Syracuse Basketball Preview: #22
Overall Rank: #22
Conference Rank: #6 Big East
2007-08: 21-14, 9-9, 8th
2007-08 postseason: NIT
Even without two of their best players for a majority of the year, Syracuse still almost made it into the NCAA Tournament and made a nice little run in the NIT. It started when Andy Rautins went down before the season even began. Two years ago he started 20 games and averaged 7.2 points per contest. He will not likely find a starting role this year, but Rautins return gives the team some much, much needed depth on the perimeter. And the return of Eric Devendorf gives the backcourt its leader. Devendorf only played in ten games last year before tearing his ACL. In those ten games he averaged 17.0 points per game.
It is not uncommon for a player to lead a team in points, rebounds and blocked shots, but Donte Green led the Orange in all those categories and three-pointers made. And that is why he left early for the NBA. Without Green, Syracuse lacks a dynamic scoring threat who can score inside and out.
There is not much need for the freshmen to immediately play a big role, but Kevin Drew, Mookie Jones and Kris Joseph will give it a try. At 6-6, Jones is a big and versatile wing who can use his size to shoot over defenders and his speed to drive right past them. If he plays up to his potential and settles in quickly, Jones could be an important part of the team. Joseph, a 6-7 Montreal, Quebec product has the size of a forward and the skills of a point guard. His versatility will cause nightmares for the opposition trying to defend him.
Who to Watch:
Without much depth and healthy players in the backcourt last season, the frontcourt stepped up. Of course, Green had a lot to do with that, but there are others who are back. Most notably is small forward Paul Harris. The 6-5 Niagara Falls, New York product averaged 14.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals as a sophomore. Now an upperclassman, Harris has even higher expectations. Harris is an extremely hard worker, as anybody who is 6-5 and grabs 8.2 rebounds in the toughest conference in the nation must be. Arinze Onuaku is the traditional big man who scores around the basket. He quietly put up great numbers last year, tallying 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. With Kristof Ongenaet and Rick Jackson, who are 6-8 and 6-9 respectively, on the bench, the Orange frontcourt is still one of the best in the nation…even without Green.
But we may have saved the best for last. Jonny Flynn stepped into the starting point guard role right away as a freshman in 2007 and did a great job. His 15.7 points per game ranked third on the team and he can score in a variety of ways. His outside shooting is not great, but it is pretty good and the defense certainly will not want to leave him open on the perimeter. But if they press too hard he will use his speed and quickness to get to the basket. But, of course, he is a point guard and his most important duty is finding his teammates, dictating tempo and holding onto the ball. Flynn dished out 5.3 assists per game, so he definitely did a good job getting the scorers in good position. He also did as well as one could expect from a freshman controlling the game. His 2.7 turnovers per contest is the only negative that can be found, but that number should improve with a year of experience. And there are more scorers on this team than Devendorf, Flynn, Harris and Onuaku. Scoop Jardine stepped into the starting lineup after Devendorf went down with his injury. Then a freshman, Jardine did not hold onto to that starting job, but he gained some valuable experience and ended the 2007-2008 season with some strong showings. The amount of talent and depth that Coach Jim Boeheim has at his disposal is more than they have had over the last couple of years. If everybody can actually stay healthy, the Orange will be a very dangerous team and real threat to do major damage in March.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Jonny Flynn, Sophomore, Guard, 15.7 points per game
Eric Devendorf, Junior, Guard, 17.0 points per game
Paul Harris, Junior, Forward, 14.5 points per game
Kristof Ongenaet, Senior, Forward, 4.5 points per game
Arinze Onuaku, Junior, Forward, 12.7 points per game