Jan 23, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim talks to guard Brandon Triche (20) in the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats at the FifthThird Arena. The Orange defeated the Bearcats 60-53. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Syracuse Orange Basketball Season Preview


The college hoops season is right around the corner, and Busting Brackets is here to whet your basketball-starved appetite. Over the next five weeks, we are publishing season previews team by team, conference by conference, to offer a glimpse into the upcoming season. Busting Brackets is giving you the lowdown on the biggest storylines, offseason changes and x-factors for each team and each league as we roll into the 2012-13 season. Our complete season preview archive can be accessed here. Buckle up, peeps.

Syracuse Orange

Last Season 34-3 (17-1 Big East)
Lost to Cincinnati in Big East tournament semifinals
Lost to Ohio State in Elite Eight of NCAA tournament
Key Returning Players: C.J. Fair, F
Brandon Triche, G
Michael Carter-Williams, G
James Southerland, F
Baye Keita, C
Key Additions: Trevor Cooney, G (Redshirt Freshman)
DaJuan Coleman, F (Jamesville-DeWitt HS)
Jerami Grant, F (DeMatha Catholic HS)
Key Losses: Dion Waiters, G (Left early for NBA)
Fab Melo, C (Left early for NBA)
Scoop Jardine, G
Kris Joseph, F
Top Non-Conference Games: Nov. 9 vs. San Diego State (Battle on the Midway, San Diego)
Nov. 30 @ Arkansas
Dec. 6 vs. Long Beach State
Dec. 17 vs. Detroit (Gotham Classic)
Dec. 22 vs. Temple (Gotham Classic, Madison Square Garden)
Top Conference Games: Jan. 6 @ South Florida
Jan. 19 @ Louisville
Jan. 21 vs. Cincinnati
Feb. 2 @ Pittsburgh
Feb. 4 vs. Notre Dame
Feb. 23 vs. Georgetown
Feb. 25 @ Marquette
Mar. 2 vs. Louisville
Mar. 9 @ Georgetown
Breakout Player: Michael Carter-Williams. C.J. Fair will be Syracuse’s best player, DaJuan Coleman the team’s top newcomer and Rakeem Christmas the most improved player on the roster, but no Orange player will benefit from expanded opportunity more than Carter-Williams. This year’s Syracuse group is flush with good, but unspectacular talent across the board, with no bona fide star on the roster like Dion Waiters last year or Wes Johnson in 2009-10. As such, the Orange is replete with specialized players—all of whom are strong defensively—who fill a specific niche and could break out at any time. Trevor Cooney can stroke it. James Southerland, who will assume multiple roles this season playing at both the top and base of the 2-3 zone, could prove to be the best sixth man in the league if he rediscovers his outside shot in league play. Jerami Grant is an underrated freshman talent but could struggle to crack the usually rigid SU rotation in 2012-13. Rakeem Christmas, with a humbling rookie campaign under his belt, is poised to become one of the most improved players in the conference. But Carter-Williams, the new Syracuse point guard whose size, length, outside shooting and passing ability have NBA scouts salivating, could transform from an oft-used reserve as a freshman into one of the Big East’s most productive players one year later. He’s not a quick point guard, his handle is average [at best] and he’s not difficult to guard off the dribble, but MCW has the tools to become a solid floor general on a team that will turn to its backcourt for answers.

