Boeheim and Cuse' Ready to Live Up to Pre-Season Ranking

Zack Cimini@@ciminiContributor IINovember 2, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY - MARCH 25:  Scoop Jardine #11 of the Syracuse Orange in action against the Butler Bulldogs during the west regional semifinal of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Energy Solutions Arena on March 25, 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The just-started month of November signals the start of many things, one being the highly-anticipated season debut for the Syracuse Orange.

An exhibition game that figured to be a walk in the park, and was. Don’t ever say that, or expect to take things lightly when coached by Jim Boeheim. He has seen it all, including a loss in an exhibition game a few years back to LeMoyne.

That was probably the last team Boeheim coached that had the best chance to win an NCAA championship. Yes, the team that featured Wes Johnson, sharpshooting Andy Rautins, and the bigs of Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku. Only to see Onuaku succumb to injury in a Big East tournament loss to Georgetown.

It seems that the team changes so much every year. Since 2008, Syracuse has seen plenty of talent come and go, only to reload the following season and make yet another concerted push at a deep run in March. Rautins, Devendorf, Harris, Onuaku, Flynn, Jackson, and Donte Greene. All gone.

Players still left over from those teams are veteran-laden seniors, as well as a junior that has played big minutes since his freshman year. Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, and Brandon Triche hope that their experience blends in perfectly with the sophomores and new recruits.

The team from upstate New York typically does not garner too much attention from the media during the offseason. Yet this time around, analysts and writers have ventured up to take note of this team. Coming into this season as the fifth-ranked team in both preseason AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls, they have little chance of flying under the radar.

They have just as much attention in the Big East as fellow Big East and defending national champions Uconn. If the Orange are going to get past the Sweet Sixteen come March, several newcomers will need to step up and combine with the afore-mentioned veteran leadership.

1. Dion Waiters

Probably the most talented player on the team, as a freshman Waiters was a cocky Philly product who repeatedly clashed with Boeheim.

So much so, in fact, that he nearly was not welcomed back this fall. Waiters smartened up, however, and rededicated himself to his offseason workout regimen. Working out tirelessly, he has come back in top-notch shape. He will be an instant spark off the bench, and likely fill a role similar to what Kris Joseph did a few years back when he was Sixth Man of the Year. Waiters's productivity and fresh legs off the bench could be a secret factor, and add to the already-effective back court of Triche and Jardine.

2. Length/Productivity of Big Men Offensively and Protecting the Back of the Zone

Rick Jackson anchored the Cuse’s back side in many ways last season. So much that it looked like he ran out of gas towards the end of the season. Missing easy put backs, and not challenging shots like he had early in the season. That means Fab Melo is going to have to deliver, no questions asked.

Melo shed 30 pounds and has also shown drastic improvement on the offensive end. He will need to score enough to pose as a threat inside. Baye Moussa Keita and freshman Rakeem Christmas are not expected to be offensive threats. If they can do their duty defensively, the Cuse should be fine. Keita has already shown that he can play well in the zone defense, and snare offensive rebounds.

3. Jardine’s Consistency

It’s well known that Jardine probably led the NCAA in drama on the court. Even as a fifth-year player, you just do not know if Jardine can put together a complete season.

The easy play doesn't seem to exist in his lexicon, as he likes to make Jim Boeheim’s life a nerve-wrecking one. Allegedly, he has taken a new devoted role in leading by example, perhaps taking a page out of Illinois's Demetri McCamey last season.

He has shed some weight in the offseason as well, and participated in a plethora of big-time camps. Cutting down his turnovers and ill-advised shots will go a long ways come March, as his play against Marquette ended up costing Syracuse a tournament win.

4. Kris Joseph’s Knee

Joseph labored through 2010-11 with a bum knee. He had a minor procedure in the offseason to drain it, and states it is now back to 100 percent.

Though Joseph added a solid three-point shot to his repertoire as a junior last year, he still tends to have a one-track mind. He’ll take the ball to the hoop with reckless abandon and get called for a charge, when a more controlled drive and kickout would have suffice. Like Jardine, Joseph needs to learn that often times, less is more at the elite level.

Between Joseph and Triche, there were some games they’d tally two offensive fouls each, which are horrible turnovers. The two have to realize there is no interior paint area. Defenders can set their feet where ever underneath the basket and draw a charge.

5. First Year With Depth

Boeheim can not remember a year where he has had this type of depth, and either can I. Even though, DaShonte Riley transferred to Eastern Michigan, the team still boasts 12 scholarship players.

It’s not just underclassmen either. James Southerland and Mookie Jones are still on the team, and either could be expected to play heightened minutes should starters get injured or fall into foul trouble.

Southerland showed last year that he can be a solid offensive player, but needs to improve defensively. Defense is the main thing you worry about the rest of the non-starters. Can they get to their spots as quickly as Boeheim expects? Trevor Cooney and Michael Carter-Williams will learn the hard way if not.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.