Syracuse makes its ACC debut this season, and they want to make their first season in their new league a memorable one. The Orange lost Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland from last year’s Final Four team. Jim Boeheim will look to continue his storied career with a younger group than normal, but there are still some key veteran players.
Headlining the list is senior forward C.J. Fair, who is going to have to shoulder a huge part of the scoring load for the Orange. Fair is a very smooth and efficient offensive player, and he can be very effective from midrange and near the basket. Fair will be joined on the front line by junior Rakeem Christmas, who is an outstanding defender and rebounder but still needs work on his post game. Christmas could be the x-factor for this team, and his development will be something to watch.
DaJuan Coleman will anchor the middle of Syracuse’s zone, and he should be very effective clogging up the lane. Unfortunately neither Coleman nor his backup, Baye Moussa Keita, offer much of anything offensively. It will be interesting to see how Syracuse works Jerami Grant into the rotation, and they could elect to go small with Grant on the floor alongside Christmas and Fair. Freshman Tyler Roberson offers a bigger option than Grant, but Syracuse is expecting Grant to improve by leaps and bounds this season.
Syracuse’s strength is clearly up front, as their backcourt is far less proven. Tyler Ennis will take over the point guard spot from Carter-Williams, but he is not nearly the passer MCW is. Ennis is a scorer, and he will need to adjust to being a facilitator. However, he will get a ton of minutes, because Syracuse doesn’t have a lot of options at the point.
Ennis will be joined in the backcourt by Duke transfer Michael Gbinjie. Gbinjie will try to replace the defense and threes role that Triche held for the last four years, and he needs to be able to stretch the floor and create space underneath for Fair to operate and Ennis to drive. Backcourt depth will be provided by sophomore Trevor Cooney and freshman Rob Patterson, but Syracuse is dangerously thin at guard.
Syracuse is starting the season ranked very highly, coming in at 7th in the coaches poll and 8th in the AP poll. Syracuse will be hard pressed to win an ACC Championship, but they will certainly be in the conversation. As far as the NCAA Tournament goes, Syracuse fans should be hoping for a Sweet 16 appearance, but not expecting anything more.
Syracuse could end up going to the Elite Eight, but they need a lot to go right. The questions surrounding their backcourt are very concerning, and it remains to be seen how much Christmas and Grant improve up front. Those issues will likely prevent Syracuse from returning to the Final Four, but should still be in for a successful season.