— Syracuse Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) November 2, 2016
Syracuse 2015-16 record: 23-14 (9-9 ACC)
Ah, the Syracuse Orange. Indeed, they are next up on our list of basketball previews for this upcoming season, and they hold a special place in my heart after their improbable run to the Final Four last season. For reference, I miffed a good bit of Syracuse fans with this piece right after Selection Sunday.
This team was underestimated for seemingly all of last season. With a new team, but similar expectations after the deep run to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament last year, it would be easy for the 2016-17 roster to feel added pressure to perform. However, when you’re playing for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, it’s easy to have a positive mentality as a team year-in and year-out. Is this year any different?
“I think all college teams that have a chance, think they can do anything. I really do. I think our team is no different. They think if things come together, we play the way we can and get on a run, that we can do anything. You know, obviously last year’s team did that, so there’s a little bit of a recent example of being able to get someplace. But I think that’s probably the mindset more and more of all teams, and that’s why you see so many teams in the tournament that can get someplace and so many upsets that you do see, because I think the mentality is we can beat those guys,” Boeheim told the press at media day.
It’s easy to be confident after the unexpected Final Four run last season, but the Orange have plenty to replace from last year’s 23-14 roster. The Orange must replace their top three scorers off of last season’s team in forward Michael Gbinije (17.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists), forward Malachi Richardson (13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists), and guard Trevor Cooney (12.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists).
As such, the Orange will lean heavily on the three remaining contributors from last year’s squad in forwards Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson, and DaJuan Coleman. The returning trio combined to score 15.3 points and 14.5 rebounds per game last year. The three frontcourt players will need to play a much bigger role on offense in this upcoming season in order for the Orange to remain competitive in conference play. They will also take on more of a leadership role, helping to foster in younger talent in John Gillon, Andrew White, and Tyus Battle, who are all expected to play a major role in the backcourt for the Orange heading into the season.
The schedule, especially out of conference, should help Jim Boeheim’s relatively young group to gel early and find their footing before stepping into an ultra-competitive ACC. Outside of a road showdown with the Wisconsin Badgers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on November 29th, the Orange should coast through the non-conference schedule in advance of their conference opener on New Year’s Day against Boston College.
The ACC schedule will of course be where the NCAA Tournament hopes are realized, or go to die, for ‘Cuse. Aside from a road tilt with North Carolina in mid-January, as well as home games with Duke and Louisville in February, the schedule appears to be quite manageable for the Orange, which is a welcomed advantage to a team that will likely be somewhere between really good and a rebuild. Mediocrity may just be enough to squeak into the tournament, especially if Syracuse rolls through the non-conference schedule and can steal one or two of their marquee match-ups in conference play.
While Syracuse is not necessarily in the upper-echelon of the ACC roster-wise heading into this season, it is hard to imagine that they will not have their say within the conference before it is all said and done.
After what they did late last season, I certainly won’t be picking against them. Jim Boeheim made a believer out of me, as well as many of the fans of the Orange around the country, and his young team should be poised for another strong showing this season en route to what I believe will be another NCAA Tournament appearance at season’s end.