Men's Basketball

Looking back, moving forward: Syracuse’s 2012-13 season was memorable, but it’s time to turn to next year

Looking back

Losing Brandon Triche and James Southerland — and possibly more
The two winningest players in Syracuse history — Brandon Triche and James Southerland — are graduating. Triche started every game of his four year Orange career while Southerland had to fight for playing time his first three years before he became a staple off of the bench this season. Eventually, Southerland worked his way into the starting lineup and thrived. His record-breaking 3-point shooting performance in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden carried Syracuse to the finals, and gave SU momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Triche had his struggles but was still the reliable, sure-handed guard who always kept his composure. He led by example as a quiet leader, letting his play do the talking. Head coach Jim Boeheim spoke glowingly of Triche. He loved how much Triche wanted to win, and he always believed Triche could be even better. Triche had off shooting nights, but he still played a major role in Syracuse’s Final Four run.

Triche finished the season averaging 13.6 points per game on 41.6-percent shooting from the field. Southerland, meanwhile, averaged 13.3 points per game and shot 39.8 percent from the arc.

Now, they leave Syracuse. Both could end up on pro teams. Regardless, SU will have to make up for their losses.

“Not a lot of people can say they left their senior year getting to the Final Four,” Southerland said. “Even though we were so close, Brandon and I can say we got here. We left somewhat on top.”

Triche and Southerland aren’t the only starters Syracuse could be losing. It’s widely expected Michael Carter-Williams will declare for the NBA Draft, and there’s some speculation C.J. Fair could so the same.

After Syracuse’s loss to Michigan on Saturday, Carter-Williams said he hadn’t made a decision yet.

“I have no idea,” Carter-William said. “No idea what I’m doing right now.”

Carter-Williams will be 22 in October, which would make him an older player for next year’s draft. This could be the right year for him to go and, after an up-and-down season, he was mostly stellar in the postseason — except for his two-point performance against Michigan.

Fair, who led Syracuse with 14.5 points per game, has one more year of eligibility. He’s a versatile player who’s great on defense and has a patented mid-range jumper. Plus, he’s shown he can drain 3s, as he went 46.9 percent from the arc.

So, Syracuse could be replacing four starters from its improbable Final Four run next season.

Leaving the Big East
Syracuse has officially played its final game as a member of the Big East. Next year, its longtime conference opponents — including Georgetown, Connecticut and Louisville – will be replaced by North Carolina, Duke and Miami (Fla.), to name a few. The Orange, a founding member of the Big East, leaves the conference after a brilliant run in the league. Syracuse suffered a humiliating loss to Georgetown down in Washington, D.C., but earned revenge with an overtime win in an electric MSG in the Big East semifinals.

In its final year in the conference, the Orange advanced all the way to the Big East tournament finals, where it gave up a 16-point lead over Louisville and lost by 17. Still, SU created an electric environment in the packed MSG. Next season, Syracuse will be playing in Greensboro, N.C., a far cry from the Big East tournament buzz generated in New York City.

While it’ll seem strange to see Syracuse in the ACC, it would be even stranger to see the Orange play teams like Houston, Southern Methodist or Tulane. The Big East, which will soon be renamed the American Athletic Conference, looks nothing like the conference Syracuse helped build.

“It’s an easier move now than it would have been seven or eight, 10 years ago, because there’s former Big East schools there, former Big East schools coming with us,” Boeheim said. “So there’s more familiarity.”

Syracuse is leaving the Big East behind, but gains much more in its move to the ACC.

Will he or won’t he?
This year will be remembered for the constant questioning and concern of whether Boeheim is going to retire at the end of the season. With Syracuse’s move to the ACC and reports of the program being investigated by the NCAA, there was rampant speculation Boeheim would call it quits at the end of the season after 37 years as the Orange’s head coach.

At times, Boeheim’s postgame comments fueled the speculation. After Syracuse’s embarrassing 61-39 loss to Georgetown at the Verizon Center, Boeheim said he was “about ready to go play golf.”

