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ACC Team Previews: Syracuse

Syracuse's zone could cause problems for ACC teams that aren't used to seeing it. This will be an advantage for the Orange in their introductory ACC season. On offense, Syracuse loses quite a bit from last year, and must find a 2nd scorer behind Fair. Once the freshman class gets oriented, Cuse will be a dangerous team in the ACC and in the NCAA tournament.

C.J. Fair is one of the best scorer's in the country and will be counted on by the Orange.
C.J. Fair is one of the best scorer's in the country and will be counted on by the Orange.
Andy Lyons

Last Season Record: 30-10 (11-7 Big East)
Preseason ACC Media Poll: 2nd

Projected starters:
Tyler Ennis, G, Freshman
Michael Gbinije, G, Sophomore
C.J. Fair, G, Senior
DeJuan Coleman, F, Sophomore
Rakeem Christmas, F, Junior

Key Reserves:
Baye Moussa Keita, C, Senior
Jerami Grant, F, Sophomore
Trevor Cooney, G, Sophomore
Tyler Roberson, F, Freshman
B.J. Johnson, F, Freshman
Ron Patterson, G, Freshman
Chinonso Obokoh, C, Freshman

The Orange made the final four last year despite a relatively mediocre regular season. They won just 4 games away from home, then made a run in the Big East tournament and continued that hot streak all the way to the final four before falling to Michigan.

Jim Boeheim's signature 2-3 zone defense was the main reason why they went so far, as they held their NCAA tourney opposition to just 15% shooting from behind the arc. Even Michigan shot just 33% on their 3s, but it was enough to win by 5.

The Orange lost quite a bit off that team. This includes the top 2 ball handlers in Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche. This is why Cuse will be starting a freshman at the PG position. Ennis, however, isn't a typical freshman, he was the #5 PG in the nation and #20 overall. He's a bigger PG, with good quickness and athleticism. He isn't a great outside shooter, but he's good enough. Even if he struggles early on, he'll have some time to get up to speed as Syracuse's early season schedule is, as usual, full of relatively easy home games. They have just 1 road game before ACC play, and that game is likely to played at Madison Square Garden, which has long been Syracuse's home-away-from-home. (They are also playing in the Maui Invitational, where they open against Minnesota.)

C.J. Fair was voted as the pre-season ACC player of the year. He led the team in points and rebounds last year, and shot 47% overall (plus 47% on just 64 3 point attempts). Gbinije is a transfer from Duke who couldn't find many minutes there. He's 6'7", which will help make him an asset on the top of the 2-3 zone, next to Ennis. With Fair at 6'8", Boeheim will have one of the biggest starting 5s in the nation. That length is a big part of the success of the Syracuse zone. Cooney will get some minutes at SG, but he'll have to improve on his 27% 3 point shooting if he wants to keep them all season. Johnson, the freshman, will likely get some minutes behind Fair. He's a guy who can attack off the dribble and also shoot from outside. It remains to be seen whether or not he's ready. He's very thin, listed at 185 pounds on his 6'7" frame, but likely even smaller than that. He also has a tendency to be a bit passive on the floor.

Christmas and Coleman are both big, strong interior players who will combine to control the glass, and will both score most of their points on offensive rebounds. As a team, Syracuse was 9th in the nation in offensive rebounding, and that should continue. Coleman will need to improve his 43% shooting and especially on his 46% FT shooting. (As a team, they could use some improvement from the stripe, where they shot just 67% last year.) Keeping Coleman and Christmas out of foul trouble will be a necessity, because their backups, Keita and Grant, aren't near as strong as the starters. Roberson is another guy who should get reserve minutes up front. He's also long and lean, but uber-athletic. He is a very good defensive player, who will block shots and get his long arms in passing lanes. Offensively, he's a bit raw, and needs to develop a 15 foot jumper to really be effective.

Jim Boeheim has the length and athleticism he wants for his zone, and he has a bunch of freshmen who could be impact players by the time the postseason comes around. It'll be interesting to see how ACC teams fare against the zone, because they have very little experience playing against it. Big East schools (and their coaching staffs) have spent years working against the zone, whereas most of the ACC has never seen it. Offensively, Syracuse is going to be leaning on Fair quite a bit, especially early on while Ennis gets up to speed. If Gbinije or Cooney or Patterson can make some shots, that'll stop teams from packing the paint against Fair, and really help open things up for the big men inside. If not, Fair may have trouble finding seams in the defense, and the big men may struggle on the offensive glass.

All told, though one of Boeheim's youngest teams, Syracuse is talented and deep and should compete for the ACC title.