A few weekends ago, the Syracuse basketball team returned to the court, to start their 2012-2013 season against San Diego State in the 2nd ever Battle of the Midway. (Cue up the JAMS) Last year, as you may remember, Syracuse was one of the best teams in the country and received a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. They posted an impressive 34-3 record, but failed to reach the Final Four. Now, had Fab Melo been capable of reading above the level of an elementary level student, then maybe we’d be talking about a different postseason result for the Orange. Syracuse has lost a lot this off-season; experienced seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, and super sophomore sensations Dion Waiters and Fab Melo to the NBA draft. This may lead you to believe SU would look to rebuild this year. Wrong. Syracuse still has Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, James Southerland, Baye Keita, Michael Carter-Williams, Rakeem Christmas, redshirt Trevor Cooney and freshmen DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant, who are expected to help form one of the most dangerous (and big) frontcourts in the country. When it comes to size, teams will find it difficult to compete with the Orange. So what’s stopping this team from getting to the Final Four this year? Well, we’re about to give you three key factors that could either make or break their chances.
1. Michael Carter-Williams
With the season ready to start, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about this guy. Carter-Williams saw limited minutes last year behind Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, and Dion Waiters, but how many other players would have seen extended minutes with that depth at the guard position? If the scouts are right, then Michael Carter-Williams is about to be a stud this year. He’s got incredible height for a point guard at 6’6” and his athleticism and skill give him unlimited potential. There were only a few colleges Carter-Williams would not have started at last year and Syracuse was one of them. Syracuse NEEDS Carter-Williams to meet and exceed these high expectations and be the anchor point guard in the backcourt that brings this team together. The only thing in question for this guy is the immaturity of his game and the minimal amount of time he saw during Big East play last year. His height and length make him a very dangerous threat in SU’s 2-3 zone, which will hopefully lead to many steals and easy baskets.
2. The Big Men
After watching the exhibition games (yes we know who they played) we noticed that this team is HUGE. The frontcourt is incredibly big with toughness, size, length, and the ability to finish, which is always good. There can be nothing more frustrating than watching big men miss their layups, but this team has great potential in their big men and SU needs them in order to get to the Final Four. Jerami Grant, C.J. Fair, Baye Keita, Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman, and James Southerland are all listed 6’8”. That’s scary big. With the length on the defensive end, SU is bound to be among the best in the country in shot blocking along with forcing teams to stay on the perimeter. Now, let’s talk offense. DaJuan Coleman is a monster. He’s the real deal. He needs to have a huge offensive year and expect him to be their number two scoring option after Brandon Triche this year. The various combinations of Coleman, Christmas, and Keita at center/power forward give this team the potential to be the strongest team in the frontcourt. This length down low opens up the lanes for slashers, like Fair, shooters like Triche and Southerland, and most importantly allows the SU 2-3 zone to extend and be dominant. This frontcourt has the potential to be the best in the country and help carry SU to the Final Four.
3. Brandon Triche
Scoop is gone. Joseph is gone. And we’re left to wonder, who’s going to be the leader of this team? Brandon Triche needs to be that guy. If SU has any hopes of going to the Final Four with this youthful squad, they’re going to need their starting senior guard to show his experience and be the leader of this team. Triche has started every game since his career for the Orange and has the ability to average 12-15 points per game this year. Triche is a quiet player, a VERY strong athlete, and an above average shooter. Triche needs to be the guy that brings the young players like Carter-Williams and Coleman together in order to make this team a powerhouse this year. Triche does not need to be your typical vocal leader, but does need to lead by example. Syracuse has typically benefited from strong, experienced leadership and that will need to come by way of Brandon Triche. With inexperience in the backcourt, Triche will need to control the pace of games and keep the youth of the team in check, of course the Hall of famer Jim Boeheim will help too. It is rare for a team to make a long run in the NCAA tournament without an experienced leader; Brandon Triche needs to be that leader for SU, statistically and as the floor general.
4. Outside Shooting
Last years biggest weakness is expected to have improved with the edition of redshirt freshmen Trevor Cooney, a young guard in the mold of great SU shooters of past. With Sutherland also capable of shooting the lights out on any given night, if one more player can step up every once in awhile this year should be at worst a team capable of hitting the occasional three pointer. With all the size down low, the guard’s ability to keep defenses honest will be key to the offense running smoothly.
The team faced a tough early season task against San Diego State (ranked 20th). It was up to the players to perform and Coach Boeheim to bring this team together and lead them to the Final Four, where they haven’t been since winning it all in 2003. SU has the potential to be one of the best teams in the country if MCW and Coleman reach their potential, if the frontcourt is dominant, and if Brandon Triche delivers the necessary leadership. With the Big East having a “down” year Syracuse has no excuse to not be at the top of the conference during the final season in the Big East Conference.
– Ian and John