Jim Boeheim says he really doesn’t pay attention to the
rankings. If true, rest assured he’s in a distinct minority around
here as Syracuse gets ready for what promises to be another season
Coming off a 27-8 campaign and with only one player lost to
graduation, the Orange are ranked No. 5 in the AP preseason Top 25
as the season gets underway Saturday against Fordham at the Carrier
Dome. It’s the highest Syracuse has been ranked before the season
since it was No. 3 in 1989-90.
That national high regard is due to talent – and experience.
Boeheim gave 10 players good chunks of playing time last season –
all but one are back – and he has three impressive freshmen in the
“Coming off a successful year, you have a lot of guys back, your
ranking’s going to be pretty good,” said Boeheim, who begins his
36th year as head coach with 856 wins. “That’s fine. It should be.
We’ve had good depth the last couple of years. I think this year we
probably have the opportunity to have the most depth that we’ve
The roster has a pair of veterans who have seen just about
everything. This will be the fifth year for guard Scoop Jardine,
who received his undergraduate degree in May, and it’s the swan
song for forward Kris Joseph, too.
“They have had two good years in a row,” Boeheim said. “Both
guys played tremendously two years ago and they had really good
years last year. That leads to expectations for them to have very
good years this year.”
Joseph led Syracuse in scoring, averaging 14.3 points, and
became a steady outside threat, shooting 45 of 123 (36.6 percent)
from beyond the arc in 2010-11. Although he didn’t take part in
full-court drills early in preseason practice because of some
swelling in his right knee, it’s good to go as is the left after an
offseason procedure to treat the tendinitis that plagued him last
“Motivation is so high. We know what we’re capable of,” said
Joseph, who has added 10 pounds of muscle. “We know what people
expect of us. We know we can exceed them if we all do the right
Jardine is ready for the task of finally fulfilling the hopes of
preseason. The Orange have been bounced early from the NCAA
tournament two straight times, two years ago by Butler and last
year by Big East-foe Marquette.
This year won’t be easy, either. Amid the lofty expectations,
Syracuse will also encounter critics along the way, those
disappointed that the Orange will soon leave the Big East for the
Clearly, Jardine will need to be a leader when things get
“The most important thing I want to do with this team is to be a
consistent leader in practice, off the court and on the court,”
said Jardine, who averaged 12.5 points and 5.8 assists last season
but had 100 turnovers in his first year as the starting point
guard. “That’s the thing that is going to help this team. That’s
the thing I think we’re missing – a great leader.
“We need to continue to leave our egos at the door, to sacrifice
for the big goal, and that’s winning a championship.”
Guard Brandon Triche, who has started every game of his college
career, returns for his junior season. He was fourth in scoring at
11 points per game and led the team in free-throw shooting at 84.2
percent (80 of 95). Syracuse’s outstanding freshman class includes
shooting guards Michael Carter-Williams and Trevor Cooney, and
expect them to get floor time.
“We like our guys,” Boeheim said. “We think they can
Syracuse had a great leader last year in Rick Jackson, but he’s
that lone player who graduated – and he left some big shoes to
Jackson averaged 13.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, a team-high 35.6
minutes, and also blocked 86 shots in rotating between power
forward and center. He led by example more than anything, and
Joseph does, too.
“The intensity level and competition level is out of this
world,” Joseph said. “It can’t do anything but help us. I don’t
like to count my chickens before they’re hatched, but we look
Counted on to help fill the void left by Jackson are the
Orange’s young centers – 7-foot Fab Melo and 6-10 Baye Moussa
Keita. Both are sophomores now, and Melo has dropped 18 pounds
since spring, thanks in part to playing 18 games in 25 days in the
summer for Brazil at the World University Games. Keita, meanwhile,
has added a couple of pounds to his wiry frame and is healthy again
after offseason surgery to correct a sprained ligament on the base
of his left hand.
The injury hampered Keita much of his rookie season, but the two
big men logged meaningful minutes. They’ll be joined by 6-8
freshman Rakeem Christmas, who gives Boeheim an unusual amount of
depth in the middle of the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense. That will be
welcome without Jackson’s presence.
Forward C.J. Fair and guard Dion Waiters have a year of
experience, too, after displaying flashes of brilliance as rookies
in the tough Big East. Veterans James Southerland and Mookie Jones
add to the depth.
Just like the previous year, last season ended much sooner than
expected. That team’s mantra – “Unfinished Business” – might as
well be recycled.
“The thing about the NCAA tournament when you lose, there’s no,
`Let’s get them back next week.’ You have to bite that bullet,”
Joseph said. “We’ve gotten past it. It was definitely hard the few
weeks after, but you have to move on.”
Fordham will face an uphill climb in its opener as it tries to
avoid a fourth consecutive season with 20 or more losses. Tom
Pecora led the Rams to a 7-21 record in his first season in 2010-11
– a poor record on its face but also a five-game improvement from
the previous year.
Pecora’s team will be led once again by junior forward Chris
Gaston, who averaged 15.9 points and 11.3 rebounds last year and
led Atlantic 10 players with 17 double-doubles.
Syracuse holds a 26-16 edge in the all-time series against
Fordham, including an 80-63 victory at the Carrier Dome in the most
recent meeting Nov. 16, 2007.