Rebuild? Reload? It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
Replacing the heart and soul of a Syracuse team that was the consensus No. 1 team in America before Arinze Onuaku’s injury will be no small task.
The good news for ‘Cuse fans is that the material Coach Boeheim has to work with is probably more versatile and potentially better than the talent that is departing.
Onuaku, Wes Johnson, and Andy Rautins can be replaced. And I think the Orangemen will be better than people expect.
Sure, Onuaku provided size inside that allowed Syracuse to funnel traffic into the teeth of their zone, which helped the Orangemen guards defend the arc. But offensively, Onuaku was somewhat limited.
Wes Johnson, the jumping-jack scorer, has taken his wares to the NBA and his explosive scoring punch will certainly be missed, but Johnson is not irreplaceable.
His inability to put the ball on the deck and create hurt the Orangemen when faced with solid defensive teams.
And finally, there’s Rautins, the Big East’s deadliest sniper.
Rautins had unlimited range, but he struggled against quicker guards that could contest his jump shot.
Again, Rautins is a player that will be missed, but there’s talent already on campus or coming to campus to fill these voids.
One of the top two or three centers in all of high school basketball, Fab Melo will be joining the Orangemen this fall.
Fab gives Syracuse the size on the back line of the zone that Onuaku provided, but the freshman’s skills on offense around the bucket are already light years ahead of Arinze.
Melo allows the ‘Cuse to go back to the double post look that was so successful with Jackson and Onuaku.
In fact, Jackson should be even more effective now that he should be drawing the opposing team’s second best post defender when flanked by Melo on the opposite block.
Replacing Johnson will be up and coming star Kris Joseph, who will be counted on to give the Orange an athletic inside and outside presence on the wing alongside Jackson and Melo.
Luckily for the Orange, Joseph is just as athletic as Johnson, but he’s not nearly the shooter Johnson is.
Joseph seems to have a better feel for putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. That’s good news for a team that lacked ball handling creators last season.
Speaking of perimeter creators, unlike last season the Orangemen will have more on campus to choose from.
While Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche played dueling point guard banjos for most of the season, it was Rautins who was asked to do a lot of the creating.
Rautins used his unbelievable range to shot fake his way into the lane, which was fool’s gold when faced with athletes that could smother his jumper.
Enter super shooting guard Dion Waiters, a player who is much more proficient on the bounce than the shooting guard he’ll be replacing.
While Waiters isn’t the shooter that Rautins is, his ability to create by putting the ball on the deck will take some pressure off of Jardine and Triche to be facilitators.
Waiters can also shoot it quite capably, so he has the potential to be a much more dynamic player than Rautins.
Throw in Joseph as a solid ball handler on the wing, and the Orangemen go from having a dearth of slashers and play makers to having at least three on the floor at any given time.
Next season, the main problem for Syracuse goes from finding creators to finding shooters. So don’t be surprised to see the Orange zoned much more than they were last season.
A traditional 2-3 zone vs. the Cuse allows the opponent to deal with what potentially is an explosive double post offense led by Melo and Jackson. It also forces Joseph, Jardine, and Triche to knock down shots instead of slashing to the basket, making true freshman Waiters the X-factor shooting the basketball.
When a freshman can beat people, it's a good successful formula especially in the Big East.
If the Orangemen do find their stroke, their only other weakness is experience, and specifically teaching the young contributors the ins and outs of Boeheim’s active 2-3 zone.
Can the freshman pick up Boeheim’s zone nuances like trapping, funneling, and digging down in the paint?
The quicker Melo and Waiters learn the system, the more dangerous the Orangemen become.
The material is there, but the learning curve will likely determine whether next season is one of rebuilding or reloading.
Kevin Berger writes the leading college hoops blog March To March.
Follow him on Twitter: @MarchToMarch