College basketball season is creeping up fast, and Athlon Sports is counting down to Midnight Madness and the start of practice on Oct. 17.
No. 22 Syracuse moves into 2014-15 with a freshman point guard and a handful of role players expected to take starring roles. Jim Boeheim has major personnel challenges, but he’s rebuilt a roster in short order before.
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Jim Boeheim has been through this before. Of course, a coach who’s been around for 38 years has probably experienced just about all there is in college basketball.
Boeheim is used to players leaving his program early. And over the years, the veteran coach has done a remarkable job of guiding his teams to successful seasons following the loss of a star player. The year after Pearl Washington left, Syracuse went to the NCAA championship game. Following Billy Owens’ departure, Syracuse won 22 games and went back to the NCAA Tournament. After Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship, Syracuse went to the Sweet 16 the next season.
In recent years, Boeheim has seen Donté Greene, Jonny Flynn, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo and Michael Carter-Williams leave school early for the NBA. In the next season, Syracuse has never failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
So here are Syracuse and Boeheim again. In this case, Boeheim is having to deal with the loss of three starters from last year’s team that went 28–6 overall after winning its first 25 games. The loss of C.J. Fair, who led the Orange in scoring as a senior, was expected. Then Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant decided to cut their college careers short, leaving Boeheim with yet another rebuilding job.
No. 22 Syracuse Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-6, 14-4 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAAs: 6
Coach: Jim Boeheim (948-319 at Syracuse, 14-4 ACC)
ACC Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Syracuse struggled to score in 2013-14. The Orange averaged just 68 points per game, their lowest output since the 1962-63 season. And Syracuse’s most consistent scoring came from a frontcourt that’s now depleted.
Fair averaged a team-high 16.5 points per game. Grant chipped in with 12.1 points. The only returning starter is senior center Rakeem Christmas, who posted 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds.
“Rak’s getting better,” Boeheim says. “He’s a late-developing big guy. I think he’s figured it out. He’ll have a good year.”
DaJuan Coleman, who started 12 games last year, is coming off his second knee surgery in as many seasons, and Boeheim doesn’t expect him to return to the court until October at the earliest.
That leaves Boeheim with a frontcourt that’s both young and thin. He’ll look to sophomores Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson along with incoming freshman Chris McCullough. Chino Obokoh, a 6-10 center, redshirted last season and could provide some depth this year.
Don’t be surprised if Michael Gbinije, a 6-7 combo guard, sees some time at small forward due to the Orange’s lack of depth up front.
Syracuse’s backcourt situation is a little steadier than its frontcourt, but there is still one gaping hole to fill. Ennis played superbly as a freshman last year. He proved to be the ultimate playmaker, doling out 5.5 assists per game against just 1.7 turnovers. Kaleb Joseph, a 6-2 freshman, will be the fourth starting point guard in as many years for Syracuse. He’s a terrific athlete, but will he have the poise and maturity that enabled Ennis to handle the position as a freshman?
Trevor Cooney, a 6-4 junior, is coming off an up-and-down season, which was his first as a starter. Through SU’s first 22 games, Cooney was making 44 percent of his 3-point attempts, but he slumped in the final third of the season. He finished the year at 37.5 percent from the arc. Gbinije, a former top-40 national recruit, played both guard positions last year and will again in 2014-15. After shaking off the rust of the redshirt year taken after his transfer from Duke, Gbinije should provide more consistent contributions as a junior.
Ron Patterson, a 6-2 guard, didn’t see any meaningful minutes as a freshman. This could be a make or break year for the Indiana native.
This could be one of Boeheim’s biggest challenges in years. When previously facing major personnel losses, Boeheim has had a young player like Sherman Douglas, Wes Johnson, Carter-Williams or Fair waiting in the wings.
For this year’s Orange to earn an NCAA Tournament berth for the 32nd time in Boeheim’s 39 years, Christmas must emerge as a scoring option down low, Roberson will have to take a big jump as a sophomore, and McCullough and Joseph — the two true freshmen — will have to play like upperclassmen.
Syracuse brings in just two freshmen, but in all likelihood, both will start for the Orange this season. Kaleb Joseph figures to step into the starting point guard role. Chris McCullough is the prototypical Syracuse forward. He’s long and lean. McCullough averaged 22 points and 9.0 rebounds per game at IMG Academy last year.