ACC Preview: Syracuse’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 14th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page located here.

Can Jim Boeheim recreate last year’s magic with another freshman point guard?

Only two ACC teams in history have ever started a season better than 25-0, soo Syracuse joined the record books with its impossible start last season. But the Orange quickly crashed back to earth in February and March, going 3-6 down the stretch after picking up their first loss at home to a bad Boston College team. The finish would have been disappointing no matter the start, but the 25-game winning streak blew everyone’s expectations way out of proportion. A lot went right to get to 25-0; most importantly, Tyler Ennis was ready to take the reins from day one and improve where Michael Carter-Williams left off.

Jim Boeheim has more questions than answers heading into this season (US Presswire).

Jim Boeheim has more questions than answers heading into this season (US Presswire).

It might have been the perfect start that gave Ennis the chance to be one-and-done instead of staying two or even three years. He got reams of national coverage and his draft stock rose with each win as Carter-Williams flourished in the NBA. His good fortune leaves Boeheim in a familiar but risky situation, though, needing to start again from scratch with freshman Kaleb Joseph asked to handle the point guard duties. Last year’s frontcourt stars Jerami Grant and CJ Fair also left for the NBA, but those losses will be countered, at least partially, by consensus top-25 recruit Chris McCullough. McCullough and Rakeem Christmas will comprise a solid ACC frontcourt, and even though it’s hard to know how quickly McCullough will learn the defensive schemes, his reputation as a transition scorer along with Syracuse’s general lack of frontcourt depth means he’ll play right away. Dajuan Coleman would be a huge asset this season, but he’s still recovering from knee surgery. If Coleman can’t go, Christmas has to learn to cut down on his fouls because Boeheim will need him to play 30 minutes per game. Sophomore Tyler Roberson will also see some time, but his offense leaves much to be desired.

Part of what made Syracuse so good last season was the defense in its backcourt. Ennis excelled in locking down the front of the 2-3 zone (he ranked among the top 40 nationally in steal percentage, per Ken Pomeroy). Joseph will need to find his defensive role on the team in addition to running the offense. Lightning may strike in the same spot twice, but the odds of Joseph fitting in as quickly as Ennis did — especially without a preseason favorite for ACC Player of the Year on the team — are slim. Another question is how Trevor Cooney will adapt to his new, more important role. Syracuse will rely on him for scoring this year, and not as the third option but as the first. He’s the best shooter in the ACC and runs off screens as well as anyone, but teams will be keying on Cooney this year, which could really hurt his production.

When all is said and done, there’s still plenty of talent in upstate New York and Jim Boeheim teams always find ways to win. That won’t change. There are a few non-conference challenges on the schedule (notably games at Michigan and at Villanova), but the rest of the early slate will likely go down as wins. After six straight 25-win seasons, though, this might be the year Syracuse falls back into the pack. Look for the Orange to comfortably make the Big Dance again, but flirt with the middle of the ACC standings, especially if the recent NCAA hearing begins to pose a big distraction.

mpatton (576 Posts)

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