C.J. Fair drives the lane.
Syracuse University, ranked No. 7 in the AP and Coaches polls, will open its 34th and final season in the Big East Conference on Wednesday, against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Carrier Dome.
Following this season, the Orange (12-1,0-0) will flee the Big East for the less tumultuous courts of the ACC. With the mass exodus of teams leaving the Big East, this final season won’t go down as a farewell party for the Orange, as many schools look at Syracuse as one of the main reasons the conference is crumbling.
But being an enemy of the state is nothing new for Syracuse.
For most schools in the Big East, this will likely be a good-riddance party for Syracuse. With its 10 regular-season titles and five conference tournament titles, the team with the most wins in Big East history is poised to make its final season a memorable one.
Syracuse lost four key players last year with three going to the NBA, but has reloaded with some very talented, albeit raw, young players. Michael Carter-Williams has blossomed from bench contributor to one of the best point guards in the nation. Brandon Triche has assumed the role of team leader and southpaw C.J. Fair has become Mr. Consistency.
So, with a great mix of veteran leadership and high-octane youth, we explore what’s in store for the Orange in its swan song in Big East play.
Here are five predictions for the upcoming season.
Fantastic guard play has been one of the hallmarks of Syracuse basketball, but since the Big East was founded in 1980, no Syracuse player has led the NCAA in assists, so I write this with great reverence. Not even the great General Sherman pulled off the feat which appears to be within the grasp of MCW.
In the 13 games played by the Orange, Carter-Williams reached double digits in assists eight times.
He currently leads the nation with 10.2 assists per game and is pulling away from UCLA’s Larry Drew, who is back in the distance with 8.6 assists per game.
The only player from the Big East to lead the nation in assists was Mark Jackson, who pulled it off in the 1985-86 season for St. John’s, then known as the Redmen.
Any time a player can be mentioned in the same breath as Mark Jackson, or even Sherman Douglas for that matter, something special is happening. MCW is a dynamic passer with a keen eye for the open man and should be able to get his name in the record books.
Regardless of ranking, I feel that Syracuse is the class of the Big East, this year. Even with Louisville returning from a trip to the NCAA finals and a few other blossoming programs, the size and athleticism of Syracuse is the difference maker.
That doesn’t mean that they can repeat last year’s record of 17 wins in conference.
I see Syracuse splitting with Louisville and Georgetown and sweeping through the rest of the conference. (Profound, I know.)
This should also give Syracuse its 11th conference title, breaking the tie with Connecticut for the most all-time. In 1980, the first season of the Big East, Syracuse was a regular-season co-champion. This season should provide the other bookend, with the demise of the Big East eminent.
The in-vogue thing in recent years has been to declare a down year for the Big East, which is not the case. But I believe that the cream is at the top and the rest of the conference, while tough, will be looking up for the duration of the season.
For the second straight year, I see Syracuse getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The lackluster play against Detroit and Temple were anomalies and not typical of Syracuse’s ability.
This is a young team that is feeling itself out and is undergoing a few growing pains. I have no doubts that Jim Boeheim will have his boys ready for conference play.
Naysayers will point to free-throw shooting as a stumbling block, but the guys who will actually be shooting free throws (MCW, Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair) aren’t bad at the line and will keep the Orange at the top of its game. Helping this thought is Syracuse’s schedule, which only sees Notre Dame, Pitt and Cincinnati once this season.
My only doubt in this prediction is that I see Louisville also getting a No. 1 seed. Of course, the Big East can have two top seeds, but it is food for thought.
Last season, Jim Boeheim had a luxury of depth like no team he’d ever coached. So deep, in fact, that Syracuse had the No. 4 pick in the NBA Draft Dion Waiters coming off the bench.
In a normal year, Syracuse goes about seven deep, but last year seemed to scratch coach Boeheim where he itched, and he has decided to bring James Southerland, a senior who could start on most teams in America, off the bench. Southerland is a versatile player who can rebound, block shots and has a dead eye from long range.
Boeheim, for the past few years, has incorporated his bench with surgical precision. His bench has been used not as relief for the starters, but as a combination punch of offensive force. He has produced two of the last three sixth men of the year in conference with Waiters last year and Kris Joseph being the other, in 2009-2010.
Southerland should make it three out of four.
Last season, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph were all NBA draft picks. Even Scoop Jardine was getting NBA looks until he broke his foot just before the draft.
I see Michael Carter-Williams bolting for the NBA with Brandon Triche and James Southerland getting consideration.
Triche, who I believe will take over this team as the season progresses, already has an NBA build and will only need to showcase his leadership skills.
Southerland, would be a fine choice for an NBA team looking for a three-point specialist who can also rebound, to fill minutes on the stat sheet.
Carter-Williams, who is evolving into one of the top point guards in the NCAA, should be the highest pick of the three.