Syracuse Orange: The Underclassmen Every Orange Fan Should Keep an Eye on

Marc WeinreichCorrespondent IJune 12, 2012

Syracuse Orange: The Underclassmen Every Orange Fan Should Keep an Eye on

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    Man, what a year for the Syrcause Orange last season, right? From Bernie Fine to Fab Melo, it's as if no one remembers the fact that the Orange had a school-record 34 wins in 2012. Syracuse seemed to have several seasons squeezed into one.

    It kind of reminds you of the roller coaster ride another NY basketball team recently had with orange jerseys. Hint: It rhymes with Rinsanity.

    Now, all of those highlights, and lowlights, are in the past for Syracuse. Boeheim is nearing 40 years as head coach at SU and will kick off next season without a few familiar faces: Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Fab Melo and Dion Waiters.

    But he's got some underclassmen ready to shine.

    Here's a few to keep your eye on.

Rakeem Christmas

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    Rakeem Christmas took a backseat to Fab Melo last season—apparently players named Melo command some respect at SU—but with Fabio now trying to take his game to the next level at the NBA Draft in a few weeks, there will be a lot of room down low for Rakeem Christmas to show why he was one of the most talked-about big men coming out of high school for the class of 2011.

    Plus, Syracuse will need someone to fill that hole left by Melo. When he became ineligible for March Madness last season because of academic reasons, it was clear the team wasn't the same. Who knows how deep into the tournament they would've gone if they had their big man to anchor the defense down low.

    Rakeem is going to be a presence with his 7'2" wingspan. The best part about him is that despite the fact that he's big enough to bang down low with some of the bigger bodies in the league, he will still command respect from opposing centers all the way out to 15 feet from the basket, where he's shown his ability to consistently knock down jumpers. With a few head fakes, Christmas can explode to the basket like a guard and throw it down like the big man that he is.

    If Christmas can live up to the hype and play at a consistently high level, look for him to be among the leagues leading rebounders and blockers next season.

    Yes, the Orange have a lot of questions going into next season, but they have reason to be thankful, too. Christmas comes a little early this year.

    I couldn't resist the pun.

Trevor Cooney

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    Most people don't know who he is, and for good reason. Trevor Cooney redshirted his freshman year but now stands to figure into Boeheim's office in his second season on the team, with Coach scheming ways to score in bunches in the absence of Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph.

    At 6'3' and 185 pounds, Cooney isn't particularly long or big but he will show us what Boehiem saw in this guard to keep him on the team: he can score seemingly at will.

    On the 2010 USA Men's basketball Under-18 squad, Cooney scored 15 points against the U.S. Virgin Islands team en route to a 131-63 victory. And he did it in under 17 minutes.

    Is he a liability on defense sometimes? Yes, he doesn't defend laterally all too well. But that will come with time. Cooney will earn his chops this year and will be looked upon for instant offense.

Michael Carter-Williams

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    Someone is going to have to run the point with Scoop Jardine now a graduate. While the responsibility won't rest solely on Michael Carter-Williams, he will certainly figure into Boeheim's offense more than last year and will become a player to keep an eye on over the next couple of years as an up-and-coming point guard for a top-tier basketball program replete with talent guards.

    He's someone you can trust with the ball in crunch time and he shot the ball pretty well last year in his limited minutes on the court. He can also dish with ease, doesn't turn it over that often and could prove to be the best thing to happen to Rakeem Christmas. If the two can figure out a pick-and-roll, the Orange will be hard to stop.