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.
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
– 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.
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.