Syracuse Basketball: Biggest Changes Orange Will Undergo in 2014 Offseason
After the loss of C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis and Baye Moussa Keita, the Syracuse basketball team will look vastly different in 2014-15.
Fair, Grant and Ennis were three of the four leading scorers on last year's team. With them gone, unproven players will have to step up to fill the scoring void. Incoming freshmen will likely be prominently featured, so it will be a waiting game to see if they are up to the task.
With so many inexperienced players, the rotation may also expand until coach Jim Boeheim finds out who can contribute best.
So what will be the biggest changes facing the Orange this offseason? There will be new players and a different approach to the offense. Injury concerns will also affect the team's outlook going forward. Let's take a closer look at how the team will be made over this summer.
Replacing the Point Guard...Again
In 2011, it was Scoop Jardine. He graduated, and Michael Carter-Williams took his place. Then Carter-Williams made the jump to the NBA, and Tyler Ennis stepped in. Now Ennis is off to the league, and Kaleb Joseph will probably play the 1.
Four years, four different starting point guards. No one knew what to expect from Ennis. He was replacing a lottery pick. All he did was break hearts and average 12.9 points, 5.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds and only 1.7 turnovers per game.
And by the end of the season, the team was relying almost solely on Ennis to score.
Now that Ennis is gone, the keys to the car will go to another freshman. Ennis has set the bar high when it comes to replacing NBA draft picks. If Joseph isn't up to the task right away, Michael Gbinije will be the other option to run the point.
Gbinije isn't a natural point guard, but he spent this past season apprenticing under Ennis, so he's become more comfortable with the position. He also has the size (6'7") to provide matchup problems in the backcourt and give the 2-3 zone some length at the top.
Both Gbinije and Joseph will have their strengths at the position, but it is unlikely either will have the steady-handedness of Ennis.
For most of last season, the main offensive play was "get the ball to Fair."
If that wasn't working, the Orange went with "try to get Trevor Cooney a three." When his performance fell off a cliff, it was "OK, Tyler, just create something."
Now Fair and Ennis are gone, so those two options are no longer in the playbook. Couple that with the fact that Jerami Grant is no longer available to dunk on people's heads, and Syracuse's offense will be getting a significant makeover.
With players such as Joseph, Chris McCullough, Gbinije, Rakeem Christmas and Tyler Roberson, the Orange will be best served running as much as possible. Boeheim should even consider taking a page out of the Roy Williams book and run, run and run some more.
With few players who have shown they can get their own shot, allowing Christmas, McCullough and Gbinije to exert their athleticism in transition will provide opportunities for easier baskets. If McCullough or Joseph proves capable of scoring in the half court, Boeheim can work him in as the season progresses.
In the meantime, fans will have to wonder where the scoring will come from. Perhaps assistant coach Gerry McNamara has some eligibility left.
New Faces in the Frontcourt
The loss of Fair, Grant and Keita opens up almost an entire game's worth of minutes in the frontcourt.
Until DaJuan Coleman is given a clean bill of health, Christmas will reprise his role as the starting center. But the players flanking him will be new and mostly inexperienced.
The effect will be felt as much on defense as on offense. Sure, Syracuse will miss Fair and Grant's scoring. But the wings have to cover from the three-point line to the rim in the zone. They have to know who to run out on and who to challenge inside.
Grant especially had uncanny athleticism and could get from the perimeter to the rim in a few strides. Fair wasn't quite as agile, but he had four years of experience playing the zone.
The early favorites to join Christmas up front are McCullough and Roberson. McCullough will have no experience in Boeheim's zone, and Roberson only saw the floor if it was absolutely necessary. Because of this, Gbinije will also spend time at forward when he isn't in the backcourt.
Gbinije could even end up starting, but it seems he will end up as the sixth stater because of his versatility.
No matter who is in at forward, it's going to take some time for the defense to be as locked in as it has been in the past. If McCullough is a fast learner, he can be an intimidating force since he has the length and athletic ability to protect the perimeter and the rim.
Working in Bench Players
Because of all the uncertainty about who will be able to contribute, Boeheim will probably use the bench more to give all of his players opportunities.
There will be no Fair or Grant on next year's team that is so far and away better than the alternative that he will play the entire game. Guys like Roberson, B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson and Chinonso Obokoh all waited their turn last season. Next season, they all will be looking to earn playing time to show what they can do.
Boeheim can vary the lineup depending on the situation. He can get his best scorers in against a weak defensive team, or he can plug in the best defenders if a team is starting to get hot.
In addition, always bringing in fresh bodies will keep players from running out of gas by the end of the season. It was pretty apparent Fair's legs were like spaghetti at the end of last season. He finished the year with 3-of-16, 6-of-13 and 4-of-14 shooting performances and struggled to make his patented mid-range jumper.
Playing almost 38 minutes a game could have had something to do with that.
With a year under their belts, Roberson, Patterson, Johnson and Obokoh should be ready to play meaningful minutes. How the rotation shakes out is yet to be determined, but Boeheim should be able to go eight or nine deep depending on players' progress.