Syracuse Basketball: Full Preview, Predictions and Storylines for 2012-13

Tim KeeneyContributor INovember 5, 2012

Syracuse Basketball: Full Preview, Predictions and Storylines for 2012-13

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    It's not often that setting a program record for wins in a season to go along with an Elite Eight appearance is seen as a disappointment, but that's how the 2011-12 season went for Jim Boeheim and Syracuse. 

    Boeheim's Orange squad was No. 1 in the country for the majority of the year, but despite 34 wins and a Big East regular season title, off-the-court problems and an untimely Fab Melo suspension led to a defeat at the hands of Ohio State in the regional final. 

    No worry, though, as Boeheim, thanks to an insane amount of depth from last season, returns an abundance of talent ready to right the ship during Syracuse's last run through the Big East. 

    Let's take a look at what's in store for the No. 9 team in the country. 

Impact Newcomers

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    PF/C DaJuan Coleman (Freshman)

    SG Trevor Cooney (Redshirt Freshman)

    SF Jerami Grant (Freshman)

     

    Jim Boeheim is "only" bringing in the 17th-ranked freshman class (according to ESPN), but in typical Boeheim fashion, it doesn't really matter.

    The experienced head coach not only has plenty of returning talent who will undoubtedly continue to improve, but he should get exactly what he needs out of his freshmen.

    Coleman figures to have the biggest impact. Because of his weight, there are concerns that he goes down the same path as UCLA's Josh Smith, but as long as he stays away from the McDonald's, the expected starter at center will be tough to deal for opposing teams.

    His real worth will be on the defensive end, where he'll be impossible to bully, but he also looks to be a solid rebounder and a player capable of holding his own on the offensive end.

    Cooney, meanwhile, will bring offense off the bench. The former top recruit decided to redshirt last season, and by most indications, he's worked hard and improved immensely.

    Combine his deadly three-point stroke with the ability to put the ball on the ground and set his teammates up, and Cooney has a good chance of being one of the better freshmen in the Big East. 

    Finally, you have Grant. He likely won't get a ton of minutes right away, but the versatile forward could easily play a C.J. Fair role if called upon. 

Key Losses

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    G Scoop Jardine (Graduated): 8.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 25.2 mpg

    F Kris Joseph (Graduated/Draft): 13.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.6 bpg, 1.4 spg, 32.2 mpg

    G Dion Waiters (Draft): 12.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.8 spg, 24.1 mpg

    C Fab Melo (Draft): 7.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.9 bpg, 25.4 mpg

     

    If I told you at the beginning of last season that, in addition to the graduation of Jardine and Joseph, the Orange's biggest losses would soon be Dion Waiters and Fab Melo, you probably would have Internet slapped me.

    Waiters came to the Carrier Done as a top-ranked recruit, but struggled with inconsistency and never really carved out a niche. He was on the verge of transferring.

    A year later, the dynamic combo guard was the best sixth man in the country and a soon-to-be top five pick in the NBA draft.

    Melo, meanwhile, had bust written all over him. The 5-star recruit averaged just under 10 minutes per game his freshman year, looked lost on the offensive end and made too many stupid plays to earn a spot in the rotation.

    While his offensive potential has still yet to be reached, Melo improved greatly in that aspect of the game while establishing himself as one of the most dominant interior big men on the defensive side of the ball. 

    He certainly didn't light up the scoresheet night-in and night-out (except for the block column, of course), but Melo's worth was painfully evident during the games he missed because of academic problems. If he was there to help against Jared Sullinger in the Elite Eight, March very easily could have gone differently for the Orange. 

    Don't underestimate the losses of Joseph and Jardine, either. 

    Not only does Boeheim lose two seniors and nine total years of experience, but Jardine was a terrific leader at the point while Joseph was adept at hitting the big outside shot when the Orange needed it most. 

Projected Starting Lineup and Depth Chart

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    A starting five of Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman is the stone-cold lock of the week.

    But if Dion Waiters and the freshman version of Christmas taught us anything last season, it's that with Jim Boeheim, starts don't necessarily equal minutes and coming off the bench doesn't mean you won't be a major contributor.

    In 2012-13, the biggest example of that notion will be James Southerland. 

