Here's one of the more interesting cases in the Big East. After two consecutive almost-but-not-quite years when many felt they were snubbed by the selection committee, the Orange return two players from injury but lose one star. Will it be enough to get them into the NCAAs, and maybe the top 25, this time? They'll have to overcome a pretty tough schedule to do so, including a bizarre CBE Classic tournament that features a championship round that apparently doesn't change even if the top-seeded teams lose. Anyone have a better idea how that works? Regardless, here it is.
19-13 Overall, 9-9 Big East (9th)
Lost 1st round Big East tournament (Villanova)
Eliminated 3rd round of NIT (Massachusetts)
Ryan Cahak G
Eric Devendorf G
Jonny Flynn G
Donte Greene F
Paul Harris F
Rick Jackson F
Scoop Jardine G
Arinze Onuaku F
Kristof Ongenaet F
Jake Presutti G
Andy Rautins G
Justin Thomas G
Mike Williams G/F
Sean Williams C
Josh Wright G
Greene, M. Wiliams, