It’s been a rough couple months for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball program. First the University imposed a self-ban on all postseason play for this year. Then the NCAA stripped wins and three scholarships per season and most recently, would-be sophomore forward Chris McCullough surprised the Orange nation with his declaration for this June’s NBA draft.
After graduations, transfers and players leaving early, Syracuse will return just four guys who saw significant minutes last season. While that looks bleak at first sight, it’s at least halfway to Jimmy Boehiem’s slim player rotation, as he’s been known to use only a few guys off the bench.
Oft-injured big man Dejuan Coleman is also expected to return to the floor after missing the entire 2014-15 season with a knee injury. His presence is greatly needed at center, as the Orange will be losing most of its production from the frontcourt.
A closer look reveals Syracuse basketball may not be in that bad of shape after all, starting with its returning contributors from last year.
2014-15 Returning Players Numbers
Trevor Cooney, Sr: 31 gms, 13.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.2 apg
Michael Gbinije, Sr: 30gms, 12.7 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.6 apg
Tyler Roberson, Jr: 28 gms, 8 ppg, 7 rpg, 1.6 apg
Kaleb Joseph, So: 31 gms, 5.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.8 apg
These returning players accounted for 57% of last season’s scoring, 44% of the rebounds and a whopping 72% of the total assists. Compare that to the outlook heading into last season, when the returning players only accounted for 37.4% of the previous year’s points, 34.6% of the rebounds and 29.1% of the assists.
Even with McCullough leaving early, Syracuse has a decent amount of production returning to the floor. Besides these four and with the assumption Coleman is back in the lineup; incoming freshman will have to pick up the rest of the slack.
The 2015 Orange recruiting class is one of the best in the country. All four commits are currently ranked in ESPN.com’s list of the top 100 high school players.
There also remains the outside possibility that Syracuse lands All-American center Thomas Bryant, who is originally from Rochester (Bishop Kearney) and plays at Huntington Prep in West Virginia. For now, let’s start with the New Jersey guys.
Malachi Richardson: Along with a selection to McDonald’s All-American team and being ranked as the 19th best player in his class, Richardson was recently named the New Jersey Gatorade basketball player of the year. The 6’5” scoring guard has a smooth stroke from deep and finished this season with 20 ppg, 5 apg and 4 rpg for Trenton Catholic. He has good court vision and size, with an eye-popping 7’0” wingspan, making him a perfect fit for the 2-3 zone defense.
Getting stronger and adjusting to the speed of ACC play will be paramount for him to have a productive freshman year. With his talent and long frame, you should see Richardson receiving significant playing time almost immediately.
Moustapha Diagne: The 6’9” power forward from Pope John XXIII has a very similar game to four-year starter Rakeem Christmas. Just like Christmas, Diagne will be coming to Syracuse with raw offensive skills and the ability to impact the game on defense. He’s a very high-energy guy who is a good shot blocker and tough rebounder.
With Syracuse returning only one reserve big man who actually got meaningful minutes last season, Diagne will be in the rotation right away. He’s physical enough to bang down low on defense, but will need to improve his post moves to maximize contributions next season. ESPN top 100: #55
Tyler Lydon: No one has benefited more from the recent shakeup at Syracuse than Lydon. The 6’9” forward from New Hampton School in New Hampshire was all but destined for the bench in his first season with the Orange. Originally thought to be sitting behind a platoon of B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson and McCollough, now that all three are gone the kid has a much bigger opportunity.
Lydon is a versatile player that can rain threes from deep and face up to the basket. He has an effective mid-range jump shot and a good handle for his size. Weighing only about 200 pounds, strength is an issue as he’s more of a small forward right now that will mix it up down low. Lydon has the tools to provide a positive contribution off the bench, but will be limited until he gets stronger. ESPN top 100: #62
Frank Howard: Rounding out the recruiting class is athletic guard Frank Howard from Paul VI high school in Maryland. Standing at 6’5″, he’s another rangy player who should fit the 2-3 zone well. Howard likes to get out in the open floor and is an explosive finisher at the rim. He can also hit the three off of a pass.
Like most incoming freshman, Howard needs to get stronger. He needs to work on consistently making the mid range jump shot and improve his dribbling skills. He’s athletic enough to play right away, but only time will tell if he can carve out some minutes this year. ESPN top 100: #92
Potential Starting Lineup
PG: Kaleb Joseph, So.
SG: Trevor Cooney, Sr.
SF: Michael Gbinije, Sr.
PF: Tyler Roberson, Jr.
C: DeJuan Coleman, Jr.
G: Malachi Richardson, Fr.
F: Moustapha Diagne, Fr.
SF: Tyler Lydon, Fr.
C: Chinosoh Obokoh, Jr.
G: Frank Howard, Fr.
While Joseph, Cooney, Gbinije, Roberson and Coleman are the most probable starting lineup as of right now, we still have about six months until the first official team practice. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, that’s more than enough time for drastic change.
DeJuan Coleman’s status is still uncertain as specific details about a return timetable have been scarce. We assume he will be back for this season, but that was also a notion most people had for last year.
What we do know is that Syracuse will have more than half of its scoring and almost three-quarters of last year’s assists returning to the Carrier Dome. Expect Sophomore point guard Kaleb Joseph to be more comfortable this year, but his ball-handling skills and ability to run the offense needs to improve. Not doing so will result in freshman Malachi Richardson stealing minutes.
Additionally, Senior Michael Gbinije is the leading candidate to be the go-to guy on offense. Trevor Cooney is a great shooter, but has a ceiling due to his lack of athleticism. That leaves Gbinije as the only other returning player that averaged double digit points per game. As last season wore on, Gbinije began to assert himself more on offense which should continue into his senior year.
Overall this should be an interesting Syracuse squad. It has a veteran presence in the back court but major questions marks in the frontcourt. The young infusion of talent will be exciting to see, but will it be enough to turn Syracuse back into a contender?