Monday, October 31, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 5 Syracuse Orange

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 27-8, 12-6 (t-3rd Big East), lost to Marquette in the second round of the NCAA Tournament

Head Coach: Jim Boeheim

Key Losses: Rick Jackson

Newcomers: Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams, Trevor Cooney

Projected Lineup:

- G: Scoop Jardine, Sr.
- G: Brandon Triche, Jr.
- F: Kris Joseph, Sr.
- F: CJ Fair, So.
- C: Fab Melo, So.
- Bench: Rakeem Christmas, Fr., Dion Waiters, So. Michael Carter-Williams, Fr.; James Southerland, Jr.; Baye Moussa-Keita, So.; Trevor Cooney, Fr.

Outlook: Last season was a bit disappointing for Syracuse fans. They started the season out 18-0, climbing to as high as third in the national polls. But they followed that up with a four games losing streak and six losses in eight games. The Orange were able to rebound by closing out the regular season on a five game winning streak, but they were never quite able to find the rhythm that made them so successful early in the season. Scoop Jardine was at times an all-american and at times deserving to be benched. Fab Melo was no where to be found. Kris Joseph never quite became the superstar that everyone expected. And despite all of those issues, Syracuse still managed to finished tied for third in a very strong Big East and make it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The only player that the Orange lost off that team was Rick Jackson. And while Jackson was one of the best players in the conference last season, with the amount of talent that Syracuse brings back there should be no surprise that folks in Upstate New York consider this the Orange's best team since Carmelo Anthony was a collegian. This team lacks the star power that group had, but what it lacks in name-recognition it makes up for with depth and balance.

Syracuse will have one of the most experienced back courts in the country this season. Scoop Jardine is one of the more polarizing players in the Big East. He's clearly a talented scorer and playmaker; he averaged 12.5 ppg and a league-high 5.9 apg last season. The knock on Jardine is his decision-making and his consistency. He shot the ball just 41.5% from the floor and turned it over nearly three times per game. Some games he was sensational -- he went for 20 points and eight dimes at Villanova and 13 points and 13 assists against Marquuette. Some games he was atrocious -- like the two points and three assists he had on 1-8 shooting at home against Villanova or the 2-11 performance, including a number of atrocious decisions late in the game, he had in a loss to UConn. If Jardine can eliminate the questions about which player shows up in a given games -- keeping his off-nights less, well, off -- he becomes much more valuable as a leader.

Joining Triche on the perimeter will be the same two players as last season. Kris Joseph is an uber-athletic small forward with the potential for being a lottery pick. He was hyped as the replacement to Wes Johnson last season, and while he didn't quite live up to those expectations, he's still a mighty-good Big East swingman. Its says something about you as a player when 14.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 1.5 spg is considered a bit of a disappointing year. Triche needs to be a steadying influence in the back court. He's more of a natural point guard than he is an off-guard, but with Jardine joining him, he doesn't need to be the primary playmaker for this group. He needs to avoid turning the ball over, facilitate the sets Boeheim wants to run offensively and knock down open threes when he has them. There's no reason he can't succeed in that role.

There is more than enough depth on the Syracuse perimeter. Dion Waiters was expected to transfer during the offseason, but the sophomore is back in the fold and should be an important piece of Boeheim's bench. Waiters is a big-time scorer and should be a weapon as instant offense. Freshmen Michael Carter-Williams is another talented scorer coming off the bench. He became more of a playmaker throughout his high school career. Trevor Cooney will also see minutes as a sharp-shooter off the bench.

The front court is where the issues lie for the Orange. Most importantly, who is going to fill the role vacated by Rick Jackson? His value as a defender and a rebounder in the middle of that zone cannot be overstated. There are three players that will get the opportunity to proof their worth up front. The first will, in all likelihood, end up being Fab Melo. Melo has had all kinds of issues since the native Brazilian enrolled at Syracuse. He was out of shape and in Boeheim's doghouse much of last season, getting the start a number of games only to never see the court again when he was pulled. Then there was the incident over the summer where he was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend, which may not have been the first time that happened. If Melo does put it all together, he's a legitimate seven-footer that is a potential lottery pick. As of now, that's still a big 'if'.

If Melo can't figure it out this year, freshman Rakeem Christmas and sophomore Baye Moussa-Keita will likely reap the playing time benefits. Moussa-Keita didn't play much last season, but when he did he had a fairly significant impact on the glass and blocking shots. His length and athleticism is ideal for the 2-3 zone Boeheim likes to play. Christmas may be an even better shot blocker than Moussa-Keita. He's another lauded freshman that is long and athletic. The issue with those two is that there won't be much offense, or size -- combined, they may not weight 400 lb --provided from the center spot when they are on the floor.

The x-factor for this lineup will be CJ Fair. Fair was the least touted of the Syracuse freshmen last season, but he had the biggest impact. He came on strong late in the season, and the athletic combo-forward will push for the starting power forward spot this year. He can do a lot of different things on the floor and should have a major impact this season. James Southerland, who had a couple of big games in the middle of the year, is a perfect fit for Boeheim's system given his size, length and ability to shoot the ball.

Syracuse has all the pieces this season. They are as talented as any team in the Big East. It will be interesting to see just how all the pieces come together -- who starts in the front court, where does the Orange three point shooting come from, will Jardine be a leader, etc. -- but there is no reason that this team can't compete for the Big East title and a trip to the Final Four.

1 comment:

jkraeg said...

It's about damn time Dauster. Go CUSE!!!! No mention of the two freshmen guards? Cooney is a sharp shooter kid!!!