Midnight Madness is over, and with it went the smoke machines, dunk contests and laser shows that kick off the season. College basketball begins now, and while the excitement still remains it’s time to peel the hype back and see who the nation’s best truly are. That’s why Dime has you covered with individual previews of the nation’s top 15 teams and a few others just outside, all over the course of the next few weeks. Today, Syracuse.
Syracuse has always been a team full of surprises. You’ve had the days when Carmelo Anthony was sporting his braids and was an indomitable freshman whose tear on the NCAA will always be remembered. You’ve had the days when Gerry McNamara single-handedly took out the Goliaths in the Big East Tournament. You’ve had the days when Jonny Flynn exuded his lionhearted mentality and balled his heart out against UConn in six overtimes. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone has always been tortuous to opposing squads and the same should apply for this year. With this year serving as the Orange’s final year in the Big East and Boeheim’s 36th, you got to believe that the 2-3 zone, in addition to their bevy of bigs, will be more than enough.
This team is very athletic regardless of the amount of big men clogging the paint. Brandon Triche will be dictating the pace and running the show for Boeheim. The 6-4 guard is bigger than many opposing point guards and can get to the rack with authority if given the chance. Last year, he did share responsibilities with Scoop Jardine in handling the ball, but the majority of his work was away from it. C.J. Fair has had a modest two years thus far but now he’ll be able to show off his explosive vertical ability with his lanky 6-8 frame knowing that the departed Kris Joseph’s fingerprints will no longer have an effect on the game.
The one constant about Syracuse has always been its aggressive, yet predictable, defense. Yes, they’ll play 2-3 for the entire game, but they’ll make your life virtually a living hell. If you don’t have the perimeter shooters to shoot your way out of slumps, you better pray to God your big men pick up the slack on the offensive rebounds. Last year, ‘Cuse’s defense was unstoppable because of its length. Fab Melo was a precocious defender who had a nose for the ball and would be there to block or change shots whenever the zone collapsed. Though Melo is gone in Maine with the NBDL, the Orange can rely on freshman sensation DeJuan Coleman and sophomore Rakeem Christmas to box out and anchor that zone down low. With a front-line of players over 6-8 in Fair, Christmas, and Coleman, teams will have a hard time to tango with the zone.
The Orange lost integral pieces from last year’s Elite Eight squad. They lost their general in point guard Jardine (4.9 assists). They lost their premier scorer off the bench in Dion Waiters (12.6 points). They lost their leader in crunch time in Joseph (13.4 pts) and defensive beast in Melo. However, this team also has matured despite those losses. Michael Carter Williams will now be inserted into the lineup after watching on the bench and playing behind Jardine and Triche. After receiving inconsistent minutes a year ago, Christmas will now be relied heavily on to step up defensively and show fans why he was considered an All-American gem. Triche has been waiting for this moment to come and it’s finally showtime for the senior. The responsibility of leading the team is on him after watching players like Joseph, Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins, and Jardine among others take charge. Will this team win 34 games again? I doubt it. But they’ll definitely top more than 25 games in ‘W’ column.