What a year it was for the 2013-2014 Syracuse men’s basketball team. There were a lot of ups, but the season ended with a lot of downs, as the Orange went from what seemed like a lock for a number one seed to a three seed in the NCAA Tournament after losing five of their final eight games. Inevitably the season concluded with an early exit from the NCAA tournament to the Dayton Flyers in the third round.
There is always next year, right? It seems like Syracuse fans find themselves asking themselves that same question at the end of every year, and this year is no different. Soon after the season ended, the suffered a couple more losses as freshman phenom Tyler Ennis and sophomore forward Jerami Grant decided to forego their final years at school and head to the NBA draft. Now the Orange, with the graduation of C.J. Fair and Baye Moussa-Keita, are without 63.7 percent of their scoring from this past season. There will be some of the same faces and some new ones as well, but it will be interesting to see how these players adjust to new roles on their squad. I know it is along ways away, but here is a preview of what next year’s team will look like at the moment.
What Will Be Similar:
The Orange will return three players who started multiple games last season for them. Trevor Cooney and DaJuan Coleman will be back for their junior seasons and Rakeem Christmas will be the only scholarship senior on the team. As far as other players returning who played in the majority of their games are Michael Gbinije and Tyler Roberson. If you know Jim Boeheim you know that the Orange will be featuring a similar defensive scheme, the 2-3 zone with some glimpses of full-court pressure. Next year’s team and it’s recruits will again have a lot of long and athletic players who will fit the defensive system perfectly.
What Will Be Different:
Well, a lot of things will be different. Like I said, 63.7 percent of last year’s scoring will be gone and so will be 58 percent of the total minutes played. That is a pretty good amount of minutes. Things will be especially different without C.J. Fair, who played almost 38 minutes per game and played in every game on the schedule for the last three years. That is almost irreplaceable, but someone will have to step into that role and do it. A guy the Orange will look to do that is Roberson, who was a top 20 recruit that has a lot of athletic ability and potential. With Fair graduating and Grant now leaving, expect Roberson to be logging a lot of minutes next year.
The Orange aren’t bringing in a huge recruiting class, but there are two players coming in who, again, fit Jim Boeheim’s system perfectly. The first is the 6’9″ long and multi-talented power forward Chris McCullough from the Bronx, New York. He is ranked 24th in the ESPN 100 and the fifth best player at his position in the 2014 recruiting class. His size will pose many problems for defenders because not only does he have the ability to score in the post, but he can also stretch the floor and hit from the outside. With his height and length, he will also be a great player in the 2-3 zone and could potentially start at one of the wing spots right away.
Without Ennis on the roster, the Orange will be facing a similar situation this upcoming year as they did this past season, having to start a freshman point guard. That man will be the 6’3″ Kaleb Joseph from Nashua, New Hampshire. Joseph is a quick and explosive guard who kind of reminds me of a Kemba Walker type player. He can get to the whole very well and has the ability to finish strong at the rim. He also, like Walker, has the ability to hit the mid-range jumper consistently. Look for him to make more mistakes than Ennis did, but I think over a couple of years this guy can develop pretty nicely because of the great work ethic he features.
What Needs to Change:
The offense. Let’s be honest here, the offense needs to improve, a lot. The past two years it has been non-existent. The defense has been great and carried the teams to their success and this team will have a good defense, but now it is time to focus on improving more on the other side of the ball and I think this team will have the weapons to do it.
First and foremost the Orange need to develop a low post game. Christmas led the team’s big men with 5.8 points per game last season. They need more from down low to help out their shooters (work it inside out). Hopefully Coleman, who has been sidelined by injuries in both of his first two seasons, will be able to play a full year and bring some more offense to the post along with McCullough. The aggressiveness of Christmas at the end of the year increased, look for it to continue to grow heading into next year.
What else needs to happen is that Trevor Cooney gets help as a shooter. Cooney attempted 47.5 percent of the team’s three-pointers and made 53.8 percent of them, all by himself! That isn’t easy to do. With guys like Gbinije, Ron Patterson and B.J. Johnson on the roster, the Orange have a lot of three-point depth, they just need to gain some more experience. The Orange need to get them on the court early and often so they can find their shot. The Orange love forcing turnovers on defense, so they need to take advantage of these and get on the break and find their shooters for some easy long-range looks. If they can do this and develop a more lethal outside attack, that will also help the low post game and the mid-range game for guys like Joseph, McCullough and the big men.
Early Prediction/Players To Watch:
I think Tyler Roberson has a lot of potential. He had time to learn off the bench his freshman year from an experienced Fair and talented Grant. Two recent Syracuse players that didn’t see a lot of minutes their freshman year and went on to have great sophomore years for the Orange were Michael Carter-Williams and Dion Waiters. Both were top 25 recruits, like Roberson, who benefited from some time on the bench and are now solid NBA players early in their careers. Look for Roberson to start for the Orange and become a big role in their potential success.
I also really like the incoming freshman McCullough. He can score from outside and inside and will be a treat to watch. I think he could become one of the leaders of their offensive attack very quickly.
In my opinion, this team will lose around 8-10 games, possibly end up on the bubble or be around a four or five seed in the NCAA Tournament. What that means is, this team has a lot of potential, but somebody will have to step up and be the leader as they lost their floor general and senior leader from this year’s team. If that doesn’t happen, they will struggle. If it does, this can be a very dangerous group. t think they key will be the guard play. Cooney will have to be a leader for them. It will be interesting to see if he can stay hot all season, as he came out hot this year and tailed off in the second half. More players will need to hit shots and contribute to help him play consistently well all year. This team has the potential to be deep, dynamic and explosive, something the Orange haven’t had in two years. But the one thing they will lack is leadership. There are three players who were on the 2013 Final Four team (Cooney, Christmas, and Coleman) who will be on this squad. They will need to step up and lead this team if they want to have success.