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IN THE SUMMER of 2009, Rob Murphy stepped into the sound booth at a friend's recording studio. One hour later the Syracuse assistant coach emerged a recording artist, having laid down a freestyle rap called Shut It Down. Inspired by his team's signature 2--3 zone, the song became the theme for a season in which Syracuse achieved its first No. 1 AP ranking in two decades. Ultimately, though, the high-flying Orange bowed to Butler in the Sweet 16.
It's fitting, then, that for Midnight Madness last month the players unveiled a fresh new track: Unfinished Business. With the graduation of center Arinze Onuaku, as well as the departure to the NBA of the team's top two scorers, Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, much of the responsibility for the team's success this season will fall to the Big East's Sixth Man of the Year, junior forward Kris Joseph, who averaged 10.8 points per game and shot 49.0% to help Syracuse lead the nation in field goal percentage (51.6) in 2009--10.
But not everyone is convinced that Joseph can lead the Orange. He was named to the Wooden Award watch list but left off the preseason all-conference first team by the Big East coaches. Says Joseph of the lukewarm reviews, "I'm motivated enough already, but this extra motivation is definitely a plus."
A talented core of experienced players—guards Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine and forward Rick Jackson—will provide help. And freshman Fabricio (Fab) Melo, a McDonald's All-American from Sagemont High in Weston, Fla., should be an immediate contributor. "The younger guys will have to produce," says coach Jim Boeheim, "but they aren't going to be the key."
The coach even sees championship potential. "In '03 we only had two upperclass guys," he says. "This year we have the same kind of breakdown but a little more veteran [leadership]." That should be all the motivation the Orange needs to get down to business.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Coach Jim Boeheim (35th season)
2009--10 record 30--5
Big East 15--3 (1st)
NCAA tournament Sweet 16