The Syracuse Orange men's basketball team is coming off one of the best seasons in program history. Although they lost four key contributors, there are plenty of reasons to think the Orange will still enjoy similar success in 2012-13.
Last season’s stellar regular season was mostly overshadowed by the Bernie Fine saga and repeatedly interrupted by Fab Melo drama. Even so, head coach Jim Boeheim and his staff did a masterful job of keeping players focused amongst the media storm in central New York.
With that hopefully behind them, the Orange look to extend their success further into the postseason in their last dance with the Big East before leaving for the ACC.
The Orange enjoyed a deeply talented roster, utilizing as many as 10 players throughout last season. With Dion Waiters now playing in Cleveland, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph in Boston and Scoop Jardine vying for a free-agent workout or NBDL contract, Boeheim’s talented but youthful replacements should be able to fill the voids seamlessly.
At point guard, fan-favorite Jardine capped his college career by leading his team in assists with 4.9 per contest. Unfortunately, Jardine also led the team in turnovers (2.3 per game). This will be the position of greatest improvement this season for the Orange.
His replacement, Michael Carter-Williams, showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman last season both as a scorer and distributor. Williams has excellent court vision and knows when to thread the needle and when to make the smart decision.
Although his minutes were limited, his 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio was best on the team and shadows the 2.1 Jardine posted. The 6’5”, 2011 McDonald’s All-American is taller, longer and faster than Jardine with the ability to explode to the rim and embarrass whoever may lie beneath.
Defensively, his length and quickness will fit nicely at the top of the 2-3 zone. Last year Williams’ steal-per-minute rate was just a fraction behind Waiters, the top thief of the Orange.
Williams will be joined at the top of the zone by senior guard Brandon Triche. The lone senior in the projected starting five, Triche will provide important leadership to the younger players and has shown the ability to come up big in clutch situations. He’s a good shooter who takes quality shots and uses his muscular 200-plus-pound body to absorb contact in the lane.
His statistics have remained pretty consistent, averaging about 10 points, three rebounds and three assists per game throughout his first three years. But Orange fans can—and Boeheim will—look for Triche to improve on those numbers in his heightened role as the senior leader.
Taking over for Joseph at forward, C.J. Fair will also be looked to for his experience and veteran leadership. While not as good of a shooter as Joseph, the southpaw has a good midrange game and can draw a post defender out to the three-point line. A rising star the past two seasons, this could be the year he reaches upper-echelon status. His high-flying act and orange and white headband have made him a favorite in the Carrier Dome.
As the first player off the bench most of last season, Fair’s points, rebounds, assists and steals all increased from his freshman year. He has a strong knack for being in the right place at the right time, grabbing 5.5 rebounds per game last season. And at 6’8” with good shot-blocking instincts, he provides a solid back wing to the 2-3 zone.
DaJuan Coleman, the Orange’s prized recruit from the class of 2012, will likely start on the other side of the zone. Coleman is excellent at using his 6’9”, 285-pound body to create space in the lane. In just 10 minutes at this year’s McDonald’s All-American game, Coleman scored seven points and snagged a game-high 12 rebounds. Coleman has also shown some impressive long outlet passes, which could lead to easy buckets for the Orange this season.
Syracuse’s conditioning programs will likely shed some of his weight, but his 7’2” wingspan will fit well into the back of Boeheim’s zone.
At 6’9” with a 7’3” wingspan, Rakeem Christmas—also a former McDonald’s All-American and the No. 2 high school center in the country in 2011—will provide good size in the middle of the zone. Boeheim brought him along slowly minutes-wise last season, but the freshman still gained a lot of experience, starting almost every game at forward and taking over Melo’s center position for the NCAA tournament.
An above-average rebounder, Christmas has also shown the ability to block and alter shots and throw down powerful dunks. It’s possible the Orange could utilize Christmas’ athleticism on the wing of their zone and have the much heavier Coleman anchor the middle. However, according to the Associated Press, Boeheim has admitted Christmas "is better and more comfortable at center."
Either way, Christmas’ minutes are sure to go up, giving Syracuse three long, quality rebounders and shot-blockers in its frontcourt.
The talk of the 2011-12 Syracuse men's basketball season was depth. Analysts raved at how talented the Syracuse reserves were, and for good reason. Although it’ll be hard to replace Big East Sixth Man of the Year Dion Waiters’ 12.6 points and almost two steals per game, this season’s bench will still be tops in the conference.
James Southerland, an explosive 6’8” senior forward, should play major minutes. He could battle for a starting position this season after a strong performance in last season’s NCAA tournament. Baye Keita, a 6’10” junior center, has proven to give great minutes off the bench with his hustle and shot-blocking ability. Redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney is a 6’3” sharpshooter who will bring back memories of Gerry McNamara and Andy Rautins for Orange fans.
And, should Boeheim choose to rotate nine players again this season, freshman Jerami Grant—son of Harvey and nephew of Horace—is an athletic, long 6’8” forward who the Orange can turn to for scoring and defense.
Just 10 wins away from the 900-win plateau, Boeheim has reloaded with another deep and talented team. After falling short of high expectations last season, Syracuse is primed to make another run in the NCAA postseason.