Just nine games into the season, the Syracuse Orange find themselves as the No. 2 team in the nation, according to the newest poll of the Associated Press.
After being ranked No. 8 in the preseason, the Orange (9-0) have only Arizona above them in the rankings. Last season’s Syracuse squad, which made it all the way to the Final Four, was never ranked higher than No. 3, and that was for just one week.
While the rankings this early in the season don’t mean much, they do illustrate Syracuse’s knack for keeping the cupboard stocked with talent.
Going into this season, Syracuse waved goodbye to Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche. Freshman Tyler Ennis replaces Carter-Williams at the point, and Trevor Cooney takes Triche’s spot at the two guard, his starting position for four years.
Cooney would also take over for Southerland as the team’s outside shooter
In their opening game, the Orange played Cornell and trailed by 14 points before cutting the deficit to 38-32 at the half. Syracuse pulled away for an 82-60 win thanks to a 27-point effort by Cooney. However, coach Jim Boeheim knew his team had some work ahead.
After the game, Boeheim stated,
“We’re not last year’s team. Michael Carter-Williams would have gone by those guys and dunked six times. He’s not here. That’s something we have to adjust to. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Speaking about the loss of Carter-Williams and Triche and the lofty expectations of this year’s team, Boeheim added,
“When you lose those two guys? And you're playing a freshman guard and a sophomore guard that didn't play last year. I don't know what people see. Maybe I don't know basketball, I guess.”
Boeheim’s caution regarding this team was understandable, but after Cooney and Ennis’ defense helped steer Syracuse’s dismantling of Indiana on Dec. 3, he seems to be coming around to the optimistic side, offering,
“They played well, both guards, the whole Hawaii trip. Those two kids, they’ve really played well. One’s a first-year player; the other guy really didn’t play a lot last year so I don’t think you could ask for them to play at a higher level than what they have played. It’s really been amazing the level of play that they’ve had. They’ve really picked up the whole team. I don’t think you could say enough about how they’ve played this year.”
Syracuse’s success, so far, is more than Cooney and Ennis. C.J. Fair has become the go-to guy, and Jerami Grant is emerging as a star. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how this team has grown in the early season.