Syracuse is restocked and ready for another Final Four run
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Last year ended on a happy note for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim - a trip to the Final Four for the fifth time in his Hall of Fame career. This season? An encore performance is on the mind.
''I'm looking forward to winning a lot,'' senior forward Tyler Roberson said. ''We want to get back to the tournament and win the national championship. That's the main goal. I know we can't ask for much more (than making the Final Four), but we went really far and we are bringing that energy into this season.''
Until Syracuse was selected to play in the NCAA Tournament in the spring, the 2015-16 season was forgettable. Boeheim served a nine-game suspension as part of sanctions handed down by the NCAA after a multiyear investigation of the school's athletic department, and the Orange were a longshot to make the field after going 19-14 in the regular season and a pedestrian 9-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Four wins in the big dance turned the season into a rousing success, and the sky seems to be the limit this year despite the departure of the top three scorers - guards Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, and Malachi Richardson, who left for the NBA after a stellar freshman season.
The short bench that hurt last year's team likely won't be a factor this season. Syracuse has a solid mix of talented returnees including Roberson, center Dajuan Coleman, projected first-round NBA pick Tyler Lydon, and guard Frank Howard. The Orange also welcome a highly ranked recruiting class of three in Matthew Moyer, Taurean Thompson and Tyus Battle, two fifth-year transfers in guard John Gillon (averaged 13.2 points and 3.8 assists at Colorado State) and sharpshooter Andrew White III (16.6 points and 5.9 rebounds at Nebraska), who are eligible to play immediately, and a traditional transfer, 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu.
''We have never put five new guys in within one year that I can remember,'' Boeheim said. ''We have five new guys that actually will play a lot.''
Boeheim, soon to be 72, isn't about to change his philosophy as the end of his long career at his alma mater looms. In other words, no predictions.
''You never know about a team until you get in the game. It isn't until you have a couple of battles,'' said Boeheim, who is slated to retire after next season. ''There is always adversity in the game. It isn't always smooth sailing.''
Other things to know when Syracuse kicks off the season against upstate New York foe Colgate on Nov. 11:
TRANSFER CITY: Boeheim accepted only a handful of transfers in his first 40 years at his alma mater. Year No. 41 sort of represents a watershed moment with three.
''Transfers that we've taken have been very impactful to our program,'' Boeheim said. ''When you're down numbers and you have a fifth year, you help your team. If Malachi would have stayed, we probably wouldn't have taken any. It's here to stay now.''
ZONED OUT: Boeheim always seems to have lots of long arms in the lineup to enhance the effectiveness of his trademark zone defense, and this year's team might be the longest ever with eight players 6-7 or taller. Chukwu promises to be a menacing force inside, and Coleman (6-9), Lydon (6-8), Roberson (6-8), White (6-7), along with incoming freshmen Matthew Moyer (6-8) and Taurean Thompson (6-10) figure to give opponents fits.
3-BALLS GALORE: With a thin roster, Syracuse relied on its perimeter shooting last season, hoisting up 876 3-pointers and averaging 8.5 made 3s per game. The Orange has experience there with Lydon, who was the most accurate (49 of 121, 40.5 percent), and White (87 of 211, 41.2 percent).
''It's a part of the game now,'' Boeheim said. ''Every player that can make them can shoot them.''
PRESSING MATTERS: Syracuse uses the press at just about every practice and utilizes it sparingly but to great effect in games when needed. With such a deep roster, using it more often is an option.
''It came in handy last year. A couple of games we wouldn't have won without pressure,'' Boeheim said. ''We think we'll pressure more, but when we get into the season, if it's not there, then we won't use it.''
MR. VERSATILE: Lydon emerged as a bona fide star last season as a freshman with his strong perimeter game and shot-blocking ability inside (team-high 67 blocks) while playing center and both forward positions. He added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, which promises to make him a more imposing figure all over the court.
''He was key last year, so he's certainly not going to be any less this year,'' Boeheim said. ''He'll be very important. He's probably the only player I've had that has ever done that well at three positions.''
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