    The senior has the size (6'8", 210 pounds), shooting ability (1.0 treys per game last season and 8-of-9 from the outside during Syracuse's two exhibition games) and handle that allow him to play both forward positions. There will be times when he comes in for Fair, but he'll also spell freshman Dajuan Coleman while Christmas moves to the center position.

    He could even conceivably log minutes at the two if Boeheim needs to go with a huge lineup. 

    The versatility for the head coach doesn't stop there. 

    In the backcourt, both starters can distribute with efficiency. 

    Carter-Williams is by far the flashier of the two. He's not afraid to make any pass, and he'll pull off multiple "ooh and ahh" plays each game, but his turnover rate will also likely be higher than you want.

    The veteran Triche, meanwhile, is extremely versatile. He can score in a variety of ways, but his ability to get into the lane and open up looks for others is often overlooked. The ability to spell Carter-Williams at the point means more opportunities for Trevor Cooney.

    The redshirt freshman is blessed with a deadly outside stroke, good strength and ball-handling and a year of practice experience. 

    Throw in veteran center Baye Moussa Keita and freshman Jerami Grant, aka Horace's nephew, and Boeheim is blessed with yet another deep, versatile team. 

     

    Position Starter Backup
    Point Guard Michael Carter-Williams Brandon Triche
    Shooting Guard Brandon Triche Trevor Cooney
    Small Forward C.J. Fair James Southerland
    Power Forward Rakeem Christmas Jerami Grant/James Southerland
    Center Dajuan Coleman Baye Moussa Keita

Strengths

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    Fantastic Frontcourt Ferociousness 

    Let's just make this simple. If you can't shoot, you aren't going to beat this team.

    Not only does Jim Boeheim run his famously scrappy 2-3 zone, which makes it hard enough for opposing teams to score on the outside, but consider who will be crowding the middle of the zone. 

    Big Rakeem Christmas got a lot of experience last season controlling the area under the hoop, and with double the minutes, it wouldn't be surprising to see the talented defender block at least 2.0 shots per game.

    Helping him out down low will be freshman DaJuan Coleman. The youngster is still raw on the offensive end, but at 6'9", 275 pounds, he's going to be an interior force who is impossible to deal with.

    Couple those two with Baye Moussa Keita, who blocked a shot per game in just 12.3 minutes last season, and the Orange have one of the best—if not the best—trio of interior defenders. 

     

    Experience Still Matters

    Kentucky may have put to rest the belief that you need experience to win a national championship, but not everyone can have Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

    Having some older players is still actually beneficial, especially in March.

    Syracuse has that in bunches. 

    Brandon Triche and James Southerland, who will both get major minutes, are seniors. Keita and C.J. Fair are juniors. Christmas and Michael Carter-Williams are sophomores while Trevor Cooney has also been around for a year.

    The only true freshman Syracuse will rely on is Coleman, and considering said frontcourt depth, the reliance on him won't be overwhelming. 

Weaknesses

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    Who's The Go-To Guy?

    The Orange had just two players average double-digit scoring last year, and no one scored more than 14 per game. But while the scoring balance was on the cusp of unbelievable, Dion Waiters was always there when they needed a quick basket or isolation play. 

    With Waiters and leading-scorer Kris Joseph no longer in town, who will Jim Boeheim turn to when he needs a bucket?

    Michael Carter-Williams is insanely talented and probably the No. 1 candidate, but it's still an unknown as to whether or not he'll take the expected next step. I keep waiting for C.J. Fair to become a dominant player, but he struggled with inconsistency last season. Same goes for James Southerland, who can shoot the roof off the building, but hit just 34 percent from deep last season. 

    Brandon Triche is another likely candidate, but the final two months of last season didn't leave a good taste in the mouths of the Orange faithful.

    The raw talent and scoring ability on this team is off the charts, but there's still no clear identity on that side of the ball. 

     

    Turnovers

    In Syracuse's two exhibition games, Boeheim's squad turned the ball over a ridiculous 30 times. It's important not to overreact to exhibition contests that don't matter, but 15 turnovers per game against Pace and Bloomsburg has to be a little concerning. 

