Syracuse Basketball: 10 Bold Predictions for Jim Boeheim's Crew in 2011-12
Syracuse's season did not end exactly how many people had hoped or expected. They could not get past the first weekend of March Madness after securing a three seed for the tournament. Marquette got the better of them that day winning 66-62.
But that was last year and now we look to the future and next season. For the most part the Orange team was able to stay intact with the only loss of significance being senior center Rick Jackson. Coach Boeheim was also able to secure a pretty impressive recruiting class with two McDonald's All-Americans and one more player in ESPN Top 100.
I have come up with 10 bold predictions for this Orange squad and some might surprise you.
The Orange Will Win 20-Plus Games Next Season
I am not really going out on a limb on this one seeing as Coach Boeheim has won at least 20 games the past 14 seasons. He has actually won at least 20 games in 28 of the past 29 seasons, which is really quite impressive. When it is all said and done next season, I think the Orange will be closer to 30 wins than 20, but I didn't want to go too crazy with my first prediction.
Loss of Rick Jackson Will Be Big
I don't think Rick Jackson got enough credit for what he was able to accomplish last year and was by far Syracuse's best player. He averaged a double-double in his final season with 13 points per game and 10.6 rebounds not to mention he was the anchor in the famous 2-3 defense that Coach Boeheim runs.
He averaged 2.5 blocks per game and 1.3 steals and at only 6'9" never seemed overpowered by some of the bigger centers he had to go up against. It will be tough for Boeheim to replace Jackson but he has one player who is ready to take over the position...
Fab Melo Will Make Cuse Fans Forget Jackson
Fab Melo came in as the top freshman prospect for Coach Boeheim last year and struggled. He was benched for a couple of games but started to come on towards the end of the season.
In the final five games of the season he averaged 13.8 minutes per game, up four minutes over his season average, shot almost 85 percent from the field, and averaged over a block per game.
Melo has the size, at seven-feet and 244 pounds to be a dominating center, and I think with a whole summer to workout, he will come back stronger and claim that starting center spot and run with it.
Rakeem Christmas Will Win Big East Rookie of the Year
Rakeem Christmas was the top prize for Coach Boeheim in his recruiting class this year. ESPN has him as the 19th overall player in this freshman class and the second best center. He is only 6'9" but has a wingspan of 88.5 inches which allows him to play bigger than he is.
Christmas has drawn comparisons to another former lanky Syracuse player with a huge wingspan, Hakim Warrick. I could see Coach Boeheim having a front court of Melo and Christmas that could cause problems for other teams on both ends of the court. If Christmas gets the playing time, he has the talent to be the best freshman in the Big East next season.
Dion Waters Will Return to Syracuse Next Year
About three weeks ago, Coach Boeheim announced at a speaking engagement in New York City that Dion Waiter's return to the team next year was "up in the air". What that means I don't know and I am still not sure whether this is Waiter's choice or Coach Boeheim's.
Dion Waiters' already announced on Twitter that he was returning to Syracuse next season. That is why I am leaning towards this being Coach Boeheim's decision but either way, I still believe Waiters' will be on the Orange roster come fall next season.
Waiters played much better as the season went on and was the only player able to keep the Orange in their final game with Marquette, scoring 18 points on 8-10 shooting from the field. I could see him making serious improvements for his sophomore year and play a key role next season.
C.J. Fair Will Become Syracuse's No. 2 Scoring Option
The freshman I was most impressed with last season was forward C.J. Fair, who showed some great talent but was inconsistent throughout the year. I think the inconsistency will go away with experience and I could see Fair taking over as the second scoring option behind Kris Joseph.
Fair was very selective with his shots but was still able to be productive. He doesn't need to shoot the ball 15 to 20 times a game to score a lot of points. This type of maturity will give Boeheim more confidence in him and this generally means more playing time.
Kris Joseph Will Get Player of the Year Considerations
When Andy Rautins and Wesley Johnson left two years ago there was a scoring and leadership void left. Joseph did not have the type of impact Johnson had on a game but did become the leader of this Cuse squad.
He also decided not to test the NBA draft waters, which I think will be a great decision as this will give him an opportunity to still grow and really showcase his skills for the next level.
He saw his points per game increase from 10.8 his sophomore year to 14.6 last year while shooting about 45 percent from the field. The biggest improvement was his three point shooting as he went from 22 percent to 36 percent last year. I think Joseph still has a lot of potential that hasn't been tapped yet and you will see that next year.
Scoop Jardine Will Become a Pass First Point Guard
Scoop Jardine is returning for his senior year and will be running the point for Syracuse for a second straight year. Scoop had an up and down year, including hitting two three at the end of the UConn game to send it to overtime in the Big East Tournament. But when he was bad, he was bad and this was evident in the Marquette game, where he made key mistakes throughout.
Jardine will be graduating this spring and has said he will be turning his focus to basketball. He will be going to a number of basketball camps including LeBron's, Chris Paul's and Deron Williams'. He will hopefully learn this summer to be more of a floor general and setting up teammates instead of looking for his shot first.
He led the Big East in assists last season and improved his average to almost six a game but also led the Orange in field goals attempted last year. I believe getting an opportunity to work at camps run by Paul and Williams that it will sink in that he needs to set up teammates first and look for his shot second.
Syracuse Will Win the Big East Regular Season
Syracuse is entering next season with a lot of veteran leadership and a lot of experience. Jardine and Brandon Triche will be entering their second season of playing together in the backcourt, Joseph will be entering his second season of starting and Waiters, Fair and Melo have a year of experience under their belt to rely on.
They all understand the rigors of Big East conference play and how tough it is, especially after a six game losing streak last season. This experience is something that they will be able to rely on and lead them to a Big East regular season title, something they were able to achieve two years ago.
Syracuse Orange Will Be 2012 National Champions
Syracuse next season will achieve something that they haven't been able to do since 2003 when they were led by freshman Carmelo Anthony. The Syracuse Orange will win the national championship next year.
If my bold predictions are correct, they will have one of the top freshman, a player in contention for Player of the Year to go along with one of the best college basketball coaches in the game today.
The Orange will be battle tested coming out of the Big East and will have experience playing in big games. The 2-3 zone defense gives teams trouble, especially teams that haven't had a chance to play against it and know how to beat it.
Either way, Syracuse should have a top team next year and will be fun for fans to watch next year.