Road to the Final Four: No. 20 Syracuse Not to Be Overlooked After Losses

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IOctober 6, 2009

MILWAUKEE - MARCH 07: Arinze Onuaku #21 of the Syracuse Orange boxes out Lazar Hayward #32 of the Marquette Golden Eagles on March 7, 2009 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Syracuse defeated Marquette 86-79 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Compare a top seven of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, Andy Rautins, Wesley Johnson, Rick Jackson, and Arinze Onuaku to any roster in America and it's debatable whether you could find a group of players better than that.

But Jim Boeheim doesn't have Flynn, Devendorf, and Harris at his disposal as the three declared for the NBA Draft. Flynn is on his way to being an NBA superstar while when it's all said and done, Harris and Devendorf will likely land in Europe making six figures.

Boeheim does have one of the top frontcourts in the country with Onuaku and his mammoth 275-pound frame anchoring the paint, with Jackson ready to swat shots away from his power forward/center role, and Johnson ready to light up the boards from the wing position.

Johnson replacing Harris in the starting lineup is an improvement for the 'Cuse. Boeheim has mentioned that Johnson is talented enough to play only year at Syracuse, enter the NBA Draft, and be selected in the first round of the draft. He's the best transfer in the country this season and will likely lead the Orange in scoring.

The junior transfer from Iowa State will bring a slick three-point stroke and leaping ability to improve the usual weak rebounding that naturally accompanies the two-three zone.

Replacing Eric Devendorf will be red-shirt senior guard Andy Rautins. The Canadian and son of former NBA player (and Syracuse star) Leo Rautins is one of the Big East's best three-point shooters.

Rautins isn't much of a step down from Devendorf as Rautins won't make as many bone-headed mistakes and is a significant upgrade on the defensive end of the floor.

Finding someone to fill Jonny Flynn's size 14 shoes will be the most difficult task for Jim Boeheim.

Flynn's evolution as a player rapidly progressed throughout the season and ultimately peaked during the Orange's six overtime victory against Connecticut in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

But gone are his 17 points and almost seven assists per game. Wes Johnson will help make up for some of the scoring lost, but it will be freshman guard Brandon Triche and red-shirt sophomore Scoop Jardine's jobs to lead this team at the point.

Most recruiting services underrate Triche mainly because most haven't seen him play because he missed time with an ACL injury and didn't play in many AAU Tournaments. He shared the Gatorade NY State Player of the Year award with Tobias Harris.

Yes, that Tobias Harris, the one every school on the East Coast wants and Syracuse is the front-runner to get.

Boeheim said during the off-season that he thinks Triche can come in and immediately be a better point guard than Flynn.

Boeheim didn't say player, but point guard. Despite his seven assists per game, Flynn struggled at times finding Onuaku and Jackson in the post who both have very polished low-post moves.

If Triche isn't quite ready to be a significant contributor for the Orange, sophomore Scoop Jardine is ready to fill the role.

Jardine missed last season with a leg injury, but that injury may have been a blessing for shooting guard from the same Philadelphia high school as Rick Jackson.

Jardine would have been spent most of last season riding the pine because of a crowded backcourt, but instead, Jardine worked on his once really, really ugly looking jumpshot and increased his conditioning and strength.

Jardine might finally be ready to show why he was considered a top 60 recruit.

Recent history suggests Jim Boeheim won't use much more than a seven or eight player rotation, but this season, Boeheim will have the luxuary of going nine at least nine deep.

Will he use all nine players? Probably not, especially when Big East play begins.

The final three players to fill out the rotation are center DaShonte Riley, small forward Kris Joesph, and shooting guard Mookie Jones.

All three are flexible in their positions as Riley can spell Jackson at power forward, Joseph has the size to play the four, and Jones can rotate to the front line on defense.

Riley is a tremendous shot blocker and should give Syracuse a great defensive presence if either Jackson or Onuaku get into foul trouble.

He's a top 50 freshman out of the Detroit Country Day School, but at 6'11'' 200 pounds, Riley could use some time to bulk up much like Jardine did in the off-season.

'Cuse fans saw a lot of sophomore Kris Joesph last season during the non-conference slate, but his role diminished as the Big East season wore on due to suspect decision making.

Joseph struggled at times knowing his role in the 2-3 zone, but he did excel at stepping into passing lanes.

Mookie Jones is a smooth scorer that ultimately might become Boeheim's favorite substitute. Jones played mostly in garbage time during his first nine games before getting shut down for hip surgery as a freshman.

When Jones did play, the red-shirt freshman never had trouble changing scoreboard as he average four points per game in just nine minutes of action per game.

Freshman James Southerland may see some playing time early, but will likely be headed for a red-shirt as his game and size are similar enough to Joesph's to rarely see any time.

Even with the personnel losses, Boeheim's roster is still worthy of the top 25. The 'Cuse will get to showcase its talent under the bright lights of its home-away-from-home, Madison Square Garden in the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

The Orange will get a top 15 team California in the first game in New York City and either Ohio State (a top 20 team) or defending champs, North Carolina in a second.

There's a pretty good chance SU could come away winless in the Big Apple, but Boeheim's bunch still has several opportunities to win big non-conference games.

Syracuse plays Florida in the Sunshine State during the Big East/SEC Invitational and hosts a reloading Memphis team in the Carrier Dome.

Games against Cornell and Oakland will provide SU with chances to pick up wins against likely NCAA Tournament teams. The Big Red gave Syracuse gave everything the Orange could handle last year while the Grizzlies rolled over and played dead in their trip to the Carrier Dome last year.

The Big East as a whole is down this season, so the Orange despite its step back from last season should still have similar success in the league. An 11-7 campaign in the conference is likely for the 'Cuse.

This team is good enough to reach the Sweet 16 like last season, but the Round of 32 will likely be the Orange's final destination unless they get a favorable matchup in the second round.

The final word on this Syracuse team is, Jim Boeheim may not have the headliner talent like he did last year which would have made this team a top three squad in the nation, but he still has enough star power to stay in the top 25 all season and make some noise in March.

Syracuse's 20th-place ranking is a result of Bleacher Report's Preseason Poll voted on by 20 writers. Syracuse's ranking is not necessarily a representation of how the author ranked Syracuse

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