With the start of the Syracuse basketball season just days away, excitement is building in upstate New York. Syracuse finishes its exhibition season Tuesday with a game against Ryerson and then starts playing for keeps when Cornell comes to the Carrier Dome on Friday night.
Between the new players, new conference and loaded schedule, there are plenty of angles to follow. Let's take a look at the five main storylines regarding the 'Cuse this year.
When Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame (and Louisville next year) joined the ACC, it created perhaps the best conference in the history of college basketball. Syracuse was picked to finish second to Duke in this gauntlet of a conference this year. As the new kid in town, Syracuse will surely have a target on its back.
Every game is a big game. And when Duke goes to the Carrier Dome on February 2 (one day before the Super Bowl, by the way), Syracuse will likely break its own on-campus attendance record. It will be interesting to follow this team on its first trip through the ACC as it takes everyone's best shot night in and night out.
By now, we all know about the hype surrounding C.J. Fair. In the past, Fair handled his business and flew under the radar while guys like Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams stole the spotlight.
This year, things are different.
Fair is now the straw that stirs the Orange drink. ACC writers acknowledged as much when they tabbed Fair as the conference's preseason Player of the Year. With guys like Jabari Parker, Joe Harris, Rodney Hood and Jerian Grant running in the ACC, Syracuse fans will constantly be comparing Fair's game with those of his competitors to see how he stacks up.
With C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita and DaJuan Coleman, Jim Boeheim has a murderer's row on the front line. His backcourt, however, is another story. Boeheim will be running out two new starters in redshirt sophomore Trevor Cooney and true freshman Tyler Ennis.
Fair aside, Ennis is the most important player for the Orange this year. The kid is the only true point guard on the team, so his level of play, and his health, will be monitored closely as the season wears on. According to Donna Ditota, of Syracuse.com, Boeheim said he expects Ennis to log big minutes this year, so his conditioning as he adjusts to a longer college season will be vital as well.
Syracuse's forwards will cause headaches for their opponents this year. But if the guards struggle, the team as a whole will likely struggle.
As we've already mentioned, the ACC schedule is insane this year. You already know about the Duke games. But Syracuse also plays North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, among others, in the Dome.
And then there's the nonconference schedule. To start with, the Orange will head to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. Then the team plays St. John's in Madison Square Garden, also known as Syracuse's second home. And finally, the 'Cuse will welcome Villanova, a former Big East foe, and Indiana in the Dome. With so many blockbusters on the docket, Syracuse will be in the spotlight early and often.
That picture pretty much speaks for itself. That's Jerami Grant at the line last weekend against Holy Family. Syracuse fans remember the lanky freshman who stepped in and kept the Orange ship afloat last year in James Southerland's absence.
But Grant's physical growth isn't all that will be monitored. His development as a player is just as important. With more minutes available to him, Grant will be given the opportunity to shine. Based on his play so far, he will likely seize that opportunity. He led the team in scoring and rebounding during the Canada run and dropped 13 points in 18 minutes against Holy Family.
If he keeps it up throughout the season, expect to hear Grant's name more often during NBA draft chatter.