With all their key contributors returning except for Rick Jackson, the Syracuse Orange have the talent to compete for a National Championship. With the program soon jumping ship to the ACC (don't get me started how much I hate this), Jim Boeheim hopes to make one of his final seasons in the Big East a memorable one.
The Orange have a ton of depth in the backcourt led by returning starters Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. The duo is fairly interchangeable; they both can run the point, shoot the three, and use their strong builds to get to the basket.
Dion Waiters struggled adapting to his role off the bench behind Triche and Jardine and even reportedly flirted with the idea of transferring after last season. He decided to stay at Syracuse and will be the first guard off the bench as he capable of playing either backcourt position. Versatile freshman Michael Carter-Williams and sharpshooter Trevor Cooney add even more talent and depth at guard but might find minutes hard to come by. Mookie Jones has learned that the past couple of minutes as he has been unable to regularly crack the rotation despite being one of the team's top three-point threats.
Kris Joseph was slated to replace what the Orange lost a year ago in Wesley Johnson. However, Joseph was rather inconsistent and never truly emerged as the team's go-to scorer. That motivated him to return for his senior season rather than leaving early for the NBA Draft. He is at his best when attacking the basket but did show some improvement with his shot last season. His length and athleticism are also assets in Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
Highly-touted freshman Rakeem Christmas will replace Jackson at power forward. He is not the physical presence that Jackson was but makes his presence felt on the boards and with his ability to block or alter shots.
C.J. Fair and James Southerland will compete for minutes off the bench at forward. I really like Fair and think he has tremendous potential. He reminds me a bit of a young Corey Brewer due to his athleticism and explosiveness in the open floor. Southerland is a face-up forward who lives on the perimeter. They give Boeheim solid backup options in the frontcourt.
In the middle, Fab Melo hopes to show strides after struggling through a fairly horrendous freshman season. He often looked lost on the floor and was relegated to extremely limited playing time once conference season rolled around. Melo looks like he is in better shape this year which should help increase his productivity. If he can show steady improvement and stay out of foul trouble when he is on the floor, Melo will provide the Orange with an inside presence and anchor the middle of their zone.
Melo's struggles last season led to more playing time for Baye Moussa Keita. The Senegal native brought great energy to the floor and was a threat on the boards and as a shot blocker due to his length and athleticism. He is very raw on the offensive end but does run the floor well when Syracuse gets out in transition.
This might be Boeheim's deepest teams in a while. There is size inside, athletes on the wing, and experience in the backcourt. They will always cause headaches for teams with their 2-3 zone and have numerous weapons on the offensive end to be legit Final Four contenders.
Player to Watch: Fab Melo, C
Melo is the X-factor for Syracuse this season. If he can use his size and strength inside to become a true post presence, it will open things up for the rest of the team. The Brazil native put together a pair of solid performances late in the season that displayed some of his potential and left people encouraged about his future.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/23 vs. Virginia Tech/George Mason (Pre-Season NIT)
11/25 vs. Stanford/Oklahoma State (Pre-Season NIT)