Brandon Triche returns as Syracuse reloads for final Big East season
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The first practices of college basketball season begin in mid-October, and Athlon Sports 2012-13 preview annuals have arrived on newsstands all over the country.
To prepare for the start of college basketball season, we will preview one team each weekday, counting down to the first official day of basketball practice on Oct. 15, or for some teams on Oct. 12.
We continue our countdown with a preview of No. 5 Syracuse.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim prefers to look at the players he has and not the ones who are gone. So while many pundits will pore over Syracuse’s extensive personnel losses off last year’s team that went 34–3 and advanced to the Elite Eight, Boeheim will stick to one of his favorite mantras.
“I coach the players that are here,” Boeheim says.
Syracuse’s losses would debilitate most programs. Gone from last year’s team are three starters — seniors Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph plus NBA first-round pick Fab Melo — and Big East Sixth Man of the Year Dion Waiters, who was the No. 4 pick in the draft despite not starting a game for SU in ’11-12.
Syracuse, however, should maintain its customary spot at or near the top of the Big East standings. Senior guard Brandon Triche and sophomore forward Rakeem Christmas return as starters, while senior James Southerland and juniors C.J. Fair and Baye Keita should step into bigger roles this season after gaining a wealth of experience last year.
“The fact that you have six guys that played a lot, that’s a lot,” Boeheim says. “Most teams don’t have that many. We have a good, solid nucleus of players.”
The key to Syracuse’s frontcourt rotation could be the readiness of DaJuan Coleman. The 6-10, 285-pound freshman local product led Jamesville-Dewitt High to four New York State Class A titles and was a McDonald’s All-American last year. “I think he’s got good tools,” Boeheim says. “He’s underrated as a ball-handler and passer. He can do those things even though he’s a big guy.”
If Coleman proves ready to start, Christmas can remain at power forward. Christmas averaged just 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds last year, but he had big moments like an eight-point, 11-rebound game against Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament.
Joseph led Syracuse in scoring in each of the last two seasons, but Fair has been preparing for a featured role for two years. Fair played 26.4 minutes per game off the bench last season, second-most on the team team behind Joseph. Fair can play either forward position but needs to extend his range out to the 3-point line to become a complete player.
Southerland could start at forward if Christmas gets moved to center, or the long, lanky senior will come off the bench ready to launch his accurate jumper from 3-point range. Expect Keita and freshman forward Jerami Grant to provide depth.
Last year, Syracuse’s backcourt was one of the most experienced in the country. This year, Triche will be the only SU guard with any substantial experience. Still, the Orange backcourt could be just as potent.
Triche will need to emerge as a vocal leader and a become more aggressive on the offensive end of the court. Improving his 3-point shooting (35.0 percent last year) would be nice, too.
“I think he’s important,” Boeheim says. “He’s got to be ready. It’s his fourth year. He knows what to do.”
Complementing Triche will be two young players in sophomore Michael Carter-Williams and redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney. Carter-Williams, whose lean 6-5 frame reminds some of a young Jason Kidd, has outstanding court vision. His passing ability will create easy looks for the big guys up front. Carter-Williams averaged 2.1 assists in only 10.3 minutes of action as a freshman.
Cooney, a Delaware native who signed with SU two years ago, can drill the spot-up 3-pointer, but don’t label him, says Boeheim. “He’s not a guy we look at as just being a shooter. We think he’s a good player.”
Despite losing four players, including three NBA Draft picks, Syracuse will compete for the Big East title in what will be its last year in the conference before leaving for the ACC.
The Orange have enough experience in Triche, Fair, Southerland and Christmas, but the big keys will be two of the team’s younger players. If Carter-Williams can handle the point and Coleman can step in and contribute in the middle, the Orange could emerge as a Final Four contender.
“I think it’s always difficult to replace a lot of guys,” Boeheim says. “The good news is that the other guys all got to play a lot last year. We have seven guys that we think can play, and we think the two freshmen certainly are playing right away.”
Athlon College Basketball Countdown So Far:
19. Notre Dame
15. San Diego State
14. North Carolina
11. NC State
10. Michigan State
8. Ohio State