Overall Rank: #21
Conference Rank: #5 Big East
2006-07: 24-11, 10-6, 5th (t)
2006-07 postseason: NIT
Syracuse will trade experience from last year’s should have been, or at least could have been, NCAA Tournament team for a youthful and, hopefully for Orange fans, a more talented squad this season. The starting frontcourt trio is gone and there will be quite a bit of rebuilding to do, but if Coach Jim Boeheim can bring together his group, they could be one of the most dangerous teams in the Big East. If not, it will be another disappointing season for the Orange.
Demetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins will not be easy to replace. That frontcourt trio held together the team at times over the last couple of years when the backcourt was full of inconsistency. Nichols, a 6-7 forward, was the best shooter on the team and developed into a dynamic scorer and averaged 18.9 points per game his senior year. Roberts added 8.9 points and a team high 8.1 rebounds, while the 6-11 Watkins tallied 8.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game as a senior. The absence of those three will turn the Orange into a faster unit, but obviously create a lot of minutes for unproven players. Matt Gorman averaged over 11 minutes per game last year and was an important roleplayer up front. Without Gorman, there are virtually no frontcourt players returning. Little used Ross DiLeigro and Todd Burach have run out of eligibility, but the worse news is that of Andy Rautins. The 6-5 junior who started 20 games last year will miss the entire season with a torn ACL.
With all the losses, there are minutes to be had, but maybe not even enough for this group. Few teams can compete with the pure level of talent in this incoming class and while it may be dangerous to depend on freshmen, this is the team that has recent memories of Carmelo Anthony. The frontcourt needs the most help and Donte Greene, Sean Williams, Kristof Ongenaet, Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku hope to have some answers. Like it or not, Greene will be compared to Anthony way, way too much this year until he proves that he is not Anthony. The 6-11 forward is a superb athlete with a dynamic mid-range game. He can run the floor very well and is a solid shot blocker. Despite his 6-11 stature, he is more of a small forward who needs to work on his shot than a typical power forward. He will play the four out of necessity for now, but he will make the frontcourt extremely athletic. Ongenaet was a double-double machine during his junior college career and will be the most experienced big man the team has. Jackson can get it done in the paint offensively and defensively. He will likely spend the season coming off the bench while he learns the ropes, but Jackson is a highly touted big man whose toughness and interior play will be extremely beneficial this season and for a few more down the road. Onuaku sat out last year after having knee surgery last October. He is a great leaper and rebounder and that may be enough to earn him a starting job. Combo guard Antonio Jardine often gets lost in the shuffle of talented newcomers, but he will be a solid player off the bench this season if he gets the chance. Jonny Flynn will get his chance right now. The 6-0 point guard from the stars and stripes side of Niagara Falls is too talented to leave on the bench. Flynn is a terrific floor leader and shooter. He can do it all and he proved it on the Under-19 team over the summer.
Who to Watch:
There are only two starting jobs that appear to be solidified. Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris only combined for 23 starts last year, but they are the most dynamic returning players on the team. Devendorf averaged 14.8 points last season, but his inconsistent shooting was a problem. With the injury to Rautins, it is up to Devendorf to provide a long range threat. In the rebounds per minute category, Harris was on top last year. He averaged less than 22 minutes a game, but still racked up 7.1 rebounds per game. Having a 6-5 player like Harris on the wing will certainly help a team that was surprisingly mediocre on the glass last year. Harris is not a shooter, but he will get to the basket and do plenty of scoring. Josh Wright may start the first handful of games at the point. He started 27 games last year, but never really came into his own. At least the Orange will have an experienced point guard off the bench if and when Flynn becomes the starter.
The frontcourt has some problems and Devin Brennan-McBride is the only forward returning and he just saw action in six games last year. He has the potential to see more minutes than that, but the frontcourt concerns will probably diminish quickly once the newcomers show their stuff.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Jonny Flynn, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Eric Devendorf, Junior, Guard, 14.8 points per game
Paul Harris, Sophomore, Forward, 8.6 points per game
Donte’ Greene, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Arinze Onuaku, Junior, Forward, DNP last season