As they get set for their first season in the ACC, the Syracuse Orange will also enter their 2014 campaign with more question marks than at any point in recent years. With seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland out of eligibility and starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams off early to the NBA, the Orange will be a young and inexperienced group, specifically in the back-court.
Yet despite losing all that talent, it hardly means that Syracuse will be a pushover entering their new conference. This is a club which has averaged 29 wins over the last four years, meaning that even a "down" year at Syracuse could likely include a run at a league title and deep NCAA Tournament push.
Here is what you need to know about the 2014 Syracuse Orange:
Key Returnees: C.J. Fair, Sr., F (14.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Rakeem Christmas, Jr., F (5.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg), DaJuan Coleman, Soph., F (4.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Jerami Grant, Soph., F (3.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Baye Keita, Sr., C (3.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Trevor Cooney (3.4 ppg, 0.8 rpg)
Key Losses: Brandon Triche (13.6 ppg, 3.6 apg), James Southerland (13.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Michael Carter-Williams (11.9 ppg, 7.3 apg)
Key Additions: Tyler Ennis, PG; Tyler Roberson PF
While the sting of their back-court losses hurt, it wasn't all bad news this off-season at Syracuse. Instead the Orange recently got word that forward C.J. Fair would return to campus for his senior year, after leading Syracuse in both scoring (14.5 points per game) and rebounding (seven boards per contest) during the 2013 season. Fair will likely end up on a number of postseason All-American teams next spring.
And in the front-court Fair should get plenty of help, thanks to a slew of big bodies who will play alongside him.
Rakeem Christmas' role increased from his freshman to sophomore year in 2013, and after averaging nearly five rebounds per game, it should only continue to grow in 2014. Same with former McDonald's All-American DaJuan Coleman who was limited to just under 13 minutes of action a game last year. Senior Baye Keita will add depth, while sophomore Jerami Grant could be in for a breakout year, after showing flashes as a true freshman.
However as deep as the front-court is, the back-court is just as thin and ultimately that's where Syracuse's question marks are entering the 2014 season. The departed Triche, Southerland and Carter-Williams accounted for 85 percent of the Orange's assist total during their Final Four run in 2013, with Carter-Williams finishing third in the category nationally.
That's also why it will only add pressure to the only guard who played any significant minutes last season, Trevor Cooney. The sophomore was seen as primarily a three-point threat last season (hitting 28 deep balls), but must take on more of a ball-handling role for the Orange.
Furthermore, Syracuse's lack of back-court depth could also mean big minutes for true freshman Tyler Ennis as well. The No. 4 ranked point guard in the high school class of 2013 according to Rivals.com will likely be expected to contribute immediately and could play big minutes without another true point guard on the roster.
Still, despite the question marks and despite the move to the ACC, it seems hard to question Syracuse's place amongst the elite in college basketball entering 2014. Remember, this is a club which lost three starters and a key role player off their 2012 Elite Eight squad (including the No. 4 pick in the draft, Dion Waiters), yet advanced one step further this past March to the Final Four.
While another Final Four run seems unlikely, a spot in the Top 15 all season long seems certain.
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