No. 5: Syracuse Orange

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It’s Midnight Madness day. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 27-8 (12-6), 3rd in Big East (tied)
Lost in NCAA tournament second round

Coach: Jim Boeheim, 856-301, 36th year

Last NCAA miss: 2008

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: Things are excellent in Syracuse. Only one player’s gone from a 27-win team and three dynamic recruits join the fold. That’s a recipe for a Final Four run.

The Orange have scorers (Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters), a playmaker (Scoop Jardine), guys who can both (Brandon Triche) big men (C.J. Fair, Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas) and role players. And it’s a healthy mix of experience and youthful talent. Except for one four-game stretch Boeheim would like to forget, it all meshed nicely last season.

(Well, and the tourney loss to Marquette. Those Eagles had Syracuse’s number last season.)

Few teams can match all that. Or the 2-3 defense that was its usual effective-self last season. Get ready for more of the same.

The bad: Jardine can be Syracuse’s best player. He also can be its most infuriating.

I’ll make this short: If infuriating Scoop emerges more often than good Scoop, it could be a long season. The Orange aren’t entirely dependent upon Scoop, but his decision making remains crucial.

The unknown: About those big men.

Much like Arinze Onuaku the year before, Rick Jackson was a consistent, stabilizing presence for Syracuse because of his rebounding and underrated scoring ability (well, ability to score off putbacks).

In his place steps: Fair, a skinny sophomore who showed promised as a freshman; Christmas, a potentially elite shot blocker and intimidating force who IS a freshman; and Melo. Nobody really knows what to make of Melo. Will he be the player who was picked as preseason Big East freshman of the year or the guy who languished on the bench most of the season?

If just one big man thrives, ‘Cuse will be fine. If two excel, then the Final Four is a good bet. And all three? Well, dream big.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

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