Boeheim made it clear soon after that the comment was in jest and he had no plans to retire. He continued to repeat that stance to reporters at the NCAA Tournament, saying he still enjoyed coaching and was looking forward to the move to the ACC.

And after SU’s season-ending loss to Michigan, Boeheim took issue with yet another retirement question, this time asked by Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports.

Q: When do you think you’ll decide, announce, whether or not you’re coming back next year?

A: Why would you ask that question? I expect it from you. I know you. Why ask that question? Are you going to ask John Beilein that question?

Q: We ask 19-year-olds questions and they handle it better than you are.

A: You ask a 19-year-old kid if he’s going to retire? Really?

Q: If they’re going to be back next year.

A: If you’re going to say something smart, at least be smart.

Q: I said be back next year, I didn’t say retire. If you’re going to be smart, at least get it right.

A: I am right.

With that, Boeheim showed the fire’s still going — he’s the same coach he’s always been. When he stops caring about the questions, that’s when it’ll be clear he’s nearing retirement.

He’s not going anywhere for now.

Moving forward

Incoming players
Syracuse is losing at least two starters but it’s also gaining some talent. The Orange has one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming in led by five-star guard Tyler Ennis.

Ennis’ Newark, N.J., high school, St. Benedict’s, played in the ESPN National High School invitational championship game this week, and Ennis hit a 3-pointer with 11.9 seconds left. But its opponent, Montverde (Fla.) Academy, hit a 3 a few seconds later to earn the win.

The incoming class is full of perfect fits for Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Three of the five players are at least 6-foot-7, including four-star prospect Tyler Roberson.

Syracuse also has another stud, Michael Gbinije, who will be a factor at the wing next season. He transferred from Duke after last season, but sat out this past season per NCAA transfer rules.

All these players could play big roles for Syracuse next season. Of course, it’s likely that at least one — especially center Chinonso Obokoh — could redshirt.

Boeheim spoke highly of the players Syracuse has coming in next season, who will help put the Orange in a good position to contend for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

“I think we have a good group coming in. I think we’ll be fine,” Boeheim said. “I think we’ve got a really good player sitting out. I think we’ve got some really good players coming in.”

Center of attention
DaJuan Coleman was a highly touted prospect out of Jamesville-DeWitt High School, but like most freshman centers, he struggled to adjust. He showed flashes of potential in five games with double-digit points. In some games, though, Coleman looked overmatched.

Coleman’s year was made a bit more difficult when he had knee surgery in late January and missed eight games. Before the surgery, he started in every game, but his playing time was never the same after it. He only played in four of the last 12 games, with Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita getting the bulk of the minutes.

But after a year of steady improvement, Coleman could have a breakout year and become a strong center in the middle of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Christmas and Keita are good defensively, but offensively, they struggled. Coleman, meanwhile, can produce at both ends of the floor. The more he learns how to use his 6-foot-9, 288-pound body under the basket in the offseason, the better he’ll be next year.

The center position is extremely important for the Orange, and at times, the team can only go as far as the centers take it. Coleman’s development will be a major advantage for Syracuse in its first season in the ACC.

Welcome to Tobacco Road
Syracuse’s first season in the ACC will give fans plenty of reasons to get excited. Seeing the Orange play teams like North Carolina, Duke and North Carolina State will be new, but the games are still going to be intense and competitive. Every game during SU’s conference schedule will be meaningful. Cameron Indoor Stadium will be rocking the first time the Orange plays Duke down in Durham, N.C., just like the Carrier Dome will be packed the first time the Blue Devils or Tar Heels visit Syracuse.

Seeing Boeheim coach against other greats, including longtime friend Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams – who apparently has a bet going that Boeheim won’t coach a single game in the ACC – adds further intrigue.

Syracuse’s first season in the ACC will add some extra attention to each game. And with the standout players the Orange has coming in, combined with the players already on the team, SU is in good position to compete for a championship in its first year in the league.

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