Jim Boeheim's 40th season at Syracuse filled with questions
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Jim Boeheim's 40th season at Syracuse will be like no other in his long tenure at his alma mater.
The Hall of Fame coach, who plans to retire in three years or sooner, will have to work his magic in the wake of NCAA punishment levied in March, the most glaring sanction a nine-game suspension at the start of Atlantic Coast Conference play in late December. Boeheim has appealed a sentence he's called harsh, but a decision isn't imminent as the start of the season looms.
''It'll be difficult because you can't talk to the players, which I think is crazy,'' Boeheim said. ''It's one thing to punish the coach. I get that. But you punish the players because I brought them all here. They want to listen to me and they can't talk to me for nine games, which is a month. It's a very severe punishment.''
With sanctions looming at the end of last season, Syracuse (18-13, 9-9 ACC) opted for a self-imposed postseason ban while awaiting the results of an NCAA Committee On Infractions investigation.
It's a new year with new challenges - weaving freshmen Malachi Richardson, Frank Howard, and Tyler Lydon into the lineup and replacing center Rakeem Christmas chief among them. The presence of Christmas on both offense and defense will be sorely missed - he averaged 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and registered 78 blocks to top the team in all three categories.
Some things to know about Syracuse, which opens the season Nov. 13 at home against Lehigh:
CENTER OF ATTENTION: Senior center Dajuan Coleman is hopeful his injury-plagued years are behind him - he sat out last season with a knee injury and has only played in 24 games since arriving in 2012. With the departures of Christmas and 6-foot-10 Chris McCullough, the return of the 6-9, 255-pound Coleman is vital, even if he's relatively untested.
''When you lose your best player, I think the question marks that surround us are more than usual,'' Boeheim said. ''Dajuan has practiced every day. Obviously, if you haven't played in two years you're going to be a little rusty. He's rusty, but he's up and down the court. We haven't rested him, and we haven't changed anything. Every day's full speed.''
''I'm just hungry to get out there,'' Coleman said. ''When you get something taken away from you, you just want to get back.''
BOMBS AWAY: Syracuse averaged just 67.6 points last season and shot 30.1 percent from beyond the arc, the bulk of that scoring by guard Trevor Cooney (71 for 230) and swingman Michael Gbinije (49 for 125). Boeheim is hopeful this year's team can play the long-range game much better and plans to give the newcomers plenty of court time.
''We were not good last year offensively. I thought that was the biggest problem we had,'' Boeheim said. ''I think we have five guys, legitimately, who we can try to get 3-point shots for. I think that is going to be a big key as to how successful we're going to be.''
VETERAN LEADERSHIP: Fifth-year seniors Cooney and Gbinije give Syracuse the luxury of veteran leadership in the back court and, with the NCAA sanctions to deal with, that can only help.
''I look forward to being the oldest guy and one of the leaders,'' Cooney said. ''Definitely gives us an edge over some of the teams we'll be playing.''
RADAR LOVE: With all the question marks surrounding the Orange - sophomore reserves B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson transferred after the sanctions, which included the loss of scholarship, were announced - the perennial power is something of an afterthought.
That's OK in the locker room.
''We're not really mad about flying under the radar because we know we're going to shock a lot of people,'' Richardson said. ''People have us ninth or 10th in the ACC and we know we're going to do a lot better than that.''
JOSEPH'S TIME?: Thrust into the limelight when Tyler Ennis bolted for the NBA after one season in Syracuse, Kaleb Joseph struggled with his confidence at point guard as a freshman (5.9 points, 3.8 assists in 27.3 minutes per game).
Boeheim likes what he's seen so far this fall.
''Kaleb's played very, very well,'' Boeheim said. ''Much better player than last year.''
Freelancer writer Mark Frank contributed.