La Salle landed a potential impact transfer on Monday as Syracuse forward B.J. Johnson has opted to transfer to the Atlantic 10. The news of Johnson’s move was first reported by ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello.
The 6-foot-7 Johnson just finished a sophomore season in which he averaged 14.6 minutes per game. His numbers weren’t particularly productive as he averaged 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Johnson really struggled the last three games of the season for the Orange, only making one field goal in 51 minutes.
But in the Atlantic 10, Johnson should be more comfortable and he has a chance to be productive piece. The Ardmore, PA native is a former top-150 recruit and still has two more years of eligibility remaining.
Despite not being in the NCAA tournament, Syracuse made news on Thursday.
Hours before Notre Dame and Northeastern tipped to start the Round of 64, Jim Boeheim held a press conference to address the sanctions imposed on his program, the most impactful of which was a loss of 12 scholarships over a four-year period. However, by Thursday afternoon, the Syracuse scholarship situation became a little bit clearer.
Syracuse is graduating Rakeem Christmas this spring and has four commits set to join the program this fall, putting the Orange at the maximum 13 scholarship limit. Matthew Moyer, a 2016 recruit, is also committed to Syracuse and like the four 2015 signees, he too has said he still intends on attending Syracuse.
The 2016-17 season would have been problematic. Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije both graduating would free up two more scholarships, but the Orange would still be one over the limit entering that season. Even if Syracuse had lost Chris McCullough to the 2016 NBA Draft, there still wouldn’t have been room for Moyer.
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.
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.