This preview and more on Syracuse and the ACC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 9 Syracuse Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-10 (11-7 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA Final Four
Coach: Jim Boeheim (920-314 at Syracuse)
ACC projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Syracuse Orange are coming off a most unlikely trip to the Final Four. It’s still difficult to believe that a team that lost four of its last five regular-season games, including a 61–39 embarrassment at Georgetown in the finale, somehow found itself playing in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta a month later.
But Syracuse did just that. First, the Orange advanced to the Big East Tournament championship game, a run that included an overtime revenge-flavored win over Georgetown. Then Syracuse made it to the Final Four for the fifth time in school history.
Now, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim faces a new challenge as he enters his 38th season at the helm at alma mater. Syracuse, a charter member of the Big East Conference, joins the ACC this season.
“It’s a tough league, but we were in a tough league before,’’ Boeheim says. “It’s doesn’t get any tougher, but it’ll be different.’’
To get right to the point, Syracuse will have one of the best frontcourts in the entire country. While the losses of Carter-Williams, Triche and Southerland are significant, Syracuse fans exhaled a sigh of relief last June when C.J. Fair announced that he would return for his senior season. Fair, a versatile 6-8 forward, led the Orange in both scoring and rebounding last season. He also made 46.9 percent of his 3-point attempts. He will be a candidate for All-America honors and the ACC’s Player of the Year award.
At the other forward spot, expect sophomore Jerami Grant to enjoy a breakout season. Grant, another in Syracuse’s line of long, lean and athletic forwards, averaged just 3.9 points as a freshman. But when offered more playing time due to injuries plus James Southerland’s midseason suspension, Grant responded. In eight games between Jan. 12 and Feb. 13, Grant averaged 8.6 points and 5.4 rebounds.
In the middle, Boeheim has the pleasure and the challenge of sorting through three solid centers. Rakeem Christmas, a 6-9 junior, started all 40 games last season, but Baye Moussa Keita at times was the more reliable player, especially on defense. Meanwhile, Dajuan Coleman was always considered the best offensive player of the three centers, though he struggled as a freshman. Coleman missed several games after mid-season knee surgery and saw only sparse playing time after his return.
Freshmen Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson will most likely serve as backups at the forward spots, while fellow first-year player Chinonso Obokoh is a probable redshirt candidate due to the log-jam at center.
Syracuse must totally rebuild its backcourt. Michael Carter-Williams entered the NBA Draft after a sterling sophomore season. He went from being the fourth guard in a three-guard rotation as a freshman to one of the top point guards in the country. But Syracuse also lost Brandon Triche, who started every game of his four-year Syracuse career and was a part of more wins than any player in SU history.
Boeheim will turn to freshman Tyler Ennis to be his starting point guard. Ennis, a native of Ontario, Canada, led St. Benedict’s (N.J.) Prep to the championship game in the National High School Invitational last April. He was the leading scorer at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in July. Ennis’ backup could be another freshman in Ron Patterson, a former Indiana commit who spent last year at prep school.
There will be a battle between sophomores Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney to see who starts at the 2-guard spot. Gbinije sat out last year after transferring from Duke. Cooney endured a rough freshman year, making just 26.7 percent of his 3-point shots.
Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and Duke transfer Michael Gbinije could form the Orange’s starting backcourt. Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson figure prominently in back-up roles at the forward spots. Ron Patterson, a natural off-guard, might see time as the back-up to Ennis at the point. Chinonso Obokoh, a 6-10 center, enters a crowded position and could redshirt.
Factoid: 4. Jim Boeheim has taken Syracuse to the Final Four in four consecutive decades, reaching the NCAA’s final weekend in 1987, 1996, 2003 and last season. Only three other coaches can match that feat — Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith and Rick Pitino.
Syracuse’s move from the Big East to the ACC doesn’t figure to alter the Orange’s winning ways. Boeheim remains in charge. The forwards are still long and athletic. The guards are big and tall. The zone remains the defense of choice.
Fair is a top-notch talent who gives Syracuse leadership and reliable scoring. The three-player combination at center provides Boeheim will plenty of choices. Grant could be the next big thing. And the early returns on Ennis and Gbinije sound promising. If Boeheim finds answers in the backcourt, the Orange will challenge for the ACC crown in their first year in the league.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
25. Wichita State