SU expects to contend once again this year

Despite the loss of four key players, Orange men's basketball look to be a more complete team with a stingy defense and an explosive offense.

Although the SU men's basketball team has a vastly different look than last year, the team appears ready to perform at a high level for their last year in the Big East conference.

Head coach Jim Boeheim called the group “the most advanced group we've ever had at this stage [in the preseason],” and the Orange themselves could not talk enough about how the strong the team is, in lieu of their off-season losses in personnel. 

The core group of returners—seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland, juniors Baye Keita and C.J. Fair, and sophomore Rakeem Christmas—lead the charge with an infusion of young talent from sophomore guards Michael Carter-Williams and Trevor Cooney, along with freshman DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant, all of whom will have enlarged roles with the departures of Fab Melo, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters.

Coach Boeheim said he has “no way of knowing what type of team this will be at this point in the year,” but noted that he's “never lose this many important players and remain ranked in the top 20.”

“It's a credit to the returners,” Boeheim said.

The Guards

Sophomore guards Carter-Williams and  Cooney, who saw only limited playing (Cooney was a red shirt), figure to have large roles in the offensive and defensive game this year.

“Trevor Cooney benefited [from being a red shirt] more than we could have expected,” Boeheim said. “Any normal year he would have played.”

Cooney, who has been compared to assistant coach and former Orange star Gerry McNamara because of his shooting ability, figures to play major minutes this year.

“He's earned it. He's put in the work.” McNamara said of Cooney, who played the most practice minutes of any player last year. “He's going to be a stud.”

McNamara also noted that although he does see himself in Cooney: “Cooney dunks better than me.”

Carter-Williams has been pointed out as a go-to scorer and an energy guy on the court. Carter-Williams saw sparse playing time with the depth above him last year, but figures to be a starter this year.

Boeheim noted that his lack of playing time did not hinder his development in the least.

“Playing against really good players in practice [like he did] is much more valuable than playing in games against bad players,” Boeheim said. “He's definitely ready to contribute.”

Although known primarily as an offensive player, Carter-Williams has improved on defense as well.

“My whole life I have been an offensive player,” Carter-Williams said. “But I take pride in my defense; it's part of my game.”

Carter-Williams added that he “can't wait to be that spark.”

Senior guard Triche stands out as the leader of the team. Although he is not known for his vocal leadership, his teammates attest to his leadership capabilities.    

“He's not a big yeller,” Carter-Williams said. “But he has taken me aside time and time again, when no one is there [practice] and helps point out things I was doing wrong or needed to work on.”

“This year he'll need to be more vocal, but he will be ready,” Carter-Williams added.

“Brandon has been a good player for three years,” Boeheim said. “This year he will be a great player.”

“In the past he deferred to the other guards, but he is going to step forward this year,” Boeheim added.

McNamara called Triche's pull-up jump shot “One of the best I've ever seen.”

“If he's more aggressive offensively early on – which he will be this year – he will set the tone for the entire game,” McNamara added. “You'll see a different Brandon Triche than you've seen. He thinks he's paid his dues.”

The Big Men

Although the departure of Fab Melo was expected, his loss is expected to be felt. Melo sent ripples through the organization with his questionable actions that led to his missing three games during the season and the entirety of the NCAA tournament. He was replaced by Christmas, who is prepared to take on Melo's role this year, with the help of fellow big men Baye Keita and freshman Coleman.

“Rakeem has put on about 20 pounds and bulked up this summer,” Boeheim said. “He's much better prepared for the rigors of a full time Big East schedule.”

Junior Baye Keita will continue to assist in either the 4 or 5 spot, as he did last year off the bench.

When asked what his role would be Baye Keita deferred responsibility to the coach.

“I need to play whatever role coach says,” he said. “Just me and Rak' can get it done.”

The defense overall should prove to be, yet again, one the Orange's strongest assets. Freshman forward Grant was called a “prototype of what we do here” by McNamara and the young faces on the team will play a significant role in the expansion of this new generation of Orange zone defense.

It is still too early to really say, but the Orange appear to be prepared to prove that they are just as good as last year, and to blow expectations off, and be better than a No. 15 rank.

“We lost some big personalities, but we're in good shape,” McNamara said. “We're really optimistic.” 

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