BREAKDOWN Jim Boeheim will have one of his most experienced teams in his 36th year as Syracuse's coach. The Orange will feature four returning starters along with several reserves who played key roles off the bench last season. In addition, Boeheim will welcome three standout freshmen, including two McDonald's All-Americans, into his rotation. There is one major problem, however: How will Syracuse make up for the loss of starting power forward Rick Jackson?
Other than Connecticut's Kemba Walker, Jackson meant more to his team's success last season than any player in the Big East. The 6-foot-9 forward led the Big East in rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage.
While Boeheim figures out who replaces Jackson at power forward, he'll have the luxury of filling out his squad with veterans at every other position. The duo of Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche returns in the backcourt. Jardine led the Big East in assists, however, he was prone to lapses in judgment, and his shooting percentage dipped to 41.5 percent. Triche, meanwhile, struggled in his switch from facilitator to scorer. After a poor start, Triche finished the year averaging 11.1 points and shooting 33.3 percent from three-point range. Expect both those numbers to improve.
Syracuse's backcourt will also boast considerable depth with the dynamic Dion Waiters, McDonald's All-American Michael Carter-Williams and freshman Trevor Cooney.
In frontcourt, Boeheim will turn to senior forward Kris Joseph, who should contend for All-America honors. Joseph led the Orange in scoring last year and improved his three-point shooting from 22.0 percent as a sophomore to 36.6 percent.
While Joseph fills the role of the prototypical Syracuse forward who knocks down the jumper and slashes to the hoop, he's not at all like Jackson. Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita should take huge steps forward, but neither is expected to score as much as Jackson did.
C.J. Fair, who averaged 6.4 points on 54.3 percent shooting, could be an intriguing frontcourt partner for Joseph. Fair is a slender 6-8, 203 pounds, but he has a nose for the ball. James Southerland, a 6-8 junior who possesses extreme range on his 3-point shot, is another option.
Rakeem Christmas, a 6-9 freshman, will factor into the equation at either power forward or center. Christmas lacks polish on offense, but he's a shot-blocker extraordinaire.
FINAL ANALYSIS While replacing Jackson will be a challenge, there's just too much talent here to ignore. Boeheim will once again field the kind of team that attracts 30,000-plus crowds to the Carrier Dome. The potential starting lineup of Jardine, Triche, Joseph, Fair and Melo will stretch opposing defenses and set 'Cuse on a path to fight for the Big East title and possibly be a factor in national championship conversation.
NEWCOMERS Michael Carter-Williams (G, Fr.): The long-armed point guard was a McDonalds All-American.
Rakeem Christmas (F, Fr.): The McDonalds All-American is a shot-blocking force who needs to hone his offensive game as he moves from center to forward.
Trevor Cooney (G, Fr.): Is a long-range shooting threat.
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