With the season approaching, I had the chance to interview Brian Higgins who works for Syracuse All Access and is around the team a lot. He provided great perspective on what this team’s season will be like and where the issues may arise.
1) What do you think the biggest strength of this team is?
In a word, length. No one in the rotation is shorter than 6-4. Michael Carter Williams and Brandon Triche will man the top of the zone at 6-6 and 6-4 respectively, and the back line will be filled with a bunch of 6-8 and above pterodactyl-like athletes. It should lead to a lot of tipped passes and blocked shots that turn in to fast breaks and more of the scoring runs the Orange enjoyed so much last season.
2) Where do you think the biggest weakness is?
The main weakness is in what’s missing. Dion Waiters and Fab Melo were both first round NBA draft picks and Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine were seasoned veteran leaders. This group needs to prove itself down the stretch in close games versus big time opponents. The talent is certainly there to do that, but we just haven’t seen it yet from a majority of the rotation.
3) How is the maturation of Rakeem Christmas going?
He looks good. I doubt Coach Boeheim will call many plays for him, but he runs the floor great for a big guy and has nice touch around the basket when needed. More importantly his off season work in the weight room looks to have paid off. Rak is listed at 242 pounds on this year’s roster, up 20 pounds from last season. It will be interesting to see how the minutes are logged on defense between center and wing when both Christmas and DaJuan Coleman are in the game. Christmas prefers to play center, but is capable on the wing while Coleman may be better suited quickness wise for center at least right now. Regardless, Rakeem’s main contribution this year will be protecting the rim.
4) Which newcomer should we be most excited for?
Our choices are Coleman, Jeremi Grant and Trevor Cooney. Cooney will be important this year as the third guard and a guy that can really shoot the three. Grant is another in a seemingly endless line of 6-8 wiry forwards, but his minutes will be limited some by C.J. Fair and James Southerland this year. The guy to watch this season is Coleman. For one, he’s starting. Secondly, he’s massive. He was well north of 300 pounds in high school locally at Jamesville-Dewitt, but under the watch of strength and conditioning coach Ryan Cabiles and trainer Brad Pike he’s trimmed down to a bruising 288. We all know you need to throw your weight around in the Big East from time to time and DaJuan looks capable of that.
5) Thoughts on the non-conference schedule?
What’s not to like about facing a top 20 San Diego State team on an aircraft carrier to start the season? The game at Arkansas in the Big East/SEC Challenge should be a good one. Mike Anderson is getting things going with the Razorbacks, and it’s the first meeting between the schools since the 2nd round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament that most Orange fans would rather forget. And any Garden game is fun for the team, so the December trip to NYC to play Temple will be another great gathering of the local Orange faithful there.
6) Where do the Orange fit in in the Big East pecking order?
Of course the real fun this year is the final tour through the Big East. Given what Louisville returns and their Final Four trip last year it had to be the preseason pick to win the league, but there is no good reason the Orange won’t battle the Cardinals all season for the title. The real excitement though is the last conference match ups with all the Big East rivals. Saturday afternoon games in the Dome with Georgetown and Louisville. The regular season finale in D.C. against the Hoyas. And of course the last trip to the Garden for the Big East Tournament. The only disappointment is the lone meeting with UConn isn’t in the Dome, but that’s perhaps fitting with Jim Calhoun retired. No matter how the season plays out, it’s bound to be a memorable one.