A note on C.J. Fair.
Don’t be surprised if the junior forward outshines his heralded counterparts Otto Porter (Georgetown) and Chane Behanan (Louisville). Fair has been one of the most unheralded great role players in college basketball over the last two seasons, overshadowed last year by the razzle-dazzle of Waiters, senior leadership of Jardine and Joseph and year-long Melo-drama. The smooth lefty is good enough to be the best player in the Big East now that he’s developed the one missing piece in his game: a perimeter jump shot. He can rebound, score inside, has an elite mid-range game and can defend with the best of them. With a newborn outside shot, the two-year handyman extraordinaire can now take on an expanded role for Cuse in his first full season as a starter.
X-Factor: Guard play. Looking at you, Brandon Triche. The local product and coach’s pet (Brandon is the nephew of Howard, who played for Jim Boeheim during the 80s) has been mostly non-descript during his Syracuse career. Good at times, but maddeningly inconsistent on the whole, Triche has never harnessed the physical talents that once made him a highly coveted high school prospect out of nearby Jamesville-Dewitt. Triche’s recruiting stock took a hit after he tore his ACL early in his high school career, and Triche still hasn’t redeemed his fallen stock in college five years later. Syracuse will need Triche to assume a leadership position, what with the losses of departing senior leaders Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph as well as the team’s two best players, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo. Triche has a basketball-made body that gives him immediate physical advantages over his competition, but the senior guard doesn’t utilize those inherent strengths to his benefit enough. He’s all-too passive in the half court, doesn’t attack the basket at the rate he should and defers to the other guards on the team too often. If Triche can discover that inner-drive and become a more aggressive player—much in the same way Waiters did last season—Syracuse is a completely different beast this season and a legitimate Final Four contender. If not, the team’s on-court play will likely mirror the detached and unbothered demeanor of its senior “leader.” Carter-Williams is garnering all the hype heading into this season. That’s because the unproven prodigy always seems sexier than the solid, established veteran. People gravitate toward the unknown. They obsess over the endless possibilities of a clean slate. It’s why the NFL and NBA drafts have turned into television bonanzas, and why Opening Day in baseball is more celebrated nationally than the more-significant Fall Classic. The new kid on the block running the show will get the fanfare, but the blue collar work of his backcourt mate will ultimately steer the Syracuse ship. SU will be fun to watch with MCW (the sizzle) at the helm. The Orange will not, however, be a serious national title threat if Brandon Triche (the meat) doesn’t unlock the talent that, in reputation alone, made him a starter at Syracuse the moment he arrived on campus as a freshman.
Best Case: Syracuse has become a bastion of consistency over the last half-decade, no longer falling prey to the “down” years (seasons on the bubble) that tormented the program during the mid-2000s. The Orange withstood the losses of Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf in 2009, and brought back an even better team the following season. Last year’s squad had to replace Rick Jackson, the team leader from the season before. And it did, to the tune of a one-loss regular season. Recruiting is at an all-time high in Central New York, which has allowed the Orange to replace a handful of top-flight first round draft picks without skipping a beat. The wheel keeps turning in Syracuse, churning out consistent regular season success uncouthly followed by bitter postseason disappointment. This year’s group keeps the wheel in motion, as SU, despite the offseason losses, has another stellar regular season deserving of a No. 1 or 2 seed in March. Last year, two sophomores, overwhelmed and left for dead as freshmen, blossomed into two of the Big East’s top players (and eventual first round draft picks). This year, a new pair of sophomores follows suit. Rakeem Christmas parrots his frontcourt buddy Fab Melo while Carter-Williams follows in the footsteps of Dion Waiters, each player breaking out in his sophomore season and spearheading the Syracuse team. Triche finally ‘gets it.’ James Southerland finally ‘finds it,’ and by “it” I mean his 3-point jumper in conference (Southerland has shot worse than 30-percent from downtown in Big East play during his Syracuse career). C.J. Fair morphs into “the guy,” much in the same way Wes Johnson did in 2009-10. Now armed with a capable outside jumper, Fair is too good to be overlooked or underrated this season. DaJuan Coleman is the league’s most dominant freshman from day one, dominating the boards, flashing his refined offensive post game and making SU fans forget about Melo (the second one, not the first). Trevor Cooney provides a reliable 3-point option that SU desperately needs on offense. Less reliant on Dion Waiters’ half court heroics and more balanced as an overall unit, the Cuse is much improved offensively this season. The defense is its usual, suffocating self. If you thought Syracuse’s defense was tough last season, wait until you get a look at this bunch, with 6-foot-8 (and a huge wingspan), 6-foot-9 (and another long wingspan) and 6-foot-10 patrolling the base of the zone. This is the longest team Jim Boeheim has had to date—and he’s had some gangly ones. The Orange again wreaks havoc on the defensive end, riding a top-flight D to a Big East championship. A No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament awaits SU, and for the first time in ten years, Syracuse does not disappoint in the Big Dance.
Worst Case: The depth and talent are there. The star-power and leadership are not. Triche, again sporting the “I wish I was doing something else” mien, is the same garden variety guard he’s been in each of his first three seasons on the hill. MCW is a solid point guard, but not the star some folks have forecast. Fair, while still invaluable and supremely underrated, is uncomfortable in a go-to capacity—just as he was in the NCAA tournament when Fab Melo’s absence enlarged his role. James Southerland still can’t shoot in conference play, and Mr. Mid-major shrinks in big games. Cooney is not quite the deadeye shooter Syracuse had been banking on, and despite owning a more complete game than some scouts realize, he plays like an unseasoned freshman. Christmas is not yet an impact player or difference maker, still struggling to adjust to playing the 4 (Christmas was mostly a 5 in high school). Coleman flashes promise, but not the consistency and maturity that should come with time. Jerami Grant does not have a freshman season similar to the one his brother (Jerian) had at Notre Dame last season. Grant is on the outside-looking-in by the time Boeheim settles his rotation in December. SU is good defensively, but without Waiters creating steals on the perimeter and Melo altering shots inside, the defensive production lags in 2012-13. The reduction in forced turnovers leads to fewer transition opportunities, which is where the Orange scored a substantial percentage of its points last season. In the half-court, where SU is most vulnerable, the team struggles, sorely missing the playmaking ability of Waiters, the calming influence of Scoop Jardine (who had an unnerving effect on some fans) and the added scoring threat of Kris Joseph. A relatively young team without the veteran leadership or star-power of last year’s group, SU reflects a team that just its four best players from the season before. The Orange, thanks to a watered down Big East landscape, still finishes in the top-four of the league, but another early postseason exit in both the Big East tournament and NCAA tournament puts a damper on an otherwise enjoyable year. Jim Boeheim, who experienced the Big East in its entirety, bows out at season’s end, abruptly stepping down from his post and ducking the school’s imminent move to the ACC. The Mike Hopkins era begins anew. Syracuse fans are in a tizzy over whether SU basketball will ever be the same.
Projected Finish: Regular Season: 25-6 (13-5 Big East), 2nd place Big East
Lose in Big East tournament semifinals
NCAA tournament No. 3 seed

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  • The Bruce, Mile High

    Howard is uncle, not father, to Brandon.