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Syracuse is a Preseason Top-5 Team: Why the Rankings Are Justified

Dennis Nett/ Post-Standard

According to several “way too early” rankings for next year, one thing is impossible to ignore: Syracuse is near the top of everyone’s list. Let’s ignore for a minute there’s still plenty of unknowns surrounding players departing for the draft, and how incoming freshman will perform. But we’ve finally recovered from that atrocious championship game and need something to get excited about, so why not take a peek inside the hype machine?

Averaging the rankings from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Fox Sports, and CBS; here is the top ten:

  1. Kentucky
  2. North Carolina
  3. Ohio State
  4. Syracuse
  5. Duke
  6. Texas
  7. Louisville
  8. Memphis
  9. UConn
  10. Vanderbilt

An average ranking of #4 in the country and tops in the Big East. That ought to create some buzz. But after failing to reach the Sweet Sixteen and losing its only inside presence, does the Orange deserve this lofty standing?

Syracuse returns nine of its top ten scorers from last season, and brings in The Three Amigos – a highly touted recruiting class with star power. This should be the deepest Orange roster in a long, long time. It also delivers universally high expectations for the Orange. In the five rankings mentioned above, SU’s lowest spot was seventh.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the incoming freshman, but these lofty rankings have more to do with what’s coming back. This team returns a nucleus of Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph, and Scoop Jardine. That’s three players with potential to play professionally who enter their third full season playing together.

That fact is obviously a rarity in college basketball nowadays. This is what differentiates SU from the other teams in this top ten. Almost every other program has questions as to which of their top players will be back, and have to hope for star underclassmen to lead the team. Syracuse will be relying on two seniors and a junior with lots of experience to forge the path.

Assuming Kemba Walker leaves for the NBA, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph will be Big East POY candidates next season. Their talent and experience, combined with the depth of talent around them justifies the early hype.

Syracuse relied heavily on freshman Dion Waiters, CJ Fair, Fab Melo, and Baye Moussa Keita last season. As Bob Knight always said, the best thing to happen to those freshman is that they’re now sophomores. It’s not unrealistic to expect them to make significant improvements for next season. Add potential contributions from Rakeem Christmas and MCW, and this team appears to be nine deep.

Talent, depth, and leadership are three key elements to a top college basketball team. With the experienced big three of Triche, Joseph, and Jardine leading the way and plenty of talented youngsters behind them, next year’s Orange appear to have those three qualities in droves.

It’s early. Really early. But the lofty rankings are warranted. The hype was going to start sometime. Why not now?

Posted: Steve Neikam

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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