Perhaps sooner than some would have expected, the 2013-14 edition of Syracuse basketball is in the books.
After a 25-0 start and rising to a No. 1 ranking, the Orange finished the season with a 3-6 stretch. That included a loss to Dayton in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament that sent the Orange packing for a final time.
The loss to Dayton was a culmination of everything that had been going wrong for the Orange during the bumpy finish. The defense was as stingy as ever, holding the Flyers to just 55 points. But the Orange just couldn't get it together on offense, managing only 53 points on 38.9 percent shooting and a dreadful 0-of-10 from three.
With one season coming to an end, the natural focus shifts to next season. What will the Orange roster look like? Which players will return, and which ones will move on?
We know Jim Boeheim will have to replace two key contributors to the success the Orange have enjoyed the last few years. Seniors C.J. Fair and Baye Moussa Keita will not be suiting up next season. Fair was the Orange's leading scorer the past two seasons, and Keita, never the best scorer, was a defensive anchor and leader in the middle of the 2-3 zone.
We can safely assume Trevor Cooney, Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije will all return. Also coming back will be DaJuan Coleman and the bulk of this year's freshman class in Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson and Chinonso Obokoh. Obokoh redshirted this year, so he will be seeing his first game action next year.
After that, well, things become a little more uncertain. Both Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant are projected first-round picks in the upcoming draft. Ennis' stock seems to be hanging in the lottery, while Grant's is somewhere later in the first round.
If Grant and Ennis both come back, Boeheim will have a loaded squad that will likely be in the preseason Top Five. If they both go pro, the team will still be pretty good, but it will be counting on a lot of inexperienced players at key spots.
For now, Grant and Ennis are still enrolled at Syracuse University. Until something changes, we will take the wishful thinking approach and assume both will return next season. With that in mind, let's take a look at Boeheim's potential rotation for next year.
Nothing would change from this year, as Ennis and Cooney would be your starting backcourt. What would change, however, is that Cooney won't be relied upon as much to score from the outside.
Gbinije will still be there to play either guard spot, and with more confidence coming from an increased role, he should be able to score more consistently. Patterson also will likely get some more run as a sophomore. He showed a decent shooting stroke when he played this year, making six of the 19 threes he attempted.
Rounding out the guard rotation will be Kaleb Joseph, a 6'3" combo guard out of New Hampshire who is an incoming freshman. Joseph can play either guard position, but he seems better suited as a scoring guard. He's got some good athleticism and ball-handling skills, and he and Ennis could form a potentially devastating combo off the dribble.
If nothing else, be sure to check out the 1:00-1:07 mark of the above clip.
It's always uncertain how much a freshman will play, but Joseph is No. 49 on the ESPN 100. Considering the skills he's displayed, he certainly will find his way onto the court.
As has been the norm for the past few seasons, Boeheim will have another platoon of long, athletic wing players to work with. Grant, of course, would be one of the starters down low. The other spot is up for some debate.
My guess would be that Gbinije would get the nod given that he's more experienced. But if Boeheim wants to keep him on the bench to be able to back up the guards, Roberson is the best bet to start. There's even a bit of precedent here as Roberson started ahead of Gbinije against Georgia Tech this year.
But considering what Boeheim had to say of Roberson's performance, it seems more likely Gbinije will be in the starting lineup.
That still leaves Roberson and Johnson as available reinforcements off the bench. Neither played much this season, but with a year of experience and a summer to improve, both could be contributors next year. The biggest key for Johnson is to spend some time in the weight room. Listed at 185 pounds, he has yet to fill out his 6'7" frame.
The other option at forward, who might be slotted ahead of Johnson and Roberson in the rotation, is Chris McCullough, the other member of the 2014 freshman class. At 6'10", some might say McCullough is better suited to play center. But it's uncommon for freshmen to get much run at center in the zone, so most of his minutes will come at forward.
But rest assured, the 29th-rated player in ESPN's rankings is going to play. Just imagine a front line of Grant, Christmas and McCullough. That is an intimidating trio to try and score against inside.
With Coleman's status uncertain as he rehabs his second knee injury in as many seasons, you can pen in Christmas as the starter in the middle for his senior season. Christmas won't have an experienced player like Keita backing him up, so he will need to consistently be on his game to keep the zone humming.
Assuming Coleman gets healthy, he can be a serviceable backup and a potential game-changer off the bench with his size (6'9", 280 lbs) and rebounding ability.
That leaves the aforementioned McCullough, if he proves he can play in the middle of the zone, and Obokoh. Since Obokoh redshirted this year, he is a relative unknown. But at 6'10" and 220, he has the size to man the middle. And with a year spent learning the zone in practice, he should be able to have an impact off the bench.
All told, that is 12 players that Boeheim will have at his disposal. Twelve! That would be a welcome change from the seven-man rotation he was working with this year.
We know if you can't play Boeheim's defense to his standards, you don't play. Some players will be more effective in the zone than others, but most of them will have experience. And with regard to the two newcomers, they will likely be too talented to keep off the court.
Whether or not Ennis and Grant stay, Boeheim has managed to keep his pantry stocked. Either way, he will keep his Orange machine rolling full speed ahead.
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