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Syracuse, By Position

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GUARD

After losing point guard Michael Carter-Williams to the NBA (first round, Philadelphia) and Brandon Triche to graduation, this is a transition season for the SU backcourt. Fortunately for the Orange, coach Jim Boeheim found a gem in rookie point guard Tyler Ennis, who already looks mature beyond his years. He may not score as much as Carter-Williams, but he is a savvy passer, a great ball-handler and is already learning the basics of the 2-3 zone. Boeheim is counting on redshirt sophomore Trevor Cooney to step up his game at the shooting guard, especially from behind the 3-point arc. He shot just 29 percent last season, but looks a lot more confident this year in a starting role. Duke transfer Michael Gbinijewill spell Ennis at point in certain situations, and is an outstanding defender. Freshman Ron Patterson probably won’t see meaningful time in conference games, but he has the potential to become a good shooter.

FORWARD

The fact that C. J. Fair came back for his senior season makes this position as strong as any in the country. Fair has become an all-around player, extending the range on his shot and also becoming a stronger, more difficult defender and rebounder. Sophomore DaJuan Coleman is a lot leaner and looks to be moving better this year. He is still raw offensively, but looks much more aggressive on the boards and in the middle of the 2-3 zone. Boeheim’s secret weapon is sophomore Jerami Grant off the bench. He’s a multi-dimensional player with terrific offensive skills and emerging defensive skills. Freshman Tyler Roberson is more advanced right now than fellow rookie B. J. Johnson, who looks like a a young Fair. Their playing time will depend on whether Boeheim needs offense or defense.

CENTER

SU fans have been waiting for junior Rakeem Christmas to emerge as the player in the middle they expected to see coming out of high school. He’s been very inconsistent on offense and has been slow to pick up the nuances of the zone. But Boeheim said he’s already playing harder and tougher, and that’s good news. Senior Baye Moussa Keita was one of SU’s best players during their run to the Final Four last year. He’s the perfect substitute, whether its blocking shots or defending the middle, and has also become more of an offensive threat in his fourth year with the program.

OUTLOOK

Anyone who said last year’s Orange team would make it all the way to Atlanta and the Final Four was probably just dreaming. But they came together at just the right time and far exceeded anyone’s expectations. Potentially, this club is in the same boat. There is plenty of reason for optimism, a plethora of offensive talent and enough good defenders to make this club a legitimate Final Four contender. Outside shooting will again play a big role in SU’s success. If they can do that consistently, this is a team that could win it all.

Prediction: 23-7, 12-6 in the ACC. Elite Eight.

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