Just a few years ago the Syracuse Orange (30-5, 15-3 Big East) could not get a ticket to the Big Dance. In 2007 and 2008, after the loss of three key starters, the Orange went to the NIT twice. But last year they were back in the NCAA Tournament mix. Syracuse won the Big East regular season title and although they got knocked out of Big East Tournament in round one, losing to Georgetown 91-84, they did end up in Match Madness.
The Orange went to the Sweet 16, beating Vermont 79-56 and Gonzaga 87-65. Then they met Butler, a team that would get to the final game, and lost 63-59. That marked the 19th time the team had gone that far. Seven times they’ve been to the Elite Eight, four times to the Final Four and three times to the Championship Game, winning it in 2003. The point is that once the Orange get to the Elite Eight, they have a very good chance of making it to the final game. Do they have the gas to go all the way this year?
Syracuse has to deal with the loss of three major contributors from last season—forward Wes Johnson (16.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 1.7 spg), forward/center Arinze Onuaku (10.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg) and guard Andy Rautins (12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.0 spg). Each of the three was a primary force on the team. But the Orange look to have enough talent and experience to make up for those loses.
Forward Kris Joseph (6-7, 207 lbs., JR, #32, 10.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 27.8 mpg, .490 FG, .220 3PT, .748 FT) may have been a reserve last season, but this year he’s a starter. Joseph was a big contributor off the bench last season. He brings some fine skills to the court but for the Orange to succeed he needs to be a more accurate shooter from the outside.
Rick Jackson (6-9, 240 lbs., SR, #00, 9.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, 26.3 mpg, .591 FG, .000 3PT, .500 FT) is back for his senior season. He was solid on the rebound last year and was especially effective on the offensive end, grabbing 12.7% (101st). His 8.2% blocking percentage placed him 52nd nationally. As a shooter, his effective field goal percentage, which was 59.1%, ranked him 59th. He proved to be an especially effective power forward.
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The center position will be held, most likely, by freshman Fab Melo from Brazil. The 7-0, 235-pound center made the McDonald’s All-American team after playing just one year of basketball in the US. Melo, who possesses a great work ethic, dropped about 35 pounds over the summer in order to make himself more mobile. He’s still got a big body that is extremely athletic. He passes, shoots and blocks shots well and the bottom line is he could be a standout player.
There are some very fine experienced players in the backcourt. Scoop Jardine (6-2, 190 lbs., JR, #11, 9.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 4.3 apg, 22.2 mpg, .489 FG, .389 3PT, .750 FT) and Brandon Triche (6-4, 198 lbs., SO, #20, 8.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 21.3 mpg, .500 FG, .400 3PT, .634 FT) are both quality guys.
Jardine gave the Orange a lot of premium minutes off the bench. He did that primarily at the point spot. An all around fine shooter, he’s also a major assist guy. Last season he was 47thin the country in assist rate (32.5). This season, Jardine will move to shooting guard where he could prove to be simply explosive.
Triche, who was named to the Big East’s All-Freshman team last year, played a solid point. This year, he’ll continue as the starter in that spot.
The Orange led the nation is assists partly because of the work of Triche and Jardine. What’s needed from both guards this season, as they will share the backcourt at the same time rather than playing time at the same position in the backcourt, is more attention to ball control. Both gave it up way to much in 2009-2010. The team’s turnover percentage was 21.5% (235th), which was simply much too high.
Off the bench, you can expect to see sophomore center DeShonte Riley (7-0, 233 lbs., SO, #33, 1.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.6 apg, 9.2 mpg, .600 FG, .000 3PT, .455 FT) and sophomore forward James Southerland (6-8, 205 lbs., SO, #43, 3.2 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.4 apg, 7.5 mpg, .410 FG, .292 3PT, .500 FT) seeing some playing time. Riley is a good shot blocker who can also shoot and rebound. Southerland is an athletic player who needs to hone his shooting skills from each area of the court. There are also some skilled and talented frontcourt freshmen who will probably get some minutes in each game.
If the backcourt needs more scoring chops, then look for Mookie Jones (6-6, 220 lbs., SO, #21, 5.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.8 apg, 10.5 mpg, .458 FG, .446 3PT, .571 FT) to enter the game. He’s got a very sweet shot that connects from downtown. However, he too was prone to turnovers. Freshman Dion Waiters will be able to contribute points from the shooting spot while also bringing fine defensive skills to the game.
Syracuse led the Big East in field goal percentage with a mark of 51.6%. They were second in three-pointers at 39.1%. Their biggest failing was at the charity stripe where they came in 11th, making 67.7%. On offensive efficiency they were ranked 8th in the nation, earning a mark of 118.0. Offensive rebounding was 37.6% (29th).
The Orange defense was also extremely good. With an efficiency grade of 89.0 (18th), they were fifth in blocking percentage (17.2%), fourth in steals (13.6%) and 22nd in three-point “D” (30.2%). It was difficult to shoot against this team.
Head coach Jim Boeheim (829-293 in 33 years at Syracuse and overall) has made it a carrer at Syracuse. He’s fourth in the nation on the most wins list for active Division I coaches and eighth in wins all-time. Boeheim doesn’t have to prove to anyone that he knows how to recruit and to win. As he has so many times in the past, he has done it again, assembling as impressive team. This is a solid team with a huge amount of potential. One thing is for sure, this is a club that has first place potential in the Big East.
The biggest knock on the Orange last year was that they were often careless with the ball. Chances are they will be much better protecting it. They also need to be more accurate when shooting frees. What is especially helpful for this club is the mix they have. There are some premium vets, solid guys coming off the bench and talented, ready-to-play freshmen.
The Syracuse Orange start off the season with a national ranking of 21st. But truth be told, they could make their was up into the top 10. In December they meet Michigan State, who presently are ranked number two. That will be a major test for both teams. Syracuse will finish somewhere around third or fourth in the conference and make it to the Sweet 16.
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