2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 7 Syracuse Orange

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 30-10, 11-7 Big East (5th); Lost to Michigan in the Final Four

Head Coach: Jim Boeheim (35th season Syracuse: 920-313 overall, 362-191 Big East)

Key Losses: Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche, James Southerland

Newcomers: Tyler Ennis, Michael Gbinije, Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson, Chinonso Obokoh

Projected Lineup

G: Tyler Ennis, Fr.
G: Michael Gbinije, So.
F: C.J. Fair, Sr.
F: Jerami Grant, So.
C: Rakeem Christmas, Jr.
Bench: Trevor Cooney, So.; Tyler Roberson, Fr.; B.J. Johnson, Fr.; Ron Patterson, Fr.; DaJuan Coleman, So.; Baye Keita, Sr.

They’ll be good because …: Once again, this Syracuse roster is loaded with the kind of talent that fits perfectly into the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim utilizes. He’s got seven front court players on his roster, and with the exception of DaJuan Coleman, all of them are terrific athletes with wingspans reminiscent of a pterodactyl. The back court isn’t quite as deep, but Boeheim still has a slew of bigger guards on his roster, and while it will be difficult to replace Michael Carter-Williams’ disruptiveness on the defensive end of the floor, the Orange still figure to be tough to score on in their zone. The fact that they’re making the move to the ACC, where most of their league opponents won’t be accustomed to playing against that zone, certainly doesn’t hurt.

The offensive end is going to be tougher to figure out. C.J. Fair is one of the nation’s most underrated players, as he averaged 14.5 points and 6.9 boards for a Final Four team a year ago. The 6-foot-8 lefty should be Boeheim’s leading scorer this season. It will be interesting to see who steps up in his supporting cast. Jerami Grant played a lot of promising minutes when he got the chance last season, Trevor Cooney is a better shooter than he showed last year, Duke transfer Michael Gbinije was a top 30 recruit coming out of high school and Tyler Ennis has all kinds of promise. Looking at this roster optimistically, there’s a lot to like here.

source:
C.J. Fair (Getty Images) and Tyler Ennis (Syracuse Athletics)

But they might disappoint because …: Outside of Fair, there really isn’t a proven commodity on this roster, meaning there is a lot that can go wrong. What is neither Cooney nor Gbinije become reliable perimeter shooters? What if Grant doesn’t take the jump we all expect out of him? What if Boeheim continues to struggle to find any kind of consistency from his trio of centers?

The bigger concern revolves around Ennis. He’s a freshman. He’s also the only true point guard that Syracuse has on their roster, and he’s replacing an all-american that averaged 7.3 assists and 2.8 steals. Carter-Williams had his flaws, and they were exposed late in Big East play last season, but he was still an insanely talented player — he got the Orange a lot of easy shots and was a terror defensively — that played some of his best basketball during the NCAA tournament. Those are big shoes for Ennis to fill, especially when you consider that Syracuse does not have a lot of guys that can create for themselves. The pressure on his shoulders this season will be immense.

Outlook: The ACC is loaded this season, particularly at the top of the league. While most will peg the Orange a contender alongside both Duke and North Carolina, it’s important to note that both Notre Dame and Virginia are good enough that they could end up piecing together a top two or three finish in the league. In other words, the margin of error for the Orange is going to be pretty small, as it was in recent years in the Big East.

I like the Orange this year. I think they have the pieces to put together a successful inaugural run through Tobacco Road. But there are a lot of new parts on that roster, and it’s easy to see how some of those pieces could have some trouble coming together. If Ennis is overwhelmed at the point and Cooney and Gbinije struggle offensively, the Orange aren’t going to be able to score the ball. But if Ennis lives up to the hype, Coleman and Grant have breakout sophomore seasons, and Syracuse is able to knock down some perimeter jumpers, this is very much a team that can make a run to the Final Four.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas posterizes defender

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Creighton rising junior wing Khyri Thomas, like several of his teammates, are taking part in the Omaha Summer League this offseason.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-3, 205-lb. Thomas eviscerated a defender with a one-handed posterization.

Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign for the Bluejays. He started all 35 games, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aside from the increase in offensive production, Thomas served as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Villanova’s Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.

Zion Williamson throws down 360 windmill dunk

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Zion Williamson added another jaw-dropping dunk in the layup lines on the first night of the second live evaluation period.

Williamson and his SC Supreme team took on Each 1 Teach 1 at the Hoopseen Best of the South at the LakePoint Sporting Community in greater Atlanta.

The 6-foot-7 power forward threw down a 360 windmill dunk during his pregame routines.

Each 1 Teach 1 would pick up a 70-67 victory over SC Supreme. Williamson would end with a monster stat line of 37 points and seven rebounds.

Appalachian State freshman shooter to transfer

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A 3-point threat became a late addition to the transfer market earlier this week.

Appalachian State rising sophomore Patrick Good informed head coach Jim Fox on his intentions to leave the program. He was granted his release on Wednesday, according to Bret Strelow of the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I was pretty shocked when he came in to tell me he was leaving,” Fox told the Winston Salem-Journal. “He was a guy who had a very good freshman season, and we’re surprised to see him go.”

“I enjoyed being around the team and the experience that I got from the first year,” Good added. “I don’t think I would change that for anything. I just felt like moving forward, there is just so much more that I was capable of.”

Good appeared in 29 of 30 games, all of the bench, for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. His biggest asset to his newest team will  be in his ability to shoot from deep, connecting on 41 percent of his attempts during the 2016-17 season.

If Good plans to remain in at the Division I level, avoiding a year spent at a junior college, he will need to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Iowa State adds graduate transfer Zoran Talley

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Iowa State added a scoring option on Thursday night, one who is eligible immediately.

Zoran Talley, who spent his first three seasons at Old Dominion, will join the Cyclones as a graduate transfer this season.

“We are excited to add Zoran to our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement issued by the athletic department. “He has had great success, both personally and as a team, at ODU and will be an asset for our team. Zoran brings versatility on both ends of the floor and his ability to play and guard several positions will benefit us. He can score and make plays and with him being immediately eligible, that is great for us.”

Talley, a 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 11.3 points for the Monarchs last season as a sophomore. However, he was dismissed from the team in April for a violation of team rules. This was preceded by two separate suspensions during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, according to Ed Miller of the Virginia Pilot.

He redshirted the 2014-15 season, leaving him two years of eligibility remaining at Iowa State. He is set to graduate in August.

Talley and fellow graduate transfer Hans Brase (Princeton) provides a boost in scoring, as well as in experience, in a frontline that returns Solomon Young, the rising sophomore big man.

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.