Syracuse Basketball: Strengths and Weaknesses of Orange's 2014-15 Roster
Over the summer, the Syracuse basketball team will undergo quite the face-lift.
Jim Boeheim will be running out an almost completely new cast of characters. Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair, Baye Moussa Keita and Jerami Grant all have left, creating plenty of opportunity for young players to earn playing time.
We don't yet know how the rotation will shake out, but we know there will be at least 10 players vying for floor time. Many of them are returning players, with only two freshmen in this year's class. But both Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph are highly rated recruits, so it's safe to assume they will have an impact.
Like any team, the 2014-15 iteration of the Orange will have its strengths and weaknesses. Let's dive in and explore where the team will excel and what may cause some problems.
Syracuse will always lean on its defense to keep it in games.
The Orange held opponents to just 59.2 points per game in 2013, which was eighth-best in the nation. When one long, athletic player checks out of the lineup, another takes his place. The only thing that changes is the scoring ability on the floor.
Trevor Cooney will be back and will look to improve on his 1.9 steals a game from 2013. Cooney's steal numbers were second only to Ennis' in the ACC. Rakeem Christmas will be manning the middle, and in his senior year, Christmas will need to become the defensive anchor considering the inexperience behind him.
Michael Gbinije has the flexibility to play either guard position or either forward position, and he proved disruptive on defense as well, averaging 0.7 steals in 14.6 minutes a game. On a per-minute basis, that's only slightly under Cooney's rate. Assuming Gbinije gets a considerable boost in minutes, those steal numbers should trend upward as well.
Tyler Roberson, Chinonso Obokoh, B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson will have a year in the system under their belts and should also be able to contribute on the defensive end. Add in the length and athleticism of newcomers Joseph and McCullough, and Boeheim will have another stout defensive squad on his hands.
Weakness: 3-Point Shooting
Where are the shots going to come from this year?
After Cooney's Jekyll-and-Hyde performance in the 2013 season, we can't know what to expect out of him this year. He's going to be the primary option again from deep, so fans are hoping he can shoot consistently for the entire season.
Beyond Cooney, it's hard to say who is going to be a reliable threat from the outside. Patterson seemed to have a smooth stroke during warm-ups, but warm-up shooting and game shooting are two different animals.
Other than that, Orange fans (and coaches for that matter) are resigned to playing the waiting game when it comes to the three-point arc. With so many new faces who don't have much game experience, we won't know who will hit shots until they roll the ball out.
Because of that, perimeter shooting will be a perceived weakness until the team proves otherwise.
Strength: Transition Capability
While we don't know if the perimeter shots will fall, we do know the Orange will be dangerous in the open floor.
Joseph's skill set lends itself perfectly to running as much as possible. His athleticism and ability to finish at the rim will be valuable as he leads the break. The only hang-up will be his decision-making.
Ennis' uncanny steady-handedness set the bar high for his successors at the point. It's unreasonable to expect Joseph will be as frugal with the ball, especially since he seems to play with a pretty loosey-goosey style.
Either way, with Joseph flanked by McCullough, Roberson, Gbinije and Christmas, the Orange will have plenty of threats to attack the rim on the run. Considering Syracuse will struggle to score in the half court (more on that in a minute), Boeheim should keep the reins off as much as possible and encourage his players to push it.
Weakness: Half-Court Offense
The Orange's best bet is to run as much as possible, because it's hard to tell how the Orange will execute in the half court.
Not only will Boeheim be handing the keys to another new point guard, but all of Syracuse's best scorers have also moved on. Fair, Ennis and Grant were three of the four leading scorers in 2013-14, and Boeheim called the majority of the plays for Ennis and Fair.
Few of the players will be used to having plays called for them, so Boeheim could use a lot of pick-and-rolls to try to create mismatches. That would put his players in favorable positions to score. Joseph is creative off the dribble, so putting the ball in his hands and letting him make the plays may be the best option.
Just like the three-point shooting, we will have to wait and see how the half-court offense shakes out. Syracuse's best bet will be to keep games in the 60s to minimize the offensive burden.