Jim Boeheim's No. 5 Syracuse Orange cruised through the first eight games of the season with little resistance, and the squad looks poised to be a national power all winter long.
The 2012-13 version of the Orange appears to have the kind of depth, defense and explosiveness to rival last year's NCAA title contender. But it won't be deep enough to contend unless long-distance shooter Trevor Cooney builds on his recent emergence.
Even though Syracuse will generate more offense from its slashers and forwards than it did in 2011-12, it still needs a big shooting year from Cooney.
The 6'4" native of Wilmington, Del., got off to a cold start in his first five games, hitting just two of his 16 three-point attempts. Fortunately, he knocked down 10 triples over the next three games, scoring in double digits in each of them.
For the Orange to be an inside-outside threat, they'll want to collectively make at least six three-pointers per game. They'll also want to sink roughly 180 to 200 of them heading into the NCAA tournament. Cooney must chip in consistently if they want to hit that mark.
In 2011-12, Syracuse had five legitimate three-point shooters, and that made it a dangerous team. Here are its long-distance stats for 37 games (which includes a pair of Big East tourney games and four NCAA tourney games).
As you can see, Boeheim had five players with more than three dozen triples, and each of them shot at least 34 percent from beyond the arc.
How will he replace the outside shooting of Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph?
He won't completely replace them, and he doesn't need to completely replace them. But he needs Cooney to step up and help returners Brandon Triche and James Southerland.
In 2012-13, Boheim will only have three substantial three-point shooters (Triche, Southerland and Cooney), along with small contributions from Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair. And that's assuming that Cooney will see substantial minutes.
Here is my (optimistic) projected top five for 2012-13. It accounts for the production that Boheim needs from Cooney and is a projection over 37 games.
When you compare last year's chart to this year's optimistic projections, it's clear that Syracuse has less depth from distance in 2012-13.
If Cooney can't hit more than 1.5 threes per game, it will put undue pressure on Triche, Southerland and Carter-Williams and will make Syracuse less dangerous.
Based on what we've seen from him recently, he has the potential to log 15 to 20 minutes per game, supply solid defense and burn opponents from long range.
Will Boeheim have enough confidence in Cooney to play him regularly, or will the team's relative lack of three-point threats force him into the lineup?
Cooney can make Coach's life a lot easier by staying in a groove from now through March.
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