cooney makes his debut this season, and should be a dangerous shooting threat off the bench for Syracuse. Assistant coach Gerry McNamara, a guy who knows a little bit about shooting, says that Cooney has one of the best shooting strokes he’s seen at the college level.
Whom to Watch
Brandon Triche will take the reins as the team’s senior leader. The four-year starter will look to provide consistent scoring and solid defense from the top of the zone. Triche is a bit of a streaky shooter; in some games he fills it up from beyond the arc, and others he rushes and leans on his shot attempts and can’t get things going. If he starts to use his big frame to take smaller guards to the hoop more often, he could have a big year. Sophomore Michael-Carter Williams will be Triche’s running mate in the backcourt, and will likely spend most of his time running the point. Carter-Williams didn’t see much time last season, but has almost limitless potential in Boeheim’s system. He protects the ball, has a good jump shot, and stands at nearly 6’6”, which is incredible length in the zone. C.J. Fair will start at the ‘3’, and could become an all-conference performer in his first year as a starter if he continues to improve his jumper. Senior James Southerland will likely come off the bench as the team’s sixth man, and brings skills that no other player on the team has. When he is hot, he is a dead-eye shooter from beyond the arc, and he may be the most athletic player on the roster. Southerland’s game has had a number of holes – in the past he’s struggled with rebounding and playing defense on the wing of the zone – but in his fourth season he may be looking at a breakout year. He could be the ‘X’ factor of this Syracuse team.
Syracuse has the talent to compete with Louisville for the conference crown, as most of the questions surrounding the Orange are regarding experience. The best case scenario involves Triche and Southerland bringing it all together and having big senior years, and getting big contributions from Carter-Williams and Coleman, both of whom will get long looks from NBA scouts this season. That team could make a run at a fourth Final Four for Jim Boeheim. In the worst case scenario, Syracuse drops a few games early, and takes a while to gel after losing four huge players from last year’s team. With all of the variables and unknown entities on this team, the Sweet Sixteen should be a realistic goal.
Dan Lyons is a writer for Rush The Court’s Big East microsite. He also contributes to Syracuse blog Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician and Ultimate Athlete Magazine. You can find Dan on Twitter@Dan_Lyons76.