The Syracuse Orange are the latest team to be featured in our series of ACC Basketball previews to help get you ready for the 2014-15 season.
We’re going in alphabetical order through every team in the new-look ACC, but we’ll be excluding Duke – seeing as how the Blue Devils already receive a fair amount of coverage on this site.
If you’ve missed any of our previous previews, I encourage you to check them out to get an idea of the landscape around the ACC. We’ve already covered Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, N.C. State, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
After jumping out to an amazing start last season, the Orange faded down the stretch. Let’s see if this roster is built for postseason success.
2013-14 Record: Overall – 28-6 | ACC – 14-4 (2nd Place)
Games against Duke this season: Saturday, February 14 at Syracuse | Saturday, February 28 at Duke
Everything went right for Syracuse to start the season. The Orange jumped out to a 25-0 record and looked like a strong national championship contender. However, they also had numerous narrow escapes during that 25-game winning streak, and the close games began catching up with the team down the stretch.
After a one-point win at home over N.C. State that involved some controversial officiating and sent Syracuse to 25-0, Jim Boeheim’s team finished 3-6 to close the season, including a disappointing loss to N.C. State in the ACC Tournament and even more disappointing loss to Dayton in the NCAA Tournament.
The team was built around three players who are no longer part of the program. Tyler Ennis lived up to all the hype as a freshman and was one of the best point guards in the country before heading to the NBA. C.J. Fair was the primary offensive option for the Orange and had a strong senior season. And Jerami Grant battled injuries throughout the year but showed incredible athleticism, which was good enough to get him taken with the 39th pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in this past summer’s NBA Draft.
Key Players: Trevor Cooney, Kaleb Joseph, Chris McCullough
Trevor Cooney is the leading returning scorer from last season’s team and the Orange will need him to be a consistent shooter throughout the year. He struggled down the stretch last season, which coincided with Syracuse’s offensive struggles. With a team that lacks proven playmakers, Cooney’s strength from the perimeter will help take pressure off his younger teammates.
Similar to last season, Jim Boeheim will rely primarily on a freshman to handle the point guard position. Kaleb Joseph has the unenviable job of replacing Tyler Ennis but he brings his own unique set of skills to the team. While Ennis was the unflappable distributor and leader, Joseph is more of an explosive playmaker. Considering the other weapons on this roster, that actually might be a good thing.
It’s so difficult to get a gauge on incoming freshman Chris McCullough. Boeheim is speaking very highly of him, which you don’t usually hear from him about a freshman, but he’s also been described by recruiting experts as raw. If McCullough is ready to make the leap to big-time college basketball, he’ll be a huge asset for the Orange in the paint.
X-Factor: Michael Gbinije & Rakeem Christmas
Former Duke player Michael Gbinije has found a home in Syracuse and the Orange are expecting big things from him this season. He’s one of the more experienced players on the team and his length and athleticism should make him a valuable part of Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone defense.
Aside from flopping at the mere mention of any contact in the paint, Rakeem Christmas needs to be a consistent contributor this season. He’s never been expected to provide much offense, but that changes with this team that lacks the scorers it’s had for the past couple years. Increasing his scoring to 10 points a game would be a huge plus for the Orange.
Most people seem to be giving Syracuse the benefit of the doubt this season because of Jim Boeheim. Being one of the winningest coaches in college basketball does that, even when you have a roster that doesn’t look like it can match-up with the top teams in the conference.
I expect the Orange to take a step back from last season. It’s unlikely that Kaleb Joseph can transition as seamlessly to being the starting point guard as Tyler Ennis did last year and this group still lacks wings who can create their own offense, which C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant did last year.
Syracuse is still good enough to be an NCAA Tournament team, but I don’t think they’ll be competing for the ACC Championship. This is a group that will likely be in that second tier of teams in the conference, behind UNC, Duke, Louisville and Virginia.