Labor Day means different things to different people. For me as a parent, it kicks off a celebration as my kids trudge back to school. As a Syracuse Orange basketball fan, it starts the countdown to Midnight Madness on October 15.
The Orange head into the coming season on quite a roll with No. 1 seeds sandwiching a No. 3 seed in the last three NCAA tournaments. Unfortunately, Arinze Onuaku’s knee and Fab Melo’s suspension kept the Orange from legitimate chances at winning it all.
So what can we expect from Syracuse in the 2012-13 season? What do you think we’re here for?
STARTING LINEUP—well, in my opinion. Jim Boeheim doesn’t exact solicit my input.
SG Brandon Triche, 6’4”-200 lb, Sr.
When the ball is tossed up to start the first game of the season, it will be the 108th start for Brandon. Yet, it will be the first one for him as the most important player on the team.
History suggests the possibility of great things from him. His own family history. In 1987, Brandon’s uncle Howard and fellow unheralded senior Greg Monroe stepped up and led the Orange to a thrilling, last-second loss to Indiana in the NCAA Championship game. In 1996, three-year bench warmer Lazarus Sims was an amazing floor leader, helping All-American John Wallace take the Orange to the NCAA Championship game where they valiantly lost to a great Kentucky team.
Brandon’s success will depend on what goes on between his ears, not between the lines on the court. He has an NBA body and skills, as did the guy he shared playing time with last year, the fourth pick in the NBA draft, Dion Waiters.
What he doesn’t have is Waiters’ swagger and never-ending confidence. He should. I’ve been watching Brandon play basketball since he was in third grade. His skills dictate he’s always one of the best players on the court. If his head keeps that in mind, he’ll score 17-18 points per game this year and play at an All-American level. If he doubts, then we’ll see a nice supporting 10-12 points and a team that falls short of the Final Four again.
PG Michael Carter-Williams, 6’5”-170 lb, So.
MCW came in last year with a ton of hype as a McDonald’s All-American. Senior Scoop Jardine’s presence on the team limited MCW to 10 minutes per game. With Jardine gone, MCW inherits the starting point guard role and the minutes that go with it. Could we see the kind of improvement that playing time gave Kansas’ Thomas Robinson last year?
While I’m not sure MCW will reach first-team All-American and Player of the Year status, there is no question that he will explode on the college basketball scene. His size, vision, skills and confidence will prompt talk of him jumping into the NBA draft in 2013.
PF Rakeem Christmas, 6’9”-230 lb, So.
It’s not often that a school has multiple McDonald’s All-Americans in a single year, but the Orange pulled that off last year with MCW and Christmas. Rakeem started 35 of the team’s 37 games last year but only played an average of 11.5 minutes each game. We did get a glimpse of the great potential when he had to fill in at center when Fab Melo was lost for the NCAA Tournament.
Christmas is a force defensively and on the boards, with a nice touch offensively. I’m encouraged by seeing the same thing in Christmas that I saw in Fab two years ago. Both came in with huge hype, but spent their freshman year mostly on the bench. But neither sulked. Both remained engaged for their teammates and ready when put in the game. I expect a huge jump this year for Christmas too.
C DaJuan Coleman, 6’9”-280 lb, Fr.
Coleman follows in the McDonald’s All-American footsteps of MCW and Christmas. He’s also next in the procession of Jamesville-DeWitt stars staying home to play for the Orange. Danny Schayes was the first way back in 1977, and recently, we’ve seen Red Ram stars Andy Rautins and Brandon Triche make the transition. Will Jim Boeheim stick around four more years to recruit Jim Boeheim Jr? An interesting question, but I digress.
Coleman is obviously a huge force inside. He’s a great rebounder who excels at throwing outlet passes to start the break. DaJuan has a nice touch for a big guy and has range out to the three-point line. He played alongside 6’8” Wake Forest signee Tyler Cavanaugh in high school for three years and is a terrific inside passer. I see him teaming with Christmas to form an inside passing duo similar to Onuaku and Rick Jackson a few years ago.
Is he ready for the big stage? He’s been on it since winning the first of three consecutive state championships back in ninth-grade on the J-D team led by then senior Triche. Coleman will leave Syracuse as the best big man the Orange have had. Yes, I said it.
SF CJ Fair, 6’8”-205 lb, Jr.
It’s pretty amazing when a player with the ridiculous athletic ability of Fair is mentioned last. Fair will be a defensive beast wreaking havoc on the backline with Coleman and Christmas protecting the rim. He can jump out of the gym, and it seems almost unfair that he developed an outside shot last year.
James Southerland, 6’8”-210 lb, Sr.
Southerland will be explosive off the bench, reminding us old folks of Vinnie Johnson of the long ago Detroit Pistons team. Johnson was known as the “Microwave” because he heated up so quickly when he came in the game. Southerland will rain three’s, provide great leadership and improved rebounding.
Baye Moussa Keita, 6’10”-215 lb, Jr.
Keita is a shot-blocker and rebounder who is much more active than the more powerful Coleman and Christmas. He’ll get some points on putbacks but those are a bonus. Great energy off the bench.
Trevor Cooney, 6’4”-185 lb, RS Fr.
When Jim Boeheim talked about the decision to redshirt Cooney last year, he was adamant about the fact that Cooney wasn’t sitting because he couldn’t help the Orange on the court. But as the fifth guard, he would have only played a few minutes each game. Cooney was the 17th ranked shooting guard in the class of 2011 and the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Sanford School. As the only reserve in the backcourt this year he will get minutes and show us the great shot we’ve been hearing about.
Jerami Grant, 6’7”-200 lb, Fr.
Former NBA star Harvey’s kid comes in as the 37th ranked player in the class of 2012. He arrives off of a nice career at powerhouse DeMatha High in Washington, DC where his 12.6 points per game led the team to a 30-6 record last year. I don’t expect Grant to contribute too much this year, but he’s a nice addition and will see much more time next year when Southerland leaves.
The preseason polls I’ve seen have Syracuse in the top 10, where I think they’ll stay all year. The Orange is in the mix of teams who can make the Final Four and win it all. The key will be Triche’s head. If he struggles and it drops, then this team will be just another good team. If he keeps it up with a determined look, they can go all the way.
Follow me on Twitter @sprtsramblngman