Get your orange gear ready, 'Cuse fans. The Syracuse basketball team will get the ball rolling on its inaugural ACC season in mere days. Even though it's only an exhibition against Holy Family, it is basketball nonetheless. With the weather quickly turning brisk, Syracuse basketball will again help fans get through the harsh winter months.
Between the new conference, new point guard and high expectations, there are a lot of questions to be answered as the season progresses. Let's take a look at five of the biggest questions regarding this year's team.
A starting point guard is always asked to do a lot. More often than not, it is guard play that determines winners and losers in March. That's why the play of freshman point guard Tyler Ennis is so important to Syracuse's success this year.
Ennis has big shoes to fill as he is replacing an NBA lottery pick in Michael Carter-Williams. With no other pure point man on the roster, Ennis is expected to garner the bulk of the minutes at the 1. Jim Boeheim confirmed as much when he said Ennis would play about 38 minutes a game. It will be interesting to see how efficiently Ennis uses those minutes early on to adjust to the speed of the college game.
We've already discussed Trevor Cooney's importance to the offense this season. But who else besides Cooney will prove to be a threat from deep? C.J. Fair has improved his shooting touch and shot at a 47 percent clip last year. His sample size was limited, however, as he only attempted 64 threes.
Michael Gbinije, a Duke transfer who sat out last year, is confident this team will have shooting success. He told Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com he feels he is shooting well, and Fair has improved his range. With defenses packing it in the lane and daring this team to shoot, it is important for Cooney, Fair, Gbinije, Jerami Grant and even Ennis to contribute from downtown.
What Syracuse lacks in backcourt depth it makes up for with its talent on the front line. In Fair, Grant, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita and DaJuan Coleman, Jim Boeheim has a lot of different lineup options. All of these guys could be starters on most college teams, and they complement each other well.
Fair, Christmas and Coleman will likely be the starters with Grant providing a spark off the bench and Keita spelling Coleman in the middle. Coleman gives Syracuse a big body inside to protect the paint and do the dirty work. Christmas can play either on the wing and bother shooters with his length, or move to the middle with Fair and Grant flanking him in a more athletic lineup.
Expect Boeheim to tinker with different combinations early in the season to find out what works and what doesn't.
After an impressive freshman campaign, Jerami Grant enters his sophomore season with a lot of hype. There has already been some chatter about Grant's draft stock, and if he starts fast, expect that the buzz will keep growing.
If Grant can stay healthy from here, he and Fair can combine to become a devastating forward tandem. Grant averaged 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds over four games in Canada earlier this summer. If both of these guys have it going, there won't be many forward combos that can check them both effectively.
Syracuse is entering its first season in the ACC after being one of the faces of the Big East. Every Big East game was a grind with bruising teams like Pittsburgh, Marquette and South Florida. There was a lot of physical play inside, and teams really got after it under the bucket.
The ACC, however, is more of a finesse league. Teams like Duke, North Carolina and Miami rely more on outside shooting and a slash-and-kick style of play. ACC referees may not be used to the physical nature of Syracuse and Pitt, which could lead to some foul calls that may not have been fouls in the Big East.
How Syracuse adjusts in these situations will determine how much success the Orange enjoys in the new league.