5 Burning Questions For Syracuse Orange Basketball

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5 Burning Questions

Boeheim
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Goodbye Big East, hello ACC.

The Syracuse Orange’s departure from the best basketball conference in the country is certainly bittersweet (greater emphasis on the bitter). It’s tragic that Georgetown, Louisville, Villanova and Connecticut will not be coming to the Carrier Dome this year and it’s a crime that these titans of the hardwood will no longer battle for the conference crown at Madison Square Garden. The move was no doubt one for the football program as the university sold decades of basketball tradition for a more lucrative television contract.

There is a silver lining though. As old rivalries end, new ones will blossom with Duke, Maryland and North Carolina and whoever Syracuse plays in the Big 10/ACC Challenge (this year they play Indiana).

The schedule is not the only thing that will undergo drastic changes in central New York heading into the 2013-14 season. The roster, too, will be revised. Syracuse lost three starters from last year’s Final Four team: Brandon Triche, James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams. It is going to be difficult to replace a four-year starter, a lights-out shooter and an NBA-caliber point guard, but that’s life in college hoops.

Jim Boeheim is up to the challenge. Syracuse ranked second in the ACC in the preseason poll, and with good reason. The Orange return six players who saw significant playing time last season, including two seniors and a sophomore forward who has the potential to be a breakout star in college basketball this year. They also have one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.

Syracuse has the potential to be great this season, but hey, it wouldn’t be college basketball without uncertainties. These are five burning questions for Syracuse Orange basketball in the 2013-14 season.

James O’Hare is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @JimboOHare, like him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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5. Can Tyler Ennis Replace Michael Carter-Williams?

Ennis
Photo Courtesy of "Syracuse Orange Basketball on syracuse.com" Facebook Page

Of the three starters Syracuse lost from last year’s team, Michael Carter-Williams was by far the biggest blow (not because of what he did but because of what he could have done). He didn’t play much as a freshman but whenever an individual close to the team talked about him, they raved about his passing abilities and the bright future that lay ahead in Syracuse basketball. Those hopes came to fruition his sophomore season. Despite an up and down year, he led the Orange to the Final Four as the team’s starting point guard. Unfortunately, that was the last tournament MCW would be a part of as he left school early for the NBA.

Though no one blamed him for leaving – he was selected eleventh overall by the Philadelphia 76ers – he still needs to be replaced, and the Orange have their man. Tyler Ennis will start at point guard this year. The 6-foot-2 freshman is like MCW in that he struggles shooting from outside but is excellent at getting into the paint and drawing fouls. Coaches also praise him for his intelligence on the court and his ball-handling abilities.

Because Syracuse does not have many players that can create their own shot, much will depend on Ennis’ ability to distribute the ball. It’s a tall order for a freshman to take the reins of a team that went to the Final Four last year, but he needs to play well for Syracuse to have any shot at winning the ACC.

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4. Can Rakeem Christmas Redeem Himself?

Christmas
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a trend in Syracuse basketball during the past five years: they lose guards early to the NBA draft and they lose centers right before the NCAA tournament.

Jonny Flynn, for instance, left school early for the 2009 draft and was a lottery pick. Nevertheless, Syracuse won the Big East regular season championship and locked up a one seed in the NCAA tournament the following season. However, just before the tournament started, they lost their senior center Arinze Onuaku to a knee injury in the Big East Tournament. Without the anchor of their 2-3 zone, the Orange lost in the Sweet 16.

In 2012, Fab Melo was ruled academically ineligible to play in the NCAA Tournament. Still, the team earned a one seed and went all the way to the elite eight. Dion Waiters then left early for the draft and, like Flynn, was a lottery pick.

Now, Michael Carter-Williams has departed early for the NBA and yet again, Syracuse faces uncertainty at the center position. Rakeem Christmas started all but two games last season but his stone hands and poor play led to him being benched late in the year for the more reliable Baye Moussa Keita. Sophomore Dajuan Coleman could also win the starting job. Still, Coleman lacks Christmas’ experience and Keita lacks his size and athletic physique.

Christmas should be the starting center this year, but he needs to improve at receiving passes and scoring in the low post. He perpetually frustrated Boeheim last season. His improvement will be directly related to Syracuse’s success this year.

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3. Can Jerami Grant Become An Assassin?

Grant
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Sophomore Jerami Grant might be the best player on the team – he definitely has the highest NBA potential. Last year he was a solid player averaging 14.3 minutes off the bench. This year the 6-foot-9 forward will have a much greater role on offense as the team will rely on him to hit perimeter jumpers and attack the rim.

The biggest question facing Grant is if he can make the jump from good to elite. It’s the same question that faced Brandon Triche last year and Kris Joseph the year before (both came up short). Grant has the physical tools to become one of the best players in college basketball. It’s time for him to become a force, the go-to-guy, the player other teams must game plan for if they want to beat the Orange.

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2. Can C.J. Fair Lead The Team?

Fair
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As disheartening as it was to lose Triche, Southerland and Carter-Williams, Otto’s Army rejoiced when news came that C.J. Fair would return for his senior season. He was probably the best all-around player on the team last year, leading the Orange in minutes per game (34.9), points per game (14.5) and rebounds per game (7.0). He also had a knack for stepping up during big moments. He had an Earth shattering dunk over Otto Porter in the Big East semis and dropped 22 points on Michigan in the NCAA semis. All this considered he was the preseason selection for ACC Player of the Year.

The Orange will need Fair to provide senior leadership. They will need him to take over games and will turn to him for crucial baskets late. Much will depend on how he responds to this role and the pressure that comes with it.

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1. Can The Team Avoid Academic Eligibility Issues?

Southerland
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s sad this is a serious question, but in back-to-back years, Syracuse has faced the possibility of losing a starter for the NCAA tournament due to academic ineligibility. Fab Melo missed the 2012 tournament because of his grades. Though James Southerland was eligible to play in 2013, he missed six games in the regular season because of academic issues.

This is unacceptable. Besides a select few universities, academic standards are comically low for collegiate athletes. There is no reason why a player should not be able to meet them.

Syracuse could be one of the best teams in college basketball this year but they’re not deep enough to lose someone to a low GPA. Their success on the court is very much reliant on how they perform in the classroom.

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