    Considering Carter-Williams is running the point, don't expect this problem to quickly go away. The dynamic point guard is all kinds of skilled, but he often tries to do too much. His turnover rate last season was actually astoundingly good, but as his usage goes up, so will the turnovers. 

    Triche, who figures to give Carter-Williams breaks, is a steady senior, but he's prone to making plenty of mistakes himself. 

    Don't be surprised if the Orange get involved in some sloppy, low-scoring games, even though they have the ability to shoot with deadly efficiency and can score in a hurry. 

Storylines to Watch

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    The Curse of Carmelo

    Since Anthony led 'Cuse to a national championship in 2003, Jim Boeheim's squad has failed to make it to the Final Four. 

    It's not like his teams haven't had plenty of talent, either. In 2004, Syracuse was a five seed. In 2005, a four seed. In 2006, a five seed. After two tournament absences, it was a three seed in 2009, a one seed in 2010, a three seed in 2011 and a one seed again in 2012. 

    By my count, that's two No. 1 seeds, two No. 3 seeds, one No. 4 seed and two No. 5 seeds. Final Fours don't grow on trees, but you would expect at least one of those teams to make it through its side of the bracket. But with the exception of last year's squad, none have any made it past the Sweet 16.

    That's a tremendous amount of disappointment. 

    Unless something goes drastically wrong, the Orange will once again enter the tournament as a solid favorite. Will they be able to finally put all their talent together in March, or is Boeheim's unwillingness to change defensive styles going to continue to haunt them in tournament play?

     

    Jim Boeheim's Assault on the Record Books

    Boeheim will soon turn 68, but he's showing no signs of slowing down as Syracuse's head coach.

    According to Sports Reference, Boeheim is third all-time in college basketball wins with 890. He should pass Bob Knight (899) and hit 900 during Syracuse's pre-conference schedule.

    Then comes Coach K.

    Boeheim is chasing Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who is 37 wins ahead of him, but if Syracuse continues to have seasons like last year, Boeheim will continue to chip away at the all-time record. 

Best-Case Scenario

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    Jim Boeheim's squad has the talent to cut down the nets at the Georgia Dome in April.

    Should Michael Carter-Williams hit his sky-high potential as an electrifying scorer and distributor, he'll combine with the veteran presence of Brandon Triche to form one of the nation's most dangerous, versatile backcourts. 

    C.J. Fair has the talent to continue Syracuse's recent history of dominant small forwards. If the junior takes the expected next step, he'll be a double-double machine from the wing, which is a weapon most teams don't have. 

    'Cuse won't get a lot of scoring down low, but Rakeem Christmas, DaJaun Coleman and Baye Moussa Keita make the Orange an elite defensive team.

    Throw in James Southerland, who has a legitimate chance to be the best scoring sixth man in the country, and Trevor Cooney, who will quickly establish himself as one of the top shooters in the nation, off the bench, and the Orange have every component of a national championship team. 

Worst-Case Scenario

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    The combination of veterans, experience, talent on offense and big, imposing bodies on defense give the Orange a relatively high floor. 

    That being said, if Michael Carter-Williams doesn't improve to the extent that everyone is expecting, the Orange won't be a top 10 team.

    The explosive guard has the ability to control a game with his combination of athleticism and scoring and distributing ability, but if he finds himself playing inconsistently, this offense suddenly becomes a lot less dangerous.

    Brandon Triche will still be there to pick up the pieces at the point, and you know what you're getting from the senior, but he doesn't quite possess the talent to open up Syracuse's crop of shooters like Carter-Williams does. 

    Should this offense falter at all, another earlier-than-expected exit in March will be on the horizon. 

Regular Season Prediction

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    26-5 (14-4 Big East), Second in Big East

    Don't be shocked when Syracuse starts off the season with a loss.

    The Orange must travel to take on No. 20 San Diego State. The Aztecs are a talented veteran group capable of pulling off the upset while Syracuse finds an identity early in the season.

    But with the only other hurdles being an improving Arkansas team on the road and a Detroit squad led by Ray McCallum, who is capable of beating any team by himself, Syracuse should enter its final season in the Big East with just one loss.

    The conference has plenty of talented teams just like usual, but Louisville and 'Cuse are head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Expect them to race for the conference title.