ACC Preview: Syracuse’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 2nd, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Is Syracuse an NCAA Tournament Team?

It may seem like an odd question to ask of a Jim Boeheim team, but remember, this is only half a Boeheim team (he will be suspended for the first half of ACC play). This year’s Orange squad will have talent, as three consensus four-star recruits join a solid group of returnees (Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough are the only contributors who won’t be back). But let’s not forget another key fact, which is that last year’s team was not going to be an NCAA Tournament team (self-imposed ban notwithstanding). This year’s team will likely be better, but losing big man Christmas will place a lot of pressure on Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney to score more frequently if the frontcourt doesn’t pick up the slack.

Dajuan Coleman is the key to Syracuse's season. (photo: Kevin Rivoli / Syracuse Post-Standard)

Dajuan Coleman is the key to Syracuse’s season. (Photo: Kevin Rivoli/Syracuse Post-Standard)

The other challenge the Orange will face is the relative strength of the ACC. The league is a great bet to be improved this season (a scary thought), and Syracuse may have drawn the toughest road schedule of any team in the conference. The Orange travel to play every team expected to be in the top half of the league, save Notre Dame. Throw in a non-conference schedule with only two real chances for quality wins (at Georgetown; home versus Wisconsin), and this team could have a tough time earning enough quality road wins for the Selection Committee’s liking. Boeheim teams always win 20 games (last year was only the third time one of his teams didn’t win at least 20 games since the 1977 season); if they can simply achieve that total and those wins include at least nine conference victories, Syracuse has a great shot to return to the NCAA Tournament.

But enough about the schedule. Syracuse will need a lot from seniors Gbinije and Cooney. Cooney has showed in the past that he may be better suited for a supporting role, but the Orange will need him to assume a more substantial offensive responsibility. Gbinije looked good in conference play last season even if he joined many of his teammates in hitting a late season wall with the postseason ban looming. He will be expected to make a Christmas-esque leap to assume the mantle of go-to player this season. Kaleb Joseph never filled Tyler Ennis’ impossibly large shoes a year ago, but expect him to be better in nearly every facet of the game this winter. If he doesn’t prove capable of running the show, however, Gbinije is a good bet to assume the ball-handling duties as well.

As important as Cooney and Gbinije are, the backcourt will not be the area of the roster that ultimately decides the Orange’s postseason fate. That responsibility lies with the frontcourt, where Tyler Roberson is back for his junior season, and Dajuan Coleman, a top recruit in the Class of 2012, returns after sitting out the last two seasons with a knee injury. Coleman’s limited statistics reveal some promise as a relatively high usage low post player, and if he’s fully recovered, this team has a chance to play with the top of the league. The 23-year old is arguably the difference between a top-five NCAA Tournament seed and a February and March spent sweating the bubble.

Three freshmen are also likely to see minutes right away for the Orange, but it may be a year or two before they become big contributors. As a floor-spacing frontcourt option, Tyler Lydon has the best chance of finding extended minutes given the team’s overall lack of depth up front. Expectations for the freshmen should remain low, however, because it does take time to learn Boeheim’s famed approach to zone defense. At the end of the day, Syracuse should be one of the more interesting teams to watch in the league. Coleman should be a sleeper for all-ACC (assuming he can play significant minutes), and the Orange could be substantially improved from last season despite Christmas’ departure.

mpatton (576 Posts)

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