Coming off a Final Four run, the Orange enter the season ranked no. 7 in the country—but that doesn’t mean there are unanswered questions. Three of the top four scorers from last season are gone. Five freshmen enter, including Tyler Ennis, who will be the starting point guard.
1. Where will the scoring come from without Brandon Triche, James Southerland, and Michael Carter-Williams?
- C.J. Fair will likely score more points than the team-leading 14.5 a game he totaled last season, but that won’t be enough to make up for the losses.
- Trevor Cooney, who was the only guard off the bench last season, is going to need to step up as he moves into the starting lineup. With James Southerland gone, Cooney will likely be relied on as the three-point option this year. Michael Gbinije will slide into Cooney’s role of guard off the bench.
- After sitting out all of last year after his transfer from Duke, Gbinije says he has an itch to get back on the court. Gbinije spent his transfer year working with Gerry McNamara on ball handling and learning to run an offense.
- Rakeem Christmas will get his chance again to prove he can be a force down low.
- Jerami Grant needs to carry over his success into an increased role.
- Freshman B.J. Johnson will have some impact. The 6-foot-7 forward has nice shooting form and moves across the court extremely athletically.
2. How will Tyler Ennis do running the offense as a freshman? If Ennis is feeling any pressure coming in and replacing the 11th pick in the 2013 NBA draft as a freshman, he isn’t showing it. At media day, Ennis told the Fizz he hopes to “make it to that point where Michael led the team last year, but hopefully we can win two more games.” Ennis clearly has high expectations, and the coaches seem to believe that he can run the offense well. Coach Boeheim said he is wise beyond his years, and doesn’t have the presence of a freshman on the court.
3. How does Boeheim manage the frontcourt?
- The frontcourt this year is stacked with players. Christmas, Keita, Coleman and Grant all fit into the 4-5 role on the team, and Fair could even slide into the 4-spot if Boeheim goes small for a stretch.
- Then there are the freshmen B.J. Johnson, Tyler Roberson and Chinonso Obokoh who undoubtedly came to Syracuse with intentions of playing. With the way Boeheim has had the tendency to deal with freshman in the past, one or two of the freshman may get big minutes, and the rest will be kept on the bench developing for next year.
- ACC Preseason Player of the Year C.J. Fair, who comes into the year with high expectations after being the Orange’s best player last season, will likely be asked to play nearly the entire game every night.
- Christmas and Keita will likely play in offense-defense situations like last year.
- Grant and Coleman will probably also play off each other depending on the situation, with Grant playing more minutes than Coleman.
4. How will C.J. Fair deal with the pressure of being named preseason ACC Player of the Year? Is Fair feeling some pressure? Although he was the leading scorer and rebounder on the Orange’s Final Four squad last year, everything Fair did last year went by quietly. This year, nothing C.J. Fair does will come as a surprise. Not to fans, and not to opponents. Fair may go through a stretch of games where he struggles because he is not used to this kind of attention (look for it around the Indiana-St. John’s-Villanova lineup through three weeks in December). But after that, he will likely bounce back and learn how to deal with the added attention of being the man on the team.
5. How does the transition to the ACC change the team? The ACC is a different league than the Big East. The Big East was the only league that really played a slow game with big men playing a big presence down low. Now, moving to the ACC, the Orange will play teams that like to run more frequently up and down the court. Syracuse showed last year that it could run when it wanted to, but doing that more often could mean less minutes for DaJuan Coleman, unless he is better conditioned coming into the year. This could mean playing time for B.J. Johnson.
Of course, the conference schedule is different and new, but as Boeheim said at media day, “We moved from one really, really good conference to another really, really good conference.”
But while Boeheim might think that the ACC conference schedule is of equal strength to the Big East conference schedule, this move changes the non-conference schedule. Now, as a part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, Syracuse plays preseason no. 24 Indiana in early December. Then, wanting to keep Big East rivalries—and a presence in Philly and New York—the Orange will play Villanova and St. John’s. This is a significant upgrade over previous non-conference opponents, and that is likely where the schedule becomes more difficult.
So just wait until the Georgetown games return.
Posted by: Seth Goldberg