So much changed for Syracuse in the span of three weeks last March. After a much-debated invitation to the NCAA Tournament, the 10th-seeded Orange took advantage of every opportunity extended to them and roared into the Final Four.
The trip to Houston marked Syracuse’s sixth Final Four and the school’s fifth under Jim Boeheim, but this one might have been the most unexpected. It also put Syracuse’s recent NCAA investigation firmly in the past. Now, the Orange must try to maintain that momentum, which won’t be easy with the NCAA’s scholarship restrictions still in place. Syracuse loses three starters off last year’s squad — fifth-year seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney and freshman Malachi Richardson, who became the school’s third one-and-done in the last three years.
All ACC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Jim Boeheim
2015-16 RECORD (ACC): 23–14 (9–9)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to North Carolina 83–66 in the Final Four
2016-17 PREDICTION: Ninth in ACC
G Trevor Cooney (12.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.3 apg)
G Michael Gbinije (17.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.3 apg)
G Malachi Richardson (13.4 ppg, 2.1 apg)
For a team with only nine scholarship players, Syracuse is very deep across the backline. Boeheim has three players who saw starters’ minutes last year. DaJuan Coleman and Tyler Roberson are the returning starters, but Tyler Lydon is the emerging star. The 6'8" Lydon came off the bench but still averaged 30.3 minutes per game. Lydon can drill it from 3-point range — he made 40.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc as a freshman — and also possesses elite athleticism. He blocked 20 shots in the Orange’s five NCAA Tournament games, including a game-saving rejection in the Sweet 16 against Gonzaga.
Coleman, a 6'9" fifth-year senior, returns after starting every game at center in 2016. That was an accomplishment for the injury-plagued big man, who had missed all or part of each of his first three seasons at Syracuse due to two knee injuries. Coleman expects to be a much-improved player after finally getting a summer to work on his game instead of rehabbing.
Roberson, a 6'8" senior, is the enigma. He averaged a team-high 8.5 rebounds per game, but he lacked consistency. He had 14 points and 20 rebounds at Duke, but then finished with no points and four rebounds against Pittsburgh. He came on in the postseason, averaging 8.6 points and 11.2 rebounds in five NCAA games.
Paschal Chukwu, a 7'2" transfer from Providence who sat out last season, will give Boeheim a legitimate backup to Coleman at center. Chukwu could be a defensive force inside Syracuse’s zone defense. Freshmen Taurean Thompson, a 6'10" power forward, and Matthew Moyer, a 6'8" small forward, will provide depth in the frontcourt.
Syracuse’s backcourt will undergo an almost complete overhaul. The starting combo of Gbinije and Cooney is gone, as is Richardson on the wing. Not only were those three Syracuse’s top three scorers, but they also took more than 700 3-pointers among them.
Boeheim will start either sophomore Franklin Howard or Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon at the point. Howard averaged just 10.5 minutes per game, but he played a larger role late in the season. He often showed glimpses of being a creative playmaker with tremendous passing ability. Gillon, a 6'0" scoring guard, has the kind of speed that Syracuse hasn’t seen at the point since Jonny Flynn left after the 2009 season.
Tyus Battle, a 6'6" freshman, should start at the other guard spot. Battle’s strengths are his size and athleticism. He’ll look to slash his way into the lane and get to the basket. If he can knock down some outside shots, he’ll be one of the ACC’s top rookies.
Syracuse got a major boost late in the summer with the arrival of 6’7’’ guard Andrew White, a graduate transfer from Nebraska. White averaged 16.6 points per game on nearly 12 shots per game. He hit 87-of-211 (41.2 percent) of his 3s in his first full season — he started his career at Kansas from 2012-14.
Tyus Battle, a 6'6" guard, could step right into the starting lineup. Taurean Thompson is a long 6'10" athlete who could see time as a backup at both center and power forward, but he’s got veterans in front of him. Matthew Moyer is a classic Syracuse forward whose 6'8" frame and athleticism will help him play either forward spot. John Gillon comes in from Colorado State. The speedy point guard should get the Orange’s transition offense going. Paschal Chukwu will provide minutes off the bench at center.
Syracuse’s Final Four run was a pleasant surprise and emphatically shook off the remnants of the NCAA’s investigation. Now, there’s just the matter of rebuilding. The frontcourt is solid with a potential All-American in Lydon. The big question is Syracuse’s backcourt. Boeheim’s system depends heavily on guard play, so White’s arrival is critical for experience and depth.
Boeheim usually figures out a way to squeeze 20 wins and an NCAA bid out of his Orange. That will be put to the test this season. Don’t be surprised if Syracuse is sweating it out on Selection Sunday once again.