The Wild, Wild West

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By J.J. Buck

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Syracuse Orange
Last Season: 27-8 (12-6)
Key Losses: Rick Jackson
Head Coach: Jim Boeheim

Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Scoop Jardine 6-2 Sr.
SG: Brandon Triche 6-4 Jr.
SF: Kris Joseph 6-7 Sr.
PF: Rakeem Christmas 6-9 Fr.
C: Fab Melo 7-0 So.
Key Reserves: Dion Waiters 6-4 So. SG, Michael Carter-Williams 6-5 Fr. SG, C.J. Fair 6-8 So. PF, James Southerland 6-8 Jr. PF, Baye Moussa Keita 6-10 So. C

Before Syracuse leaves the Big East for the ACC, the Orange have a chance to leave their final mark on the conference and win a Big East title. But a Big East title isn't all this team can accomplish. Jim Boeheim has the arsenal to compete for a national title this year. The Orange have the perfect blend of experience, youth, athleticism, guard play and size.

It all starts in the backcourt where Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche return to lead the Orange. This experienced duo will control tempo, limit turnovers and play the top of the 2-3 zone on the defensive end. Jardine is a fifth-year senior and therefore should be the team leader, especially since he's the starting point guard as well.

Jardine averaged 12.5 points and 5.9 assists per game last season with a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also led the team in steals with 1.6 per game. Triche averaged 11.1 points and 2.9 assists per game last season. Both guards will shoot some outside shots and will make some, but neither is consistently a great shooter. Jardine shot 35.7 percent from 3-point range, while Triche shot 33.3 percent. If Jardine and Triche can improve their 3-point shooting this season, that would be a huge x-factor for the Orange.

Kris Joseph emerged last season as one of the better players in the Big East, but in order for the Orange to take that next step and become a strong national title contender they need Joseph to take the next step as well. Joseph is a versatile, athletic 6-foot-7 forward. He led Syracuse in scoring last season with 14.3 points per game as well as 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He shot 36.6 percent from 3-point range.

Fab Melo had a lot of hype coming out of high school, but he didn't nearly pan out as a freshman. Melo has great size at 7-foot but he needs to get his body stronger and more defined. He took some positive steps towards the end of last season, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep that momentum going and become a reliable option on both ends for the Orange. He only averaged around two points and two rebounds per game last season but one positive note is that he shot over 60 percent from the field.

The Orange have a pair of elite recruits joining the squad this season. Those freshmen are 6-foot-9 power forward Rakeem Christmas and 6-foot-5 combo guard Michael Carter-Williams. There's a good chance Christmas starts right off the bat alongside Melo. Christmas is an athletic big man who can run the floor and block shots. Carter-Williams, who is 6-foot-5 but weighs in at just 176 pounds, certainly needs to get stronger to compete in the rugged Big East. But he is exceptionally skilled. Carter-Williams can run the point and score in a variety of ways, including a nice 3-point shot.

Dion Waiters would start on almost every college basketball team in America, but with Jardine and Triche ahead of him he will likely serve as the team's sixth man once again. Waiters is a pure scorer. He is expected to be the team's best outside shooter this year and he can use his strength to get to the basket. Waiters averaged 6.6 points per game last season.

The Orange have a lot of depth in the frontcourt, and it will be needed with the youth and inexperience of Melo and Christmas. C.J. Fair and James Southerland give Syracuse some length and versatility to work with. Both of them can play either forward position and score inside and outside. Baye Moussa Keita will back up Melo and Christmas at center, where he averaged 2.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 14.6 minutes per game last season.

Having the long arms of players like Keita, Southerland, Fair, Carter-Williams, Melo, Christmas and Joseph will make Boeheim's 2-3 zone a tough defense to penetrate. The experience of Jardine, Triche and Joseph will carry the Orange a long way. But they need the young players to step up as well, especially in the frontcourt. The experience, guard play, depth and versatility are certainly there for Syracuse. But how improved their outside shooting is and how quickly the young players mature will determine whether or not the Orange make a trip to New Orleans in late March.

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