Syracuse Basketball: 5 Bold Predictions for Orange in 2013-14
The time has come, Syracuse fans. The Syracuse basketball team finished its exhibition schedule Tuesday night and will start the regular season Friday as the Big Red of Cornell come to the Carrier Dome.
This should prove to be one of the most exciting seasons for Syracuse basketball in quite some time. The team is in a new (and highly competitive) conference and has the potential to do big things. With the season just about to tip off, allow me to give you five bold predictions for the inaugural ACC campaign.
Syracuse Will Have a Top-Five Defense
Last year, Syracuse ranked in the top five nationally in field-goal percentage defense (third, 36.9 percent), blocks per game (fifth, 6.2) and three-point defense (third, 28.4 percent) according to NCAA.com. This season, just about every relevant player up front is back, save for James Southerland.
With DaJuan Coleman and Baye Keita in the middle and C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant patrolling the wings, teams will again find it difficult to score against the Orange. There is a lot of new blood in the backcourt, but Trevor Cooney proved to be a capable defender last year, and Tyler Ennis is an intelligent player who should learn the nuances of the 2-3 zone quickly.
Add in the 6'7" Michael Gbinije, who will be getting a lot of minutes as a guard, and everything is in place for Jim Boeheim to have another dominant defensive squad.
Tyler Ennis Will Lead the ACC in Assists
If pressed, I would say this is the prediction I feel least confident about. But at the same time, last year's ACC assists leader, Lorenzo Brown of NC State, moved on. Michael Carter-Williams was third in the nation in assists last year at 7.7, so the opportunity will be there for Ennis. His play so far has even landed him on the Cousy Award watch list.
That isn't to say Ennis is at the same level as Carter-Williams, but I think it's safe to say Ennis is more of a pass-first guard than MCW. Also, Ennis won't be expected to score as much, but he will have essentially the same weapons at his disposal that Carter-Williams did. Between kick-outs to shooters on the wing and the transition opportunities the defense will surely create, Ennis will be able to rack up plenty of dimes.
There Will Be No Eligibility Issues This Year
This is equal parts prediction and wishful thinking, but I don't think any players will miss games this year because of an academic/eligibility issue. In the past two seasons, Fab Melo and James Southerland missed time due to academic concerns. Melo's absence was particularly painful because it caused him to miss the 2012 tournament when Syracuse had legitimate title hopes.
Syracuse got its issues out of the way early when Tyler Roberson was cleared by the NCAA earlier this summer. Boeheim knows how these problems can negatively impact a season, so you can bet he will make sure his guys get it done in the classroom as well as on the court.
C.J. Fair Will Be the Conference POY
As you probably know, Fair has already been named the preseason Player of the Year in the ACC. He will likely lead the team in scoring as he did last year, and his all-around game will take another step up. He has developed a reliable three-point shot to add to his mid-range game and rebounding and defensive prowess.
Jabari Parker is the hot name to take the award down to Durham, but I think he and teammate Rodney Hood will take votes from each other. That will leave the door open for Fair, who will be the unquestioned go-to guy for the Orange.
Jerami Grant Will Enter the 2014 NBA Draft
Syracuse fans may not like to hear this, but this may be Jerami Grant's last year on campus. Even though he is only a sophomore, Grant has the makings of an NBA player. He will use his length and athleticism in his increased role this year to make his name known among NBA scouts.
Consider it the Dion Waiters path to the NBA. Waiters became the fourth pick in the 2012 draft after his sophomore year despite never having started a game for the Orange. Grant figures to be the sixth man for the Orange this year, but he will likely get starter's minutes, just like Waiters.
Few teams will have forwards who can match up with Fair and Grant, so one of them will likely have a mismatch. Fair has the higher pedigree, so expect him to garner most of the attention. Grant will therefore be able to take advantage of the lesser defender checking him.
If Grant continues the high level of play he showed flashes of last year and ends up projecting as a first-round draft pick, chances are he will follow in the footsteps of Waiters and Carter-Williams.