SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim lost two starting guards and a sharpshooting perimeter player who helped carry the Orange to the Final Four last spring.
No problem, just reload.
As he gets ready for his 38th season at his alma mater – Syracuse’s first as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference – Boeheim has a wealth of talent on his roster and expects another solid season from his team, which finished 30-10 last year after a five-point loss to Michigan in the national semifinals.
“Any team that’s in the top 20 can go to the Final Four,” Boeheim said. “Any team in the top 30, probably.
“We’re one of those teams.”
Though they will enter the season without point guard Michael Carter-Williams, a first-round pick in the NBA after just two seasons with the Orange, his backcourt mate from last year, Brandon Triche, and James Southerland. That trio combined to average nearly 39 points per game on a team that averaged 70.4.
Boeheim runs the opposite of a “one-and-done” program – a team that gobbles up freshman standouts only to see them leave early for the NBA after just one season – so he can usually count on veterans to lead the way. He couldn’t ask for more this year with the return of 6-foot-8 forward C.J. Fair and 6-10 center Baye Moussa Keita.
“Seniors are important,” said Boeheim, whose 920 career victories are second at the Division I level, behind only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (957). “They’ve played in big games their whole careers. That’s something the younger players can look to. That’s crucial.
“We have a good mix.”
Fair, who led the Orange in scoring (14.5) and rebounding (7.0), was voted preseason ACC player of the year, while Keita averaged 7.3 rebounds per game in the Orange’s four-game August exhibition sojourn to Canada.
Boeheim’s recruiting classes have been ranked near the top nationally the past few seasons, and Syracuse has a solid core this year in guards Tyler Ennis and Ron Patterson, and forwards Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson.
Here are five things about the Orange, who open the season at home against Cornell onNov. 8:
THE FAIR FACTOR: Fair has an uncanny and effortless ability to be in the right place at the right time, and he’s a threat from anywhere on the court. His 46.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc led the team a year ago and much will be expected of him – on and off the court. “C.J. finds a way to get his points,” Boeheim said. “He’s improved every year he’s been here. He’ll get more opportunities this year. Last year, offensively, he was the second or third option. This year, he’ll be the first.”
CANADIAN CONNECTION: Ennis, who was born in Toronto, will take over at point guard for Carter-Williams and is expected to carry a hefty workload. Ennis led the team in minutes played and assists in Canada, and his 10-point scoring average ranked second on the team. “He plays a lot like a veteran point guard, which is very impressive coming in as a freshman,” Boeheim said. “I think he’s as well-prepared as any freshman point guard we’ve had here.” Redshirt sophomore guard Trevor Cooney has been more consistent in preseason practice and Duke transfer Michael Gbinije is ready to contribute after sitting out last season and can step in for Ennis when needed.
ZONED-OUT: Syracuse thrived in the rugged Big East using Boeheim’s signature 2-3 zone defense, and the Orange again are well-stocked with long arms and big bodies, ready to wreak some havoc against teams that aren’t used to seeing it. Along with Keita are: 6-9, 280-pound sophomore Dajuan Coleman, who missed eight games last year with a knee injury but is healthy again; 6-9, 250-pound junior Rakeem Christmas; and 6-8 sophomore forward Jerami Grant. “I think our big guys are better,” Boeheim said. “We have a solid core in terms of experience.”
NO BIG EAST BLAHS: Although longtime Big East rival Georgetown is not on the 2013-14 schedule, ACC powers North Carolina (Jan. 11) and Duke (Feb. 1) will visit the Carrier Dome and already are considered rivals. “Whoever’s at the top, whoever’s playing well, those are going to be the big games,” Boeheim said. “That’s the way it always is.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: The Orange not only had the extra two weeks of practice granted this year by the NCAA, they also had Canada, giving Boeheim even more time to fine tune. “We’re way ahead of where we would be,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to get further than we would want to get. “It just means that for right now … we are better prepared.”