2011 College Basketball: Syracuse Predictions and Futures Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 11/8/2011
Is it possible to be the No. 5 ranked team in the country and be underrated? If so, I think that Syracuse is pulling it off right now.
North Carolina and Kentucky are enjoying the entire preseason national championship buzz. But, in my opinion, the Orange are barely a notch below the 1a and 1b top teams in the land. Syracuse is a true title contender, and I have a feeling that at some point this year they will find themselves atop the polls.
UNC and UK have the benefit of playing in two weak conferences this season, while SU will be asked to prove itself as the best team in the nation’s dominating college basketball conference. That should benefit the Orange come March, as they should be battle-hardened after being asked to navigate the Big East gauntlet.
2011-12 Syracuse Orange College Basketball Outlook
Syracuse boasts a trio of three-year starters in Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph, with Jardine and Joseph providing the senior leadership.
Joseph is an explosive wing who excels at getting to the rack. Triche is one of SU’s most polished offensive players and can do it all on both ends. Jardine is the fearless veteran point guard that can shoot, score, distribute, and run the show.
One of the main issues for this team, though, is that compared to the other top-tier teams in the country the Orange are a little lacking in the go-to guy department.
Last year it became Scoop, almost by default. Joseph doesn’t really have the offensive game to take over and hasn’t shown a willingness to be The Guy in the way that a Carmelo Anthony or even a Demitris Nichols did. Triche, in my opinion, has all the tools to be a go-to guy, but he seems to lack the aggressiveness and killer instinct that the role demands.
That leaves the big shot taking to Jardine. He had mixed results in that role last year and his decision-making late in games could definitely be called into question. But he also hit a ton of big shots and he has to be given credit for embracing the role when no one else appeared ready, willing, or able to step up.
A dark horse candidate to fill the role of “closer” for this team is sophomore Dion Waiters.
He has the requisite skill and cockiness to be a go-to guy. However, he comes off the bench and there are definitely questions of whether he can keep his head in key situations. Waiters has a lot of breakout potential in this year’s backcourt. But he could just as easily melt down.
In the post, Syracuse has to fill the void left by Rick Jackson’s graduation. Last year’s highly-touted recruit, Fab Melo, was the most disappointing freshman in the country. However, he looks like a completely different player this fall.
He looks lean, strong and much more comfortable on the offensive end. And if that seven-footer can scratch the surface of the potential that made him a High School All-American then the Orange could end up with their best center since guys like Otis Hill and Etan Thomas were manning the middle of the 2-3 zone in the 90s.
Beyond that the Orange have even more talent from several role players and glue guys.
C.J. Fair is a clone of former Syracuse forward Josh Pace and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Baye Moussa Keita is a 6-foot-11 backup center that is a high-energy guy that excels at defense and rebounding.
Finally, James Southerland is a 6-8 forward that can stretch defenses with a soft jumper with range. He will likely be buried on the depth chart, but this is a guy that could easily be starting on 80 percent of teams in college basketball.
That gives the Orange three explosive guards, three solid wing players, and a pair of seven-foot centers that can combine to give Syracuse 40 outstanding minutes per game. That would give the Orange one of the top eight-man rotations in the country and doesn’t even take into account Syracuse’s outstanding freshmen class.
From top to bottom, this roster is legit. As long as they shoot the ball well from deep (they were No. 4 in the Big East and No. 119 in the nation in three-point percentage last year) and as long as they stay healthy this team has few weaknesses.
Free throw shooting – they were No. 15 in the Big East and No. 249 nationally – is always an Achilles Heel. And the most pressing issues for this team are A) whether or not Jim Boeheim can establish a consistent rotation that takes advantage of his depth (in his three decades he RARELY ever plays more than seven or eight guys), B) how Boeheim is able to manage any egos or attitudes that may crop up due to playing time issues and C) whether or not someone steps up to become the go-to guy.
2011-12 Syracuse Orange Roster Additions/Losses
Forward Rick Jackson graduated and does leave a hole in the frontcourt. He was Syracuse’s best (and really the only) low-post scoring option. And even though he was only 6-9 he manned the middle of the SU zone and was a beast in the paint.
Syracuse added a three-man freshmen haul that was among the top classes in the nation.
Guard Trevor Cooney may get lost in the shuffle of a loaded backcourt, but he is among the best shooters on the team. Wing Michael Carter-Williams is skinny but is a pure athlete with a multidimensional game. Lanky, but skilled, MC-W may have the most potential of the freshmen. Finally, power forward Rakeem Christmas is a project that should excel at things like post defense and rebounding. He won’t contribute much offensively.
2011-12 Syracuse Basketball Schedule
The Orange have a decent, but very manageable, nonconference schedule.
They are in the Preseason NIT and are clearly the best team in a field that includes Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Stanford and George Mason. They have the added advantage of the semifinals and finals being played in their Home Away From Dome, Madison Square Garden.
Syracuse also has a marquee nonconference clash with Florida in the Carrier Dome on Friday, Dec. 2, as part of the Big East-SEC challenge. That is immediately followed by a very tricky game against an upstart Marshall team that is among the favorites in Conference USA.
In terms of the Big East schedule, things couldn’t have worked out much better for Syracuse. They only have to face Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Marquette and Georgetown once apiece and they get all four of those games in The Dome.
I expect them to dominate the league early and things toughen up late in the year. They have home-and-home series with their primary challengers to win the Big East, Connecticut and Louisville, and all four of those games will be played in SU’s last six regular season contests.
2011-12 Syracuse Predictions for College Basketball
I think that the Orange are clearly the best team in the Big East and they are one of the most talented teams to grace the Carrier Dome in the last 25 years.
I would be very surprised if they didn’t manage to win either the Big East regular season or conference tournament title and I would feel confident predicting a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. From there it is always a crapshoot.
Syracuse isn’t a team without weakness, but they have extraordinary talent and depth. College basketball, on the whole, is down this year. That has the door wide open for a team like the Orange, and Syracuse will remain among the elite as long as they stay healthy, as long as Boeheim manages egos, and as long as this team continues to improve it shooting from deep and from the free throw line.
You can never predict a National Championship for even the best teams. And you would never want to jinx your favorite team (I am a Syracuse alum and have been a fan since I was six) by calling for a title. But the Orange have the tools and talent to be in the mix and I do believe that they’ll be playing deep into March.
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has produced three consecutive profitable college seasons and four of five winning years overall. He earned his $100-per-Unit clients over $30,000 in the last five years with his nonconference handicapping. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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