The Syracuse men’s basketball team will have a much different look for the 2013-14 season with the departure of Brandon Triche, James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams, the latter going to the Philadelphia 76ers as a lottery pick.
New faces include blue-chip point guard Tyler Ennis, forwards Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson and Chinonso Obokoh and off-guard Ron Patterson.
Also joining the team after sitting a year after transferring from Duke is Michael Gbinije, who could be an immediate impact player due to his 6’7” frame and ability to switch between the guard and forward spots.
That’s what’s new.
Returning are C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas, Jerami Grant, DaJuan Coleman, Baye Keita and Trevor Cooney among others.
The Orange should experience a noticeable change from being a guard-reliant team to a forward-heavy team. Without Triche, Southerland and Carter-Williams, Syracuse loses three of its top four scorers. This will force head coach Jim Boeheim to look to players such as Christmas, Grant and Cooney to make the step from complementary players to prime-time players.
Syracuse teams have a great tradition of developing big men, most recently Fab Melo, so it’s not too much of a leap to think Syracuse’s bigs can be ready. But there is a big part of the Syracuse program that is different than it's been since Boeheim took over.
The ousting of Bernie Fine.
Fine primarily worked with the big men and helped develop standouts such as Rony Seikaly, Rick Jackson and Etan Thomas. Fine was fired in November of 2011 due to a sex abuse scandal and his departure could be a reason why players such as Christmas have not developed as quickly as Orange fans would like.
All things considered, Syracuse has the pieces available for a very successful season in its first year in the ACC. Senior forward C.J. Fair, who was the leading scorer on last season’s Final Four team, will look to put this team on his back but he will need lots of help if Syracuse is to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Let’s take a look at where that help will come from by peeking at who should lead the Orange in its statistical categories.
Fair, who will be on the short list for potential ACC Player of the Year, has improved his game with each year in an Orange uniform and will have this team to call his own.
To add to his impressive ability to get to the basket with cat-like agility, Fair developed an incredible three-point shooting touch and was the Orange’s leading three-point shooter, percentage-wise, with over 45 percent of his attempts going in.
Fair hit most of his threes from the corners, which will frustrate defenders not knowing whether to play him close and allow him the ability to get by them or give him a cushion where he can bury jumpers.
After Fair, it’s anyone’s guess where the scoring comes from. Most desirably, the Orange would like to see Rakeem Christmas take the job of cleaning up the boards and bringing a more physical presence to the Orange baseline.
Jerami Grant could also step up for the Orange. He has a decent jump shot and is incredibly athletic and while filling in for James Southerland as a freshman, he was a bright spot in the Orange offense.
Last year’s Orange team was essentially a jump-shooting team. This allowed players such as James Southerland, Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair to pull in the majority of the rebounds, with Fair grabbing a team-leading seven per game.
With the forward-driven offense this season, look to Rakeem Christmas to pull the majority of the rebounds. He is strong enough to get positioning and with DaJuan Coleman also taking up space in the key when Syracuse goes to a bigger lineup, Christams could reap the rewards of his athleticism.
Fair and Jerami Grant, who should be the starters on the wings will compete for runner-up in rebounding, but it wouldn’t be surprising if either one led the team, should Christmas not play up to speed.
Tyler Ennis will come in and take over for the departed Michael Carter-Williams, who led the nation in assists for most of the season last year.
The buzz around Ennis is that he has the makings to be one of the Syracuse greats in the tradition of Pearl and the General.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, Ennis is the de facto ball-handler as there isn’t another pure pint guard on the roster, so there will be a trial by fire. If Ennis is as advertised, his impact on the Orange will be immeasurable. If he falters, the Orange will have a difficult time getting the ball to its scorers, essentially damaging any chance Syracuse has of making a run at an ACC title.
In other words, the Syracuse season rests partially and greatly on Ennis’ ability to distribute the ball and keep defenders honest.
There is no Plan B.
Syracuse led the nation in blocked shots last season and should compete for that distinction once again. The 2-3 zone forces a number of bad shots and the ACC is not accustomed to seeing that defense.
Leading the pack with almost two blocks per game was Rakeem Christmas. He has a great nose, rather hand, for the ball and looks to be the likely candidate to repeat as the team leader.
Worth mentioning is Baye Keita, who averaged over a block per game but only averaged around 16 minutes per game. With increased minutes, Keita could take over the helm as the Orange’s best shot-blocker.
Trevor Cooney was touted as an ace three-point shooter, which he still may prove to be, but as of yet, his game hasn’t lived up to expectation.
That’s on the offensive side.
As a defender, Cooney has been a valuable asset and rarely makes a poor defensive decision. Cooney works hard on defense and has become acclimated to the 2-3 zone, which should lend to him being the better player at filling the gaps at the top of the zone.
Tyler Ennis should also get his share of steals but don’t be surprised if C.J. Fair ends up pilfering the majority of balls with his quick hands, as he averaged over a steal per game last season.