Last season, Syracuse made the Final Four despite having lost Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and Fab Melo from the year before. This year's team is in a similar position, having to deal with the losses of Brandon Triche, James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams.
Can the 2013-14 Orange be as successful? Some experts seem to think so. In early preseason polls, CBS Sports ranked the Orange 11th in the nation heading into this season, and ESPN's Jason King had them eighth.
A big reason for the high praise is due to C.J. Fair's decision to return for his senior season. The Orange will rely heavily upon the forward, but if they are going to live up to expectations, they're going to need more than one guy to do it. And while Jim Boeheim has a solid recruiting class coming in, he has shown a proclivity to play upperclassmen.
So which returning players will step up in support? Here are three likely candidates to have a breakout season for the Orange in 2013-14.
After redshirting the 2011-12 season, Trevor Cooney struggled in his first year of eligibility. It didn't help that, as The Post-Standard's Mike Waters mentioned, assistant coach and former Syracuse great Gerry McNamara compared Cooney to some of the program's best shooters, including himself and Andy Rautins.
It was bad enough that Cooney shot a paltry 26.7 percent from three-point range, but to do so under such expectations was truly devastating.
However, there are still signs that things are pointing up for the guard in 2013. He played solid defense at the top of the 2-3 zone and should be a pest to opposing offenses this season. And for all of his offensive struggles, Cooney actually averaged more points per game last season (3.4) than Rautins did in his first year (2.7), and the latter didn't turn out so bad.
Cooney earned such high praise for a reason: He has the potential to be a great shooter. With a full year of playing now under his belt along with his redshirt season, he may finally be ready to produce the way so many thought he would from the start.
DaJuan Coleman started every non-conference game for Syracuse last season, averaging just over 17 minutes per contest. In that stretch, he showed an ability to contribute both on offense and on the boards, averaging 6.9 points and 6.2 rebounds.
Unfortunately, a knee injury in late January derailed Coleman's freshman season. He missed the entire month of February and appeared in only four more games.
However, I think Coleman can come back strong in his sophomore season and outperform fellow big men Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita.
Why? While Coleman isn't as good defensively as either Christmas or Keita, he is the most ferocious rebounder of the three and has the most developed offensive game.
The Orange need defensive rebounding help to cover up one of the natural weaknesses of the zone, and they haven't had consistent post scoring since Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson were in the Carrier Dome. Coleman could provide both of those things in 2013.
Any discussion about Syracuse's breakout players has to include Jerami Grant. A 6'8" forward, Grant exhibits many traits that Fair does, including his length, athleticism and general well-rounded ability to do a little bit of everything. In fact, Aran Smith of NBADraft.net believes Grant has more potential, ranking him higher than Fair on his 2014 NBA draft big board.
Unlike Cooney and Coleman, who showed promise of future production against weaker competition, Grant has already proven himself against legitimate opponents. He took over James Southerland's role for six games in Big East play when the senior was suspended, and he averaged 9.8 points and 5.5 rebounds. Although his role diminished shortly after Southerland's return, Grant had proven his worth.
Fair began last season as the team's second or third option in most games. By the end of the year, he was the team's leading scorer and rebounder. While he will be the team's undisputed leader in 2013, don't be surprised if Grant follows a similar path this season with his expanded role and challenges Fair as the team's statistical leader.
If Syracuse is going to be competitive in 2013, there needs to be increased production coming from somewhere. Fair is the team's only proven commodity, but guys like Cooney, Coleman and Grant should see expanded roles this season.
If they take advantage of the opportunity, the Orange will be a threat once again.
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