Syracuse Basketball: Factors That Will Make or Break Orange in 2013-14
Practice has started and four exhibition games have already been played, with only two more to go before the Syracuse Orange tip off their season on Friday, November 8, against Cornell University.
There are high expectations for the Orange this season, but those expectations are fastened to the hard court on a contingency.
Will freshman Tyler Ennis be able to lead the Orange attack as their predominant and only true point guard?
Will anyone, including Jerami Grant, Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman, have a breakout season?
How will the Orange adjust to their first year in the ACC?
...and so on.
Syracuse and its stalwart coach, Jim Boeheim, have the pieces in place for a successful run this season, but several holes will have to be filled and several needs will have to be satisfied.
Gone are James Southerland, Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams, three of the Orange’s top four scorers last season. Stepping into the prime-time roles will be the aforementioned Christmas, Coleman and Grant, who will all look to senior C.J. Fair to be the lightning rod for a team that made it all the way to the Final Four just a half-year ago.
Syracuse will put a team on the floor that is a mix of experience (Fair) and youth (Ennis) with everyone else falling in between. How these bookends guide Syracuse will decide how far the Orange road will go, but there are a few pretty big concerns for Syracuse that will have great influence on this team’s immediate future.
Let’s take a look at which factors could make or break the Orange season.
Will Trevor Cooney Become the Next Great Orange Shooter?
Sophomore shooting guard Trevor Cooney has taken considerable heat from Orange fans over his shooting touch, or lack thereof.
Cooney has been and is touted as a fantastic shooter with a long range, who has been under the tutelage of one Gerry McNamara.
Perhaps the McNamara name is where Orange fans are a little spoiled.
As freshmen, McNamara, Carmelo Anthony and Billy Edelin put together a run for the ages with a national championship in 2003. McNamara was nearly unstoppable in the first half of the national championship game against Roy Williams’ Kansas Jayhawks, to the tune of six first-half three-pointers.
That freshman class was an anomaly, which is what makes the criticism of Cooney a little premature.
Cooney struggled for most of the season to sink his threes, shooting 26.7 percent from beyond the arc. What Orange fans must remember is that in the hierarchy of Syracuse scorers last season, Cooney was a non-factor. Southerland was the shooter, and Carter-Williams, Triche and Fair each took their shots when open.
Cooney's scoring was a bonus, but not often needed.
This season will be different, and Cooney will be relied upon to keep defenses honest with his outside ability. Recent history shows that freshman often make great strides into their sophomore years.
Dion Waiters, Michael Carter-Williams and even Fab Melo were exponentially improved after their freshmen seasons. The jury should still be out on Cooney, but if he fails to fill the role as Syracuse’s perimeter threat, traffic in the lane could become very clogged, and the Orange could be in trouble.
Is the 2-3 Zone Ready?
This will be the first time in four seasons that Brandon Triche will not be patrolling the top of the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone.
Along with Michael Carter-Williams, the Orange had a tandem that frustrated ball handlers and worked for every loose ball or errant pass, most of which they created.
The front court of Coleman, Fair, Christmas, Keita and Grant should be formidable, but Tyler Ennis will give up four inches to Carter-Williams and Cooney, who is a respectable, hard-working defender, making for an entirely new look up top for the Orange.
How well the backcourt mates perform in the zone will be a major piece of the Syracuse puzzle, as Syracuse is prone to generate points out of transition due to the zone.
Guard/Forward Michael Gbinije, the transfer from Duke, is certainly waiting in the wings for an opportunity to break into the lineup and could serve as a spark plug on offense and defense. He’s as tall as Carter-Williams and has been practicing with the team for over a year.
The Orange’s success or failure on defense will be directly connected to the success or failure of Cooney, Ennis and Gbinije.
Can Tyler Ennis Lead This Team?
Tyler Ennis comes in as the de facto and only point guard by nature.
This puts a lot of weight on Ennis’ shoulders, which he seems ready to bear, but it’s a long season.
Ennis should be expected to make some mistakes, but his talent is obvious. He seems to be more controlled that Carter-Williams, which will be a relief for Syracuse fans, but he may offer an added bonus of outside touch, which adds to his value as a pressure release valve for Cooney.
Syracuse has horses on the baseline and will not need the flash of Carter-Williams to get the ball down low. They will simply need someone to get them the ball while they have their backs to the basket.
In regard to getting C.J. Fair involved, he can receive the ball anywhere, but he is as deadly as anyone in the game from the elbow, which Ennis should keep in mind.
Ennis has great talent. The question seems to be whether or not the leadership task is too big for him. It’s far too early to know how Ennis’ season will play out, but his ability to lead will be as important, if not more important, than any other factor facing this team.
How Will the Orange Match Up with the Big Dogs?
For over 30 years, Syracuse played in arguably the best conference in the history of basketball.
The Big East had many faces, from New York streetballers like Pearl Washington and Mark Jackson to finesse players like Kerry Kittles and Lawrence Moten. That’s not to mention the Ewings, Mournings and Mutombos.
Every year, a new talent seemed to spring up, from Chris Mullin to Ray Allen, and with that, a new big dog would control the yard.
That’s what makes the ACC a little different.
The ACC has always had plenty of talent, but there have been essentially two dogs patrolling the yard for a few years now in Duke and North Carolina.
The ACC is gaining half of last year’s Final Four, with Syracuse this season and national champion Louisville next season, replacing the departing Maryland. Also coming in this season are Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. This is a physical group from a physical conference and it will be interesting to see if the Big East invaders can loosen the tight grip of Tobacco Road on the ACC.
For Syracuse, that means January 11 and February 1 become the two biggest games on the calendar, which are home games against North Carolina and Duke, respectively.
Syracuse also travels to Duke on February 22.
Syracuse can use these games as a coming out party, or be relegated to bridesmaid status. Orange fans should make no mistake, the road to winning the ACC is called Tobacco Road, and none shall pass without an offering.
Will the Orange be an also ran, or will they steal lightning from the gods?