Sunday, October 16, 2011

Inside The Big East: Syracuse

Despite being subject of conference realignment chatter, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse are still contenders in Big East this season. (Photo courtesy of Albany Times-Union)

As Big East media day draws closer, we go from analyzing Mick Cronin's emerging contender at Cincinnati to the group up at the Carrier Dome that brands itself as "New York's college team."

Syracuse Orange (2010-11 Record: 27-8, 12-6 Big East)
Head Coach: Jim Boeheim (36th season, 856-301)
Returning Starters: F Kris Joseph (6-7 Sr., 14.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 46% FG, 37% 3pt, 71% FT, 2.2 APG, 1.5 SPG)
G Scoop Jardine (6-2 Sr., 12.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 42% FG, 36% 3pt, 66% FT, 5.9 APG, 1.6 SPG)
G Brandon Triche (6-4 Jr., 11.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 42% FG, 33% 3pt, 84% FT, 2.9 APG)
C Fab Melo (7-0 So., 2.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 61% FG, 36% FT)
Other Key Returning Players: G Dion Waiters (6-4 So., 6.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 41% FG, 33% 3pt, 81% FT, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG)
F C.J. Fair (6-8 So., 6.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 54% FG, 61% FT)
Key Losses: F Rick Jackson (13.1 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 59% FG, 53% FT, 2.2 APG, 2.5 BPG, 1.3 SPG)

Syracuse University is synonymous with many things in college basketball. Be it the 30,000-plus fans at the Carrier Dome, the Hall of Fame career of head coach Jim Boeheim, the world-famous 2-3 zone defense, a Who's Who of NBA superstars; or even the claim that they are "New York's college team" despite the presence of an equally successful and tradition-rich program within the Big Apple in St. John's University, the Orange have earned the respect of most of the nation's fan base simply by backing their claims up on the court in recent years.

Following a round of 32 NCAA Tournament loss to Big East rival Marquette last season and a controversial decision by university administrators to bolt the Big East in favor of the ACC starting in 2014, the longest-tenured coach in the Big East (Jim Boeheim is entering his 36th season at the helm of his alma mater) returns four starters from last year's 27-win unit, the record 33rd campaign in which Boeheim was amassed at least twenty victories in a season.

The one starter that has departed leaves a huge hole inside, as power forward Rick Jackson averaged a double-double per night while also making things happen on the defensive side of the ball with averages of over two blocks and one steal per contest. Jackson's spot in the lineup will be filled by committee. Sophomore C.J. Fair could get the inside track given his 6-8 stature, but it would not be surprising to see Boeheim insert 6-10 sophomore Baye Moussa Keita into the post as well to complement seven-footer Fab Melo inside for the Orange. Rakeem Christmas, a 6-9 Philadelphia native much like Jackson who is the centerpiece of Boeheim's incoming freshman class, could also see a significant amount of minutes up front. On the wing, Kris Joseph returns for his senior season after leading the Orange in scoring last season. Once regarded as a potential lottery pick, Joseph will be entering his final campaign in upstate New York looking to prove that he truly does belong at the next level.

In the backcourt, Boeheim will rely on Antonio "Scoop" Jardine to run the point once again. A high school teammate of the aforementioned Jackson, Jardine is a fifth-year senior after a medical redshirt and broken foot cost him the 2008-09 season. Jardine averaged nearly six assists per game in his second season back from the injury; and will again serve as one of the two main focuses of the Syracuse offense, with the other being backcourt partner Brandon Triche. A 6-4 junior who also shares deep Syracuse lineage being the nephew of 1987 national runner-up team member Howard Triche, cousin of former Orange standout Jason Hart, and a product of the same Jamesville-DeWitt High School program that led Boeheim to current New York Knick Andy Rautins, Triche had a breakout sophomore campaign with averages of eleven points and nearly three assists per game; and the sharpshooter could be a first team all-Big East player by the time the Orange put the 2011-12 season in the books. Sophomore Dion Waiters will also be an integral part of the rotation after having a productive rookie season a year ago. Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-5 freshman who made waves this past weekend by dunking on Fab Melo at Syracuse's "Midnight Madness" event, will join fellow rookie Trevor Cooney as role players that could see valuable playing time in situations where Boeheim chooses to play small by running three guard-sets.

The group that calls itself "New York's college team" opens at the Carrier Dome against two New York programs, first on November 12th against Fordham and Tom Pecora before welcoming Manhattan and new Jaspers head man Steve Masiello into Syracuse two days later for their first game in the Preseason NIT. A matchup against either Albany or Brown awaits the following night, and Colgate comes into the Carrier Dome on November 19th as the final tuneup for the Orange before their latest trip to Madison Square Garden, which has become a sea of orange for every Syracuse contest in recent years. The next set of de facto home games for the Orange will commence the night before Thanksgiving, and will conclude the day after Thanksgiving with an appearance in either the championship or consolation matchup.

Billy Donovan and Florida invade the Carrier Dome on December 2nd as part of the SEC/Big East Challenge in what could be the best nonconference matchup anywhere this year. Home games against Marshall and George Washington are next up before the Orange make their first road trip of the season, taking on NC State and new head coach Mark Gottfried in Raleigh on December 17th. Bucknell and Tulane serve as Syracuse's final nonconference opponents when each makes their way into the Carrier Dome just prior to Syracuse's Big East opener on December 28th against Seton Hall. After the home encounter with the Pirates, the Orange will ring in 2012 in Chicago when they face DePaul on New Year's Day before traveling to Providence three days later.

Syracuse welcomes Marquette into the Carrier Dome on January 7th before invading the Wells Fargo Center four days later for a Wednesday night meeting with Jay Wright and Villanova. Providence and new coach Ed Cooley will come into Syracuse to complete a home-and-home series on January 14th, and Pittsburgh will take the Carrier Dome court two days later for a "Big Monday" collision with the Orange. A road trip featuring contests against Notre Dame and Cincinnati is next on the ledger for Boeheim and Syracuse, who close out the month of January with a Saturday afternoon home game against West Virginia on the 28th.

Syracuse makes a return trip to see its rabid fan base at the Garden to open the month of February when St. John's welcomes the Orange into the Big Apple on the 4th in what will be the latest installment of a heated rivalry with Empire State bragging rights at stake. The Johnnies will also be looking to avenge a bitter Big East tournament loss to the Orange last March in a game that marked the tragic end of D.J. Kennedy's career when "The Hitman" suffered a torn ACL early in the first half. Home matchups against Georgetown and Connecticut follow the game against the Red Storm before the Orange become road warriors once again for contests against Louisville and Rutgers.

Syracuse welcomes USF into the Carrier Dome on February 22nd for a Wednesday night home game, with Jim Calhoun and reigning national champion UConn next three days later. The February 25th showdown between the Orange and Huskies at Gampel Pavilion will be the back end of a home-and-home series between the two programs that participated in one of the greatest games ever just three seasons ago when they played their six-overtime epic in the 2009 Big East tournament. The Orange will hold their senior night in the back end of a home-and-home on March 3rd, when Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals play the final regular season game for both teams at the Carrier Dome.

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