Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim prefers to look at the players he has and not the ones who are gone. While three starters -- seniors Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph plus NBA first-round pick Fab Melo -- and Big East Sixth Man of the Year Dion Waiters are gone, Syracuse should maintain its customary spot at or near the top of the Big East standings. Senior guard Brandon Triche and sophomore forward Rakeem Christmas return as starters, while senior James Southerland and juniors C.J. Fair and Baye Keita should step into bigger roles this season after gaining a wealth of experience last year.
The key to Syracuse's frontcourt rotation could be the readiness of DaJuan Coleman. The 6-foot-10, 285-pound freshman led Jamesville-DeWitt High to four New York State Class A titles and was a McDonald's All-American last year. If Coleman proves ready to start, Rakeem Christmas can remain at power forward. Christmas averaged just 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds last year, but he had big moments, like an eight-point, 11-rebound game against Kansas State in the
Fair has been preparing for a featured role for two years. He played 26.4 minutes per game off the bench last season, second-most on the team behind Kris Joseph. Fair can play either forward position but needs to extend his range out to the three-point line to become a complete player. James Southerland could start at forward if Christmas gets moved to center, or the long, lanky senior will come off the bench ready to launch from three-point range.
Triche will be the only guard with any substantial experience. Still, the Orange backcourt could be just as potent. Triche will need to emerge as a vocal leader and become more aggressive on the offensive end of the court. Improving his three-point shooting (35.0 percent last year) would be nice, too. Complementing Triche will be two young players in sophomore Michael Carter-Williams, who averaged 2.1 assists in only 10.3 minutes of action as a freshman and redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney, who can drill the spot-up three-pointer.
Syracuse signed only two players last year. Coleman, a 6-10 center, hails from the same high school that produced Brandon Triche and Andy Rautins. Coleman could start immediately. Jerami Grant, a 6-7 forward from DeMatha (Md.) Catholic High, is the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant. Trevor Cooney, who sat out last season as a redshirt, should provide outside shooting.
Despite losing four players, including three NBA draft picks, Syracuse will compete for the Big East title in its last year in the conference before leaving for the ACC. The Orange have enough experience in Triche, Fair, Southerland and Christmas, but the big keys will be two of the team's younger players. If Carter-Williams can handle the point and Coleman can contribute in the middle, the Orange could emerge as a Final Four contender.