Season In Review: Syracuse OrangePosted by mlemaire on May 16th, 2013
The 2012-13 college basketball season for the Syracuse Orange was nothing if not entertaining to watch and follow. Hopes were high after the team rattled off 18 wins in its first 19 games including a gutty road win over then-No.1 Louisville. The optimism faded quickly as off-the-court issues sprung up again, the team lost seven of its final 12 regular season games, and some began to wonder whether the Orange had quit. Of course the Orange made those people look foolish in the Big East Tournament by reaching the title game and then made the doubters really eat crow by cruising with relative ease all the way to the Final Four before losing to Michigan. The team heads for the ACC next season and coach Jim Boeheim’s future remains murky, but for now, Orange fans have reason to walk a little taller these days.
Everyone agreed that the Orange were at least a half-class below Louisville in the preseason conference pecking order, especially considering they had lost three of their four leading scorers from a year ago and one of the conference’s best defenders in big man Fab Melo. Despite all of that, expectations were still high for the Orange who had plenty of talent to fill the holes and now had a year of college basketball experience. Both the coaches and our microsite picked the Orange to finish second in the conference and while the regular season didn’t shake out that way, the NCAA Tournament vindicated our predictions.
Even if you didn’t watch any Syracuse basketball you could still say that Syracuse’s defense was excellent and feel good about your chances of being right. Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense has become famous, but this year’s team was particularly well-suited for it. There may not have been a longer and more athletic team in the country than Syracuse and opponents did not enjoy trying to score against that zone, just ask Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen or Marquette in the Elite Eight. The Orange’s team defense is the reason the team made it all the way to the Final Four. If you are one who likes to nitpick, you could point out that Michael Carter-Williams turned the ball over too much and has a long way to go before he becomes a shooting threat. That still won’t change the fact that MCW (11.9 PPG, 7.3 APG, 39.9% FG) was one of the best players in the entire country and a big reason why Syracuse was so successful this year. He was a difference-maker on both ends of the floor and in every facet of the game and opponents should be glad he has moved on to the NBA. Efficient senior seasons from Brandon Triche and James Southerland helped the Orange get over the rough stretches of the season and junior C.J. Fair (14.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 47.0% FG) came into his own this season, especially in the NCAA Tournament when he was a two-way monster for the Orange.
Even when Syracuse wins, there are still plenty of negatives worth mentioning. Senior James Southerland played a part in the team’s struggles by getting suspended for failing to keep his academics in order and without his outside shooting and ability to space the floor, the offense had its struggles and moments when it relied almost solely on the playmaking of Carter-Williams. It’s not fair that he was saddled with such large expectations in the first place, but prized freshman DaJuan Coleman did not have the kind of rookie season many expected to help out. Expected to fill some of Melo’s sizable void, Coleman showed flashes of potential but watched his playing time dwindle as the season advanced, proving suspect on the defensive end and a project on the offensive end.There is no real reason for concern yet, but the Orange need Trevor Cooney to step up and become the three-point shooting specialist for this team next season, that’s why he was recruited and that’s how he will find minutes. He shot just 26.7 percent from downtown this season and was a non-factor in too many important games. He has too much talent to continue to struggle this much, but he will need to be ready to play better next season or else he might find himself glued on Boeheim’s bench.
There was a point during the season when many thought this might be Jim Boeheim’s last season at his alma mater, but after another Final Four appearance, it appears as if Boeheim’s competitive spirit has taken over and he will return. And as long as he is in charge, the program’s future will always look strong. Losing Carter-Williams to the NBA was practically a foregone conclusion by the end of the regular season, and Syracuse will miss him, but no one will be losing any sleep over his decision. The more impactful decision was C.J. Fair figuring he should return to school for his senior season. Fair has NBA athleticism and length, but he really only scratched the surface of his ability this season and he should be a star in the ACC as the team’s clear No. 1 scoring option next season. Both Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita return to anchor the frontcourt and rising sophomores Coleman and Jerami Grant should be better with a year of experience under their belt. Don’t forget newly eligible Duke transfer Michael Gbinije, a 6’7″ athletic wing with lots of potential. The big question will be who handles the ball and runs the offense now that Carter-Williams and Triche are gone, but luckily the Orange are bringing in one of the five best high school point guards in the country in five-star recruit Tyler Ennis. Ennis is good enough to be handed the reins of this team from the start of the season, although Syracuse may experience some growing pains as he learns. The rest of the recruiting class adds depth and athleticism to the wings, including versatile forward Tyler Roberson, the other prized recruit in the class. They probably won’t be the favorite, but this team has the talent to compete for the ACC title in its first season in the league.