Practice for the Syracuse men’s basketball team has been going on since Sept. 27 with the Orange preparing to next face Holy Family in a Nov. 1 exhibition at the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse will host one more exhibition game four days later against Ryerson and then its season officially starts at home against Cornell on Nov. 8.
With only a little over two weeks under their belts in practice, the Orange will spend the next few weeks working out the kinks and getting their young players acclimated to head coach Jim Boheim's system. That means working on everything from defensive positioning and footwork to foul shooting and situational offense.
Syracuse’s young players will have plenty of time to get used to the cavernous backdrop of the Carrier Dome, as the team’s only trip outside of the state of New York before Jan. 7 will be at the Maui Invitational, starting Nov. 25.
Other than those three days in Hawaii, Syracuse will visit Madison Square Garden on Dec. 15 to take on its old conference mate, St. John’s.
So, with all this time at home, what do we know about the Orange?
Not a whole lot…yet.
Without any real competition to evaluate the Orange, it is difficult to assess players' progress, but there are a few observations that can be made in the limited exposure we’ve been given.
Let’s review some of our takeaways from Syracuse's practices.
Sophomore forward DaJuan Coleman was already an impressive physical specimen at 6’9” and 280 pounds.
All that size didn’t appear to be muscle, however, after Coleman faced criticism last season over his conditioning.
Coleman seems to have come back leaner and meaner and rid himself of the baby fat that served as fodder for his detractors as a freshman.
After missing eight games to a knee injury last season before making it back in time for the NCAA tournament, Coleman has not only returned in better shape, but has also developed his game a little bit.
If practice is any indicator, expect some good inside-out play from Coleman, who has become a decent passer out of the block. This could be a significant addition to Syracuse's offense, as it did not get significant production from its forwards last season except for C.J. Fair.
If all goes according to plan, Coleman could have a breakout season.
Sophomore forward Jerami Grant impressed last season while filling in for the suspended James Southerland and the injured DaJuan Coleman.
His length and athleticism turned a lot of heads and his overall game has Syracuse fans excited for his new campaign.
His talent was obvious, but raw last season and his lanky body needed some bulking up. With a summer to work on his skills and more time to fill out his body, Grant came back looking like a grown man rather than a kid who is one year removed from high school.
With Grant starting to develop in the image of his father, Harvey, and his uncle, Horace, Syracuse fans should be on alert that Jerami Grant came back this season with a purpose.
Surely, it is not the most meaningful event of the new season, but the incoming freshman class has been assigned its jersey numbers.
There are five freshmen who have come aboard for the Orange, but only four will play this season, as Chinonso Obokoh has been redshirted for this season.
Their jersey numbers are:
- 2—B.J. Johnson
- 11—Tyler Ennis
- 21—Tyler Roberson
- 34—Ron Patterson
- 35—Chinonso Obokoh
Practices may have started Sept. 27, but Syracuse played a four-game set in Quebec and Ontario from Aug. 21-24, giving the Orange a leg up on practicing a month before most other college teams.
The exhibition games in Canada allowed Syracuse's coaching staff to evaluate several strengths and weaknesses before the season and gave the young Orange squad a chance to learn the nuances of the 2-3 zone.
Only Chinonso Obokoh and Tyler Roberson did not participate in the exhibition games due to the NCAA clearinghouse not declaring their academic eligibility, but both were eventually cleared and are now dressed for practice.
From Tyler Ennis’ shot selection to Rakeem Christmas’ post play, Orange coaches got a glimpse into their own team a lot earlier than most, which should equate to a Syracuse team that plays with polish this season.
With Tyler Ennis being the Syracuse's only point guard, Duke transfer Michael Gbinije will serve as the backup when Ennis needs to come off the court.
He is more of a natural shooting guard, which means that in games where Ennis needs less relief and shooting guard Trevor Cooney needs more relief, Gbinije could have his hands full at the top of the key.
Gbinije has been practicing with the Orange for over a year, and in practice, has shown he can play both positions. He has improved his ball handling and has the length to shoot over defenders.
Orange fans should expect to see a lot of Gbinije this season.