The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team will play its first year in the ACC without three of its four best players from last season.
Seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland are moving on and hoping to get drafted and make a professional career out of basketball, and sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams is just waiting to see where in the NBA lottery he will be picked.
Only junior forward C.J. Fair, who was the Orange’s most consistent and arguably best player, remains from a team that made a Final Four run.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has been losing players for decades but has always found a way to keep the cupboard full, or at least he’s made the most out of what’s been in the cupboard. For the past few years, however, with each player lost, Syracuse has advanced farther in the NCAA tournament than the previous year.
It’s like the old adage, “Teach a man to coach and he’ll win today; teach a man to recruit and he’ll win for a lifetime.”
OK, I made that up, but it’s true.
At the close of the 2010-11 season, Syracuse lost to Marquette in the third round (formerly known as the second round). Following this disappointing loss, senior Rick Jackson departed, leaving the Orange to look for other leadership.
That leadership would come from a variety of players. Syracuse would put a team on the floor with extraordinary depth, led by Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine and the best bench catalyst in the country, Dion Waiters.
Syracuse steamrolled through the season and even achieved a No. 1 ranking. The only blemish of the season came on the road against Notre Dame with Fab Melo being held out with academic problems, an issue that would surface again at the end of the season.
Syracuse seemed destined for a championship date with Kentucky, but a second Fab Melo suspension would force the Orange to make do without the Brazilian 7-footer and Syracuse fell to a strong Ohio State team, albeit in the Elite Eight, a marked improvement over the previous year.
Syracuse lost four players after that season—Waiters, Joseph and Melo to the draft and Jardine to graduation.
The next season would prove a little tougher with the experience lost, but Syracuse found a way to survive and thrive. The explosion of Carter-Williams, combined with the steadiness of Fair and the leadership of Triche and Southerland, Syracuse found itself among the nation’s elite.
The Orange struggled with consistency and settled for a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, but the defensive intensity proved too much for most teams to handle and Syracuse played its way all the way to the Final Four before losing a heartbreaker to Michigan.
From that team, Carter-Williams, Triche and Southerland are all gone, but Jim Boeheim still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
Returning along with Fair are Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita, DaJuan Coleman, Jerami Grant and Duke transfer Michael Gbinije, a big guard who should be a key contributor after sitting out a season. According to ESPN.com, these players will be backed up by the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation, which includes 5-star point guard Tyler Ennis, Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson and Chinonso Obokoh.
If Syracuse continues its tournament trend, a national final could be in store, but nothing is assured. The cupboard must be maintained and Jim Boeheim is already preparing for the season after next.
Let’s take a look into the future of Syracuse basketball and the players who will guide the Orange into the early years of ACC existence.