Men's Basketball

Despite loss of key players, Syracuse confident it can make another deep postseason run

Syracuse lost four key players from a team that established itself as the class of the Big East and went to the Elite Eight in 2012. The group included three of its top four scorers, the conference’s defensive player of the year and veterans who had been a part of 91 wins in their final three seasons.

Losing that distinguished group won’t be easy for SU, but forward C.J. Fair said he’s confident this year’s Orange can make another deep NCAA tournament run.

“You can say we reloaded from the players we did lose,” Fair said. “And the players we got now, I’m very confident in this team and every player on our team can really step up at any moment.”

Fair is among five returning players who earned minutes and showed they could step up to help SU win games. That group will form the core of a new-look Orange team in 2012-13, one that saw Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Fab Melo and Dion Waiters all move on after the team’s loss to Ohio State in the Elite Eight. It’s a group that expressed having high expectations at the team’s annual media day at the Carmelo K. Anthony Center on Friday.

“We’ve never had a team that I can remember lose this many guys who were such important parts of what we did,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “And if we had a team that lost even close to what this team did, we certainly weren’t picked in the Top 20 the next year so it’s really a credit to the returning players.”

Fair, Brandon Triche, James Southerland, Rakeem Christmas and Michael Carter-Williams are the talented returning players who will be tasked with the challenge of filling the voids left by the departures. They all had their moments last season, but it remains to be seen if they can handle the burden of leading roles to continue the program’s streak of four straight seasons with at least 27 wins.

Boeheim said he expects Triche, a three-year starter, to make the leap from “very good” to “great” in his senior season. Carter-Williams showed flashes of his potential and performed well in big games a year ago, and the head coach thinks that experience and the ones he had going against Waiters and Jardine in practice will pay off and allow him to hit the ground running in the backcourt.

Fair started nine games and averaged more than 26 minutes per game. Southerland was an effective option off the bench, shining during the NCAA Tournament. And Christmas gained invaluable experience in place of the suspended Melo during that postseason run.

Boeheim said this team is as advanced as any he’s ever had at this stage of the season, but he tempered expectations.

“I think these guys have worked as hard as they can and are as ready individually as they can be,” Boeheim said. “As far as what kind of team they can be, there’s no way of knowing that at this stage.”

At this stage, Triche said the team is better prepared than it has been his previous three years. Carter-Williams said preseason workouts were more intense and included more running. As a result of the workouts, Triche said he and his teammates are in better shape going into the 2012-13 season.

And though the Orange is still nearly a month away from its season opener against San Diego State, the senior guard’s mind is already on the postseason.

After coming up short in the Elite Eight after a 34-win campaign in 2011-12, Triche and this year’s group is aiming higher.

“Our expectation is to win the national championship,” Triche said. “And no matter how we get there, all that counts is you winning it.”

And though losing three starters and an explosive scorer off the bench hurts, Fair is convinced SU has the talent to continue the program’s run of success. The players have put in the work during the offseason.

Now, they just need to show it when they step on the court in November.

“A lot of people sleep on this year, but that’s something we use in our favor because I’m very confident in this team,” Fair said. “I think we can go deep in the tournament with this team and maybe even take it all the way, so I’m very excited for the season to start.”

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