What you need to know about the Syracuse Orange

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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As long as Syracuse still has Jim Boeheim and his 2-3 defense, it will be a threat to win 25-30 games and make a run in the Big East and NCAA tournament. This year, though, Boeheim has more tools than usual at his disposal.

If everyone buys in and plays with consistency, Syracuse will be mentioned alongside Kentucky, Connecticut and North Carolina throughout the season.

Why they'll win it all: Syracuse has all the pieces this season. The Orange have veteran leadership, an influx of youth, versatile forwards, capable shooters and, of course, the 2-3 zone defense. Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph are two of the best players in the country at their respective positions, and both have the experience of being to two Sweet 16s. Jim Boeheim knows how to win in the NCAA tournament, and has a national title under his belt.

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Why they might fall short: Gone is double-double machine Rick Jackson, who led the Big East in rebounds and blocked shots. Inconsistent sophomores Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita need to step up and replace him. The Orange also don’t have a legitimate go-to-guy who has proven he can make shots at the end of the shot clock or game clock on a consistent basis. Moreover, the outside shooting needs to improve.

Who's new: Rakeem Christmas and Michael Carter -- Williams were both McDonald’s All-Americans, while Trevor Cooney played on the U-18 National Team in 2010. Christmas is a big-time shot-blocker; Carter-Williams is long and has deep range on his jumper; and Cooney is a consistent jump-shooter.

Player they can't afford to lose: Jardine is the vocal leader on the court and in the locker room for the Orange, and he is also the one player on the roster who can consistently create his own shot off the bounce. He led the Big East in assists last season, and the team struggles when Jardine is getting stifled at the point of attack. When Jardine is consistent and under control, he provides a different dimension for Syracuse.

Most underrated player: Triche is beginning to get recognition as a vital player in the Orange attack, but C.J. Fair is flying under the radar as a potential breakout prospect. The lefty forward has a deadly mid-range game and spent the offseason working on his perimeter game. If he can knock down shots from 3-point range with consistency, he has the potential to be a matchup problem. Fair attacks the rim well and is athletic in the lane. In the four games he logged more than 30 minutes, Fair averaged 13.0 points and 7.3 rebounds. Expect numbers like that this season.

Key non-conference games: 12/2 vs. Florida; 12/17 at North Carolina State

Notable stat: In the eight seasons since Syracuse won a national title with Carmelo Anthony, the Orange have made the NCAA tournament six times. However, they have not advanced past the Sweet 16, despite being a top-four seed on four separate occasions.

Final thought: On paper, Syracuse might not have as much talent as North Carolina or Kentucky, or the star power of Ohio State or Connecticut. The Orange, though, are as deep as they have been in years and have a trio of veterans to lead the way in the locker room. The key this season will be the maturation of the sophomores. C.J. Fair has to take on a bigger role, while Baye Keita and Fab Melo need to be factors down low. Dion Waiters is the key; he needs to stay focused and be the explosive offensive player he has the potential to be. Throw in the 2-3 zone defense that causes fits for most opponents, and Syracuse is undoubtedly a threat to win the title.

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