Syracuse’s Young Guards Will Be the Key to Upcoming Season

Rich Barnes – USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few seasons, the Syracuse Orange have never had to worry about talent, experience, or depth at the guard position. That’s because they boasted veterans like Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche along with future lottery picks Dion Waiters and Michael Carter-Williams. This season, however, Jim Boeheim‘s squad finds itself in unfamiliar territory.

That’s because Triche graduated and Carter-Williams bolted for the NBA, leaving the Syracuse backcourt almost completely empty in terms of collegiate experience. Still, the Orange guards could surprise some people this year, and they’ll need to if Syracuse wants to make another run at a Final Four and a potential National Championship.

Trevor Cooney enters his sophomore season as the most experienced guard on the roster, which is pretty amazing considering how sparingly he played last season as a redshirt freshman. The sharpshooting Cooney will be joined in the starting lineup by freshman Tyler Ennis, who Boeheim has already said will play somewhere in the neighborhood of 38 minutes per game at the point guard spot. That’s an awful lot to ask of a freshman, but Boeheim believes Ennis has the ability to handle the pressure of being the only true point guard on the roster.

Ennis is a heady 6-foot-2 player who Boeheim says plays like a veteran, which should help ease his transition to the collegiate level. Rated as the 20th best prospect in the country last season by ESPN, Ennis is not as flashy as Carter-Williams, but he’s more of a threat to knock down jumpers and plays more under control while still possessing the ability to finish in the lane and make some dazzling passes. Don’t be surprised if Ennis is among, if not at the top of, the Atlantic Coast Conference assist leaders this season when it’s all said and done. He’s already been named to the preseason Cousy Award Watch List.

Cooney has always had a reputation as being a three point marksman, but he struggled mightily last year, hitting just over 26 percent of his attempts from deep. However, anyone who saw the Orange scrimmage at Midnight Madness saw a confident Cooney knock down three pointer after three pointer, and both fans and Boeheim are hoping that will carry over into meaningful game action.

One of the interesting stories in the Syracuse backcourt is Michael Gbinije, who has the unique claim of being the only guy who has ever played for both the winningest and second winningest coach in NCAA Division I hoops history. Gbinije is a 6-foot-7 guard who started his career at Duke before transferring to Syracuse, where he sat out last year but is poised to get a lot of minutes this season. He is more of a wing scorer, but he will be called on to be the primary backup point guard for Ennis. He’s a good athlete and a solid shooter, and his size and length will make him a menace at the top of the Syracuse 2-3 zone.

Rounding out the backcourt is Ron “Buss” Patterson, a 6-foot-3 freshman who originally committed to Indiana before changing his mind and signing with the Orange. Last season Patterson was named the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council Player of the Year, which is even more impressive when you realize he was playing in the same league as McDonald’s All-American Noah Vonleh, who is expected to star for Indiana this season, as well as Patterson’s own teammate Chris McCullough, who enters his senior season having already committed to Syracuse and is projected as a one and done lottery pick. Patterson’s game is based on his length and athleticism, as he possesses a huge wingspan that will make him a defensive terror in the 2-3. His ballhandling skills are a little shaky and his shooting is streaky at best, but given the lack of depth he’ll certainly see minutes for Boeheim’s club this year.

Syracuse boasts one of the best front courts in America, led by preseason ACC Player of the Year CJ Fair, but it’ll be the backcourt that makes or breaks just how far the Orange can go in the NCAA Tournament this season.

Jeff is an ACC basketball writer on RantSports.comFollow him on Twitter @jekelish and “Like” him on Facebook.

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