Transfers boost No. 19 Syracuse
Last spring, after Syracuse lost the top three scorers (Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson) from its surprise Final Four team, it appeared the Orange would have a difficult time even making the NCAA Tournament this season.
Then the Orange added fifth-year graduate transfers Andrew White (Nebraska) and John Gillon (Colorado State) and top-100 recruit Taurean Thompson to a roster that features returning stars Tyler Lydon and Tyler Roberson and freshman sensation Tyus Battle, and suddenly CBS Sports is calling Syracuse a “dark horse” national title contender.
But as the 19th-ranked Orange prepare to face Colgate in the season opener for both teams Friday (7 p.m. ET) at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is trying to tap the brakes on the expectations.
“The only place where people are picking us to be a Final Four team is in Syracuse. That's fandom,” said Boeheim, who is starting his 41st year at the Orange helm. “That's a good thing; we like that. But I don't think the rest of the country is picking us anywhere. I hope the people who are thinking those crazy things around here are right. But we won't know for a while, that's for sure.”
Colgate is the Orange's most familiar foe, as the New York State teams will meet for the 169th time. However, the series is far from a rivalry, as Atlantic Coast Conference member Syracuse has won 50 consecutive meetings and hasn't lost to the Raiders since 1962.
For Colgate, which finished 13-17 overall and 9-9 in the Patriot League last season, the opener is part of a demanding non-conference schedule that includes a visit to Notre Dame and a three-game swing to the state of South Carolina.
“Our schedule gives us a chance to travel to some great places and compete against teams who know what it takes to accomplish what all programs strive for — competing in the postseason,” third-year Colgate coach Matt Langel said.
Picked to finish sixth out of 10 teams in the Patriot League preseason poll, Colgate returns four starters: junior forwards Jordan Swopshire (10.6 points per game) and Tom Rivard (10.6 ppg), sophomore forward/center Malcolm Regisford (5.7 ppg and a team-best 5.9 rebounds per game); and junior guard Sean O'Brien (8.6 ppg). Colgate lost graduated guard Austin Tillotson, the team's leading scorer (15.1 ppg) who is now playing professionally in Europe.
For Syracuse, with starting point guard Frank Howard, Battle, White and Gillon in the backcourt, and starting center DaJuan Coleman, 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu, Lydon, Roberson and Thompson in the frontcourt, Boeheim can go big or small, fast or half-court, and he won't have to worry too much if someone other than perhaps Lydon picks up a few early fouls.
Boeheim also has the kind of the depth that will enable him to press more and perhaps even play some man-to-man, although the 2-3 zone will remain Syracuse's primary defense.
“We can do everything, especially defensively since we are really long,” said Battle, who scored a combined 33 points in the Orange's exhibition wins over Indiana University of Pennsylvania and LeMoyne College. “We really get after it on offense since we have a lot of options. We have shooters. We have big men down low. Everyone on this team has the potential to get playing time.”