The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team tips off the new season with a November 8 date with Cornell at the Carrier Dome.
Looking to continue the success of last season, when the Orange made it all the way to the Final Four before bowing out to Michigan, head coach Jim Boeheim has a stocked cupboard of experience and talent. But that is the norm for Boeheim.
What is different is the competition.
Gone are the days of Big East brawls. Here are the days of Tobacco Road throwdowns.
With the Big East in the rearview mirror, the Atlantic Coast Conference beckons with new rivalries and new styles to overcome. Coaches such as Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams will do their best to ensure that Jim Boeheim's arrival is as uncomfortable as possible.
As far as a season outlook goes, the ACC media voted Syracuse to come in second in the conference, with Duke leading the pack. They also selected Syracuse forward C.J. Fair as the ACC preseason Player of the Year.
Let us go a little deeper and examine the state of Syracuse basketball and what this season should look like.
Tyler Ennis, point guard
Canadian import Tyler Ennis, who played his high school basketball at St. Benedict's Prep (N.J.), will be called upon to replace Michael Carter-Williams, who departed for the NBA.
While Carter-Williams is making a name for himself with the Philadelphia 76ers, Ennis has already been turning heads before the season even started.
With just a few exhibition games under his belt, Ennis has been named one of 10 players to the watch list for the Wayman Tisdale Award, which is given to the best freshman in the nation by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
He's also been named to the watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the best point guard in the nation by the Naismith Hall of Fame.
If Syracuse is to return to the Final Four, Ennis will have to make a Carmelo Anthony-like jump from high school to college. He likely won't have the scoring or defensive ability of Carter-Williams, but he might be close.
Perhaps a former Syracuse point guard, Jonny Flynn, would be a better comparison. Not for his scoring touch, but for the minutes he will log.
According to Syracuse.com, Jim Boeheim said Ennis is "going to play about 38 minutes a game."
Hyperbole aside, Ennis won't have to be Carter-Williams or Flynn. He will need to be an efficient point guard who can get the ball to his forwards and score enough on his own to pull defenders out of the lane. He will also need to be an asset at the top of the 2-3 zone and stay out of foul trouble, as he is the team's only true point guard.
All of this adds up to an incredible rookie season, as it is a lot to ask of a freshman. He seems more than capable of the task.
Ron Patterson, shooting guard
While Ennis' relief will be done by committee, with Michael Gbinije bearing most of the load, Patterson could fill in at the point guard spot as well.
Patterson is third in line at the shooting guard position, but there will be moments when Gbinije, who is the Syracuse utility man, will be filling in for Cooney, Ennis will need a break or any of the guards could be in foul trouble.
Patterson's ability on defense may be what gets him into games, but he could prove to be much more.
C.J. Fair, forward
Over the past 30 years, names such as Derrick Coleman, John Wallace and Hakim Warrick come to mind when considering some of the great Syracuse senior forwards.
C.J. Fair should be a strong addition to that list as he returns the Orange's leading scorer, rebounder and three-point shooter from a season ago.
Already named the ACC preseason Player of the Year, Fair is also on the watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, given to the nation's best Division I player by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
He did not, however, get on the preseason AP All-American Team.
None of this matters in the grand scheme of things. What does matter is Fair is an incredible talent who should wreak havoc on the ACC. He has great range, is a fantastic rebounder and finisher, and has great court sense.
When Fair is on his game, he's pretty close to unstoppable, with a mixture of mid-range daggers and thunderous dunks. Syracuse fans should try to enjoy Fair as frequently as possible this season, as talent like his does not come around too often.
Jerami Grant, forward
Sophomore Jerami Grant filled in last season for a suspended James Southerland and gave the Orange nation a taste of his talents. He is an extremely athletic forward who showed scoring, rebounding and defensive prowess.
This year he came back hungrier.
Grant has added size and has been working on his game, including free-throw shooting, which was a weakness of his. He will play Robin to Fair's Batman, and that's not a knock. His athleticism makes him the perfect complementary player and his work in the offseason is expected to produce great dividends this season.
PG - Tyler Ennis
SG - Trevor Cooney
SF - C.J. Fair
PF - Rakeem Christmas
C/F - DaJuan Coleman
First off the bench
C - Baye Moussa Keita
F - Jerami Grant
G - Michael Gbinije (will play PG, SG and SF)
The rest of the team
Ron Patterson, B.J. Johnson, Tyler Roberson, Nolan Hart, Russ DeRemer, Albert Nassar and Chinonso Obokoh (redshirted).
Cooney has been touted as the team's sharpshooter but struggled with consistency as a freshman. With the departure of James Southerland, Cooney is the go-to-guy for long-range bombing.
Cooney has played well against lesser opponents in the preseason, but the jury will be out until he gets a few regular season games under his belt.
An effective Cooney from distance opens up the Orange offense and allows the forwards room to work.
An ineffective Cooney leaves the Orange dry from the outside unless it's someone—possibly B.J. Johnson—from the bench.
Christmas was another player who struggled with inconsistency, but his problem was not making shots, it was taking them.
Christmas, at 6'9" and 250 pounds, is an imposing and extremely athletic forward. When he's active and motivated, he's a tough player with which to contend. When he's not, he's barely visible.
The Orange need Christmas to be more aggressive, both on the boards and with the ball.
Syracuse is loaded with talented big men who can control the game. The Orange's 2-3 zone is the stuff of legends and will have great experience, save for Ennis, giving the Orange another powerful weapon.
If all the pieces come together, meaning Ennis plays up to the hype, Fair plays like an All-American, Cooney finds his range, Coleman and Christmas become more aggressive and the bench gives offensive and defensive sparks when needed, this team is good enough to win the ACC, get back to the Final Four and possibly win a second championship for Jim Boeheim.
Asking so much of Ennis could end up wearing on him. Cooney could struggle from the outside. Fair could settle too much on his outside game. The bigs could continue their passive play.
And that's not even mentioning free throws.
There are high hopes for this team, but nothing guarantees they will live up to the hype.
Barring injury, an awful season for Syracuse would probably still see them win around 19 or 20 games due to the schedule, but an early exit from the ACC Tournament and a lack of quality wins could have the Orange on the outside and looking in from the NIT.
The Orange have a deep and talented squad that should shake up the ACC this season.
Syracuse was fortunate to get Duke and North Carolina to travel to them, with only one game at Duke as the highlight of their road trips. The Orange will take care of business at home but could have problems at Duke with the close quarters and rabid fans.
Considering a few growing pains and off games as the season progresses, Syracuse should enter the ACC Tournament as one of the top three seeds, probably No. 2 behind Duke.
Different from the Big East, the ACC champion is the tournament champion, as there is no regular season champion.
The Orange's style of play, particularly their defense, will be a great weapon in the ACC Tournament, which the Orange have a great chance of winning at a neutral site.
Unless they win the ACC Tournament with only a couple losses, they would then have a No. 1 seed and the Orange will enter the Tournament as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed.
From there, I see a deep run in this team, as all of the pieces come together and Tyler Ennis revels in the role of Wonderboy.
There are very few teams with the depth of Syracuse, but with the thinness at the point and the unknown of the outside game, teams such as Duke and Kentucky may have a little more going for them. I see the Orange making a run to the Elite Eight before bowing out.
I do, however, reserve the right to adjust this pick if Cooney finds his stroke and Ennis is all he's cracked up to be.