Friday, January 10, 2014

season preview: Syracuse

Media prediction: 2nd of 15

Last season:

Record: 30-10 (11-7); Big East 5th seed
Postseason: NCAA 4 seed; lost in Final Four
KenPom: 10th of 347

Returning scoring: 47.7%
Returning rebounding: 62.8%
Returning assists: 16.8%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Tyler Ennis (Fr.)
SG: Trevor Cooney (rSo.)
SF: C.J. Fair (Sr.)
PF: Rakeem Christmas (Jr.)
PF: DaJuan Coleman (So.)


F Jerami Grant (So.)
C Baye Moussa Keita (Sr.)
F Michael Gbinije (So.)
F Tyler Roberson (Fr.)

Coach: Jim Boeheim (38th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Boston College, Duke, Miami, Pittsburgh
Once: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

The new guys are killing it in here.  As of this writing, two games into the ACC season for most teams, only three of them are still undefeated in conference play.  Three out of fifteen.  Syracuse and Pitt are two of them.  (A big cheer for the good guys in being the third.)

Better yet for the Orange, they're one of only five undefeated teams in the country, starting the season 15-0, their best win a complete deconstruction of otherwise-unbeaten Villanova.  Cuse was able to replace the departed talent from their Final Four season last year and is on track to contend for another one.  They're lead by senior wing C.J. Fair, a lanky player with a touch of the volume scorer in him (and, this year, way too many turnovers), but nevertheless one who's very tough to guard.  Syracuse had a very good point guard last year in Michael Carter-Williams, but his NBA departure didn't hurt the team; the Orange filled the spot with freshman Tyler Ennis, who sports a very shiny 31.6% assist rate and a 4.66/1 A/T ratio.  Ennis can also hit the occasional three and chips in 11 points and two and a half steals per game; his college career is off to an outstanding start.

Trevor Cooney, the Syracuse shooting guard, has one main role in the offense: shoot threes.  He's hoisted up 106 of them so far and hit 48, for a .453 percentage.  That plus his near-automatic free-throw shooting has earned him a sky-high O-rating of 134.8, and he happens to be as good or better a defender as Ennis.

Ennis and Cooney, though, are the only two guards that Syracuse uses routinely; they're often seen in a four-forward lineup.  One is sixth man Jerami Grant, Syracuse's primary source of bench scoring.  Grant is built like Fair, tall and skinny, and these four players make up well over 70% of Syracuse's scoring.  Cuse is deep on the interior, but that muscle is mostly used for rebounding and defense.  Starting power forward Rakeem Christmas and backup center Baye Moussa Keita don't score a ton (though Christmas is shooting .762 at the moment) but they're good rebounders and elite shot-blockers.  Wide body Dajuan Coleman is an excellent rebounder as well, especially on offense.  He and Keita do a lot of work on the offensive glass, and most of their buckets are putbacks.

Syracuse finds themselves in the national top ten in a lot of the stats tracked by KenPom.  They're a defensive machine, recording a ton of turnovers and blocks.  They hit the offensive glass harder than almost anyone.  They're also very good at not turning the ball over themselves.  They don't stand out as especially amazing shooters - they're good, but not great - but they extend a lot of possessions and take very good care of the ball and it translates to the current third-best O-rating in the country.

They did struggle in their first-ever ACC game, against Miami, but with Duke and UNC already having lost games they shouldn't, it's hard to see the Orange being challenged a ton in the conference.  Pitt will give them a ride, but between them and Cuse, it looks increasingly likely the ACC title will be won by an interloper.  Syracuse is as good a bet as any for that honor, as well as one of the NCAA's top eight seeds in the dance.

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