Syracuse Basketball: 5 Biggest Takeaways from Orange's Offseason So Far
It’s June, and the NBA and NHL playoffs are almost gone which means there will be nothing but baseball until the NFL preseason starts.
With fantasy baseball being the only thing keeping sports fans looking at the summertime box scores, perhaps it’s time to reflect on what’s going on in college basketball, or more specifically, Syracuse basketball.
Midnight Madness is only about four months away, which means it’s time to look into what the kids on M Street are going to be talking about for the next few months.
There’s no shortage of topics either. A new team in a new conference with some new faces will be fodder for the summertime.
There’s also the sore subject of that loss to Michigan in the Final Four, which probably won’t be discussed a lot, but getting back there will certainly be on the mind of the student body.
Let’s take a look at some of the bigger storylines in the offseason and what we can surmise from them.
C.J. Fair Is Coming Back
While the entry of Michael Carter-Williams into the NBA draft grabbed a headline or two, the return of C.J. Fair is the most important happening for the Orange this offseason.
Fair, who is returning for his senior season, has improved every facet of his game.
He has added a fantastic jump shot to his ferocious dunking ability. He led the Orange in scoring and rebounding last season, which will probably be the case this season. His court awareness and positioning are akin to spider sense, and most importantly, he almost never makes a play that hurts his team.
Fair will likely be on the shortlist of ACC player of the year candidates in addition to being a candidate for the Naismith, Wooden and many other awards.
As a senior, this will be Fair’s team to lead. Should some of the other pieces fall into place for the Orange, this has the makings of a very exciting season.
Three-Point Shooting May Be a Question Mark
James Southerland’s graduation leaves Syracuse without a pure three-point shooter.
Or does it?
Percentage-wise, C.J. Fair was the Orange’s best three-point shooter last season at 47 percent, but shooting from beyond the arc isn’t exactly his forte.
This leaves the much-maligned Trevor Cooney.
Cooney, who redshirted his freshman year and has one full season under his belt, struggled to find any type of rhythm last season. He was only a 27 percent three-point shooter, but in his defense, his minutes were limited. Without the worry of getting a quick hook, Cooney may blossom into the sharp shooter he’s been advertised to be.
If not, the Orange will have to find a way to manufacture baskets. They have the means, but a coming of age for Cooney will mean the world to the Orange.
Jim Boeheim Seems Likely to Stay Put
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has been announced as retaining his job as the head coach of USA Basketball.
What does this mean for Syracuse?
Not that Team USA will be the reason Boeheim stays in coaching, but making the Final Four and joining a new conference combined with some great recruiting classes coming in seem to have given the Hall of Fame coach a newfound love of the game.
This is purely speculative, but I’d wager that as long as coach Boeheim’s health allows him the luxury, he’ll be glued to the Syracuse sideline.
It's Ennis Time
Michael Carter-Williams’ announcement that he will enter the NBA draft was a bitter-sweet moment for Orange fans.
Bitter that he is leaving and sweet that they will get to see just how good their new point guard, Tyler Ennis, will be.
Ennis will be a return to the classic form of point guard that Syracuse fans have been accustomed to. He is heralded as a fantastic passer with great court vision and has the ability to spot up jumpers to keep the defense honest.
He should also be significantly less sloppy with the ball than Carter-Williams, being that he also has a great ball handle.
The test of Ennis will not be his passing ability, but how well he fits into the 2-3 zone. At the top of the zone will be Trevor Cooney and Duke transfer Michael Gbinije, likely in a platoon, and Ennis. Syracuse has enjoyed great length at the top of its zone, but at 6’2”, Ennis will be a marked change from Carter-Williams’ 6’6” frame.
Regardless, it is Ennis’ team. How well he assumes the role of general will directly affect the success of the Orange.
The Scorers Are Gone
Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland departing leaves Syracuse with only one able scorer from last season.
This will give the Orange an entirely different look as there could often be times that Syracuse will run a four-forward offense. Consequently, a few role players will have to grow up this season.
The player who seems most eager to take a bigger part of this team is Jerami Grant, who filled in nicely last season when needed during Southerland’s suspension and DaJuan Coleman’s knee surgery. Grant is also one of 24 players who have been invited to try out for USA Basketball’s under-19 team.
Coleman and Rakeem Christmas will have to become a bigger part of the offense and must own the boards for Syracuse to prosper, and Baye Keita will have to remain the steady reliever.
The wild card will be Michael Gbinije. He will be called on to be an off guard in relief of Trevor Cooney and as a small forward to give the team a faster transition game when needed.
There is a lot of talent on this team, but there are also a lot of question marks.
The coaching staff’s ability to improve its bigs will be on display as the only proven star on this team is C.J. Fair, with Tyler Ennis being an unknown quantity. That improvement will be paramount to a successful ACC campaign.