Fordham-Syracuse Preview

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

of promise.

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

fold.

“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

ever had.”

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

year.

“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

things.”

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

ACC.

Clearly, Jardine will need to be a leader when things get

tough.

“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

contribute.”

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

fill.

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

really good.”

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.