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Syracuse May Be the Deepest Team in the Big East Next Season

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While last year’s Syracuse squad was a pleasant surprise, it was the recruiting hauls of the last two seasons anticipated by college hoops insiders across the nation. Alongside Fab Melo, Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair, the Orange was adding Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney and Michael Carter-Williams. The tandem of Murphkins has sprinkled magic on the recruiting trail. The Fizz spoke with all three members of the incoming basketball class and takes a week-long look next season for the Orange.

Combined they bring an enormous amount of talent to the table, and there’s a camaraderie  already developed after years of being recruited by Syracuse. The Three Amigos have the ability not only to play immediately as freshman, but to be a significant part of the Orange success next year. A look closer, though, at next season’s projected roster, shows there may not be adequate room for the freshmen to get a chance.

Many felt coming into this season Kris Joseph was going to kick ass and take names… of all the agents competing for his services. He was expected to bolt for the first round of the NBA draft. Joseph’s had a fine junior year, but he’s proved to be no Wes Johnson either. With SU’s roller coaster season, K-Jo has fallen beneath the national radar. He’s all over the place in mock drafts; he’s fallen between late first and middle of the second round. Others have removed him from the board, thinking he’ll return to Syracuse for his senior year.

There’s a good chance that’s exactly what will happen. Joseph hasn’t done enough to prove he’s a first round pick, and if he’s smart he’ll stay in CNY to raise his stock by making another NCAA Tournament run.

If Joseph returns, here’s next year’s projected roster (not including walk-ons):

Probable Starters

G – Scoop Jardine

G – Brandon Triche

F – Kris Joseph

F – C.J. Fair

C – Baye Moussa-Keita

Bench Players

Guards – Dion Waiters, Michael Carter-Williams, Trevor Cooney, Mookie Jones

Forwards – Rakeem Christmas, James Southerland

Centers – Fab Melo, DaShonte Riley

SU has 13 players capable of contributing. Jim Boeheim, as we know, likes to aim for a seven or eight man rotation. With so many underclassmen in the fold and only veterans Jardine, Triche, and Joseph being relied upon heavily, the rotation could reasonably be expanded to nine. Something, or really someone’s got to give, and as of right now there’s no telling who the givers will be.

The first thing we can do to whittle down the above list is cross Mookie Jones off it. He couldn’t crack the lineup this year on a less talented team this year, so he certainly won’t be seeing floor time next season.

James Southerland is the next easiest name to eliminate. Boeheim has had no problem relegating him to the pine this season, even though the Orange could really use his outside shooting and an extra body to spell Rick Jackson. Southerland is a great guy, but unfortunately he hasn’t developed into a consistent player.

Now we’re down to 11 for about nine spots. Moussa-Keita has simply outplayed Fab to this point, so barring a basketball epiphany for Melo over the summer, the starting job should be Keita’s. The Senegalese freshman is still very raw though, with limited offensive skills and a relatively slender frame. You can expect him to get into foul trouble frequently as the starter next season. Even if he can stay on the court, some of the big bruisers in the Big East could wear him down.

Because of that his backups will have ample opportunities for playing time. Fab and Dashonte can both potentially give SU a little more on offense than Keita can, who is practically worthless on that side of the ball.

Hopefully, Melo can get his act together over the summer and work his way towards redeeming his Preseason Big East Rookie of the Year expectations. If Fab can get in shape and prepare himself mentally and physically to play an entire season of big time college basketball, Keita and he should be able to split the center minutes 50-50.

That’s far from a given though, which is why Riley shouldn’t be written off quite yet. The seven-footer from Detroit made a cameo late last season after Arinze Onuaku went down, and looked like he wasn’t ready for game action yet. Riley apparently added muscle to his skinny body this past summer, before a foot injury in the fall ended his season. Had he been healthy, it’s possible he’d be getting significant playing time right now, and Keita may have been redshirted.

The truth is it’s not going to be as simple as Boeheim selecting nine guys on Opening Night and sticking with that same group the rest of the way. We’d like to think that Melo and Keita can handle all the center minutes, but they’re still extremely untested and unproven. Combined, they average just 19 minutes per game in conference play right now. Asking them to double that is a dangerous proposition. Chances are, they’ll be inconsistent enough that additional help from Riley will be needed, eliminating the concept of a tight eight or nine man rotation.

The same thing can be said about the guard situation next year. MCW and Cooney will come in and expect to play. Scoop, Triche, and Waiters are already here. Boeheim’s intention heading into key Big East games will never be to try and play five guards. But will Carter-Williams, Waiters, or Cooney give consistent enough play to warrant a permanent place in the rotation? That’s awfully tough to forecast.

Pencil Jardine and Triche in the lineup, and Joseph if he comes back. Fair has done enough as freshmen to get plenty of minutes as a sophomore. Christmas is a top power forward recruit on a squad losing its only true post presence, so he’ll play. He might even start, with Boeheim making Fair the team’s offensive sparkplug off the bench.

While the high preseason expectations for were met early by Syracuse, the last two months have been a grind. Dreams of the #3 team in the country reaching Jim Boeheim’s elusive fourth Final Four have been replaced by the hopes it can simply make out of the NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend. But this year’s disappointment should be replaced with next year’s optimism. The incoming Three Amigos may make the Orange the deepest team in the Big East.

Posted: Andrew Kanell

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