The 2014-15 Syracuse basketball team had the potential to be dangerous. An inside-out combo of Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis flanked by Trevor Cooney and a three-headed monster at center in Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman and Chinonso Obokoh would have been tough for any opponent.
But Coleman's recovery is still a question mark, and his status is uncertain for next season. Then Ennis declared for the NBA draft. That wasn't a huge surprise because he didn't stand to gain much from another year in school. With Kaleb Joseph arriving next year, Ennis' successor was already in place. That left Grant as the unquestioned go-to guy for next year's team.
Then Grant announced Monday he too will go pro.
On To The NBA Draft For Grant http://t.co/ARx7H4FPnx— Syracuse Athletics (@Cuse) April 14, 2014
Poof. Just like that, the Orange have now lost 64 percent of their scoring from last season in C.J. Fair, Baye Keita, Ennis and Grant. Fair and Grant played the bulk of the minutes at forward (69.2 combined per game). Now those minutes are there for the taking.
For now, there is a lot more unknown than known heading into next season. Returning players like Michael Gbinije, Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson will likely see their roles increase exponentially. With no entrenched players like Fair and Grant, head coach Jim Boeheim will have the freedom to go deeper into his bench to experiment with lineups and see who can contribute.
Cooney and Christmas will no doubt retain their roles in the starting lineup. As a redshirt junior and senior, respectively, they will also be looked to as the leaders of the team. After that, it's anyone's guess how the rotation will shake out.
If Coleman manages to recover by the time the season starts, he likely will start in the middle. After all, he was a starter last year before knee surgery derailed his second straight season.
If Coleman can't get back right away, Christmas becomes the lone experienced player in the middle. Christmas will carry a heavy burden and have to do his best to stay out of foul trouble, lest he give way to the unproven and unpolished Obokoh.
Incoming freshman Chris McCullough could also be in the mix for center minutes, but that likely would only happen if Coleman misses time. Otherwise, he could slide into a starting forward spot considering his talent as a top-25 recruit, per ESPN and 247.
Made it finally, just got that #5 for next season! #SU— Chris McCullough (@_CM5) March 3, 2014
It will be weird to see someone not named Fair don the No. 5 jersey for the Orange. But McCullough has the potential to be a difference-maker for the Orange. Scout.com listed McCullough's strengths as athleticism, length and running the floor.
He sprints on his toes and seems to blow past his opponents almost effortlessly. Tangibly speaking, that ability enables him to stand out as a prime transition scorer. Meanwhile, his fleet-footedness also allows him to race back on defense and pin attempted dunks and layups on the backboard.
Combine that with Joseph and Christmas' athleticism, and the Orange could be devastating in transition. Getting up and down the floor would provide opportunity for easier baskets, and that could help in Syracuse's search for scoring.
As for the other forward spot, it likely will be a toss-up between Gbinije and Roberson unless Johnson makes a big jump this summer. The smart money would be on Roberson; he started in place of Grant when Grant was out with back problems last year.
There is no question Gbinije is a better player than Roberson right now. He got a lot more run last year and played minutes at three positions. But that last point is what could cement Gbinije's sixth man status.
In recent years, Boeheim has given starter's minutes to the first guy off his bench. In Gbinije, Boeheim has someone he can plug into three spots on the floor. Since Boeheim likes to give players the hook if they make a play he doesn't like, he'll have the freedom to sub Gbinije for anyone—besides the center—who struggles.
Joseph then emerges as the favorite to join Cooney in the backcourt. Since Joseph is a natural guard, he should be the choice over Gbinije. Joseph has displayed the ball-handling skills and athleticism necessary to be a successful college player, but the key will be his decision-making. Having to follow Ennis will put a lot of pressure on the kid to not turn the ball over.
If Joseph has trouble taking care of the rock, Boeheim will call on Gbinije.
That leaves Patterson, Obokoh and Johnson to fill out the rotation. How much they play will depend on their improvement in the offseason, but the opportunity is there for them to earn playing time.
After Syracuse lost Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland, fans knew they still had Fair and Grant coming back. Now, there is no one one the level of Fair or Grant who can carry the team.
Because of that, next year's nonconference schedule will be more important than usual. It will essentially be a tryout for all of the new faces trying to earn minutes. Unlike past years, the team won't have an identity right away. There will be no 25-0 start next year, but perhaps that will allow the team to grow throughout the season and peak in March instead of early February.