The two most important players for the Syracuse Orange this season will be senior C.J. Fair, the ACC preseason player of the year, and freshman Tyler Ennis, who takes over the starting point guard job for Michael Carter-Williams.
However, because Syracuse knows Fair is as steady and reliable a player as there is in all of college basketball and they have reason to believe Ennis will be a steady player at points guard, the key to their season will be their four sophomores whose contributions will be less predictable but equally important.
Forward Jerami Grant has a chance to make the biggest impact of any player on the roster. He has as much talent and athleticism as any forward Syracuse has had in years, which is why he is already on NBA draft boards after averaging just four points and three rebounds per game last year.
Grant will be the team’s sixth man, which is a position where the Orange have had a lot of success over the past few seasons. By season’s end, he and Fair have the potential to be one of the top forward duos in the country.
Transfer Michael Gbinije will be an understated but important part of the Orange this season. He will come off the bench and be the backup at both guard positions, including backing up Ennis at point guard. Ennis is bound to go through some growing pains at some point during his freshman season, and Syracuse will need to be able to rely on Gbinije to play significant minutes at point guard when that happens.
Center DaJuan Coleman is an X-factor in the deep and gigantic Syracuse frontcourt. He struggled defensively season which kept him from playing significant minutes late in the season, but if Coleman proves he can play defense without being a liability, he’ll be able to play meaningful minutes and could become a force on the offensive end. This would be unusual for Syracuse, as they’ve rarely gotten much offense from the center position in recent years.
The most important sophomore could be shooting guard Trevor Cooney. After struggling to shoot from the perimeter last season, the Orange need him to live up to his reputation as a 3-point assassin this year. If he can shoot 35 percent or higher from beyond the arc, Syracuse will be in good shape offensively. If not, their half-court offense could struggle much like it did last season.
As a group, these sophomores contributed some, but not much last season. How much these four players contribute this year will ultimately determine how good the Orange will be as all four have incredible promise, but plenty of uncertainty.