The past five seasons have arguably been the best stretch in the history of Syracuse basketball. Over the last five years, the team has averaged 29 wins per season, won two conference championships, made three trips to the Sweet 16 and reached the Final Four in 2013. However, there should be no doubt that the Orange will take a temporary step backwards next season following Monday’s news that forward Jerami Grant is leaving for the NBA.
Grant’s departure comes on the heels of freshman point guard Tyler Ennis also declaring early for the NBA Draft and the graduation of senior C.J. Fair, the team’s leading scorer in 2014. Syracuse really needed Ennis to stay to give them some stability at point guard, but they could have managed had Grant chosen to return. He would have been a clear go-to guy for the Orange, giving them a proven scorer to be the focal point of the offense. But Grant leaving on top of the losses of Fair and Ennis will be too much for Syracuse to survive without a significant drop off.
With Grant gone, the Syracuse frontcourt will have a profound lack of experience outside of senior Rakeem Christmas, as well as a lack of proven scorers. Taking over the forward spots will be some combination of Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson, Chris McCullough and Michael Gbinije. Roberson and Johnson saw little playing time as freshmen this past season, with Roberson looking woefully unprepared when forced to step in for an injured Grant late in the season. McCullough is an incoming freshman who offers great promise but no guarantees, and Gbinije will likely spend most of his time next season splitting the point guard duties due to Ennis leaving early.
Without Grant, the only proven scorer Syracuse will return is shooting guard Trevor Cooney, although his struggles over the first two months of the season cast serious doubt over whether he can be a team’s first or second scoring option. This will leave Syracuse dependent on inexperienced sophomores and incoming freshmen to make up for the loss of its three leading scorers.
Had Grant stayed, it would have made the losses of Fair and Ennis easier to deal with, as the Orange would have retained a proven scorer to lean on. But Grant leaving will likely be one loss too many for the Orange to handle, which is why Syracuse fans should prepare for a temporary setback during the 2014-15 season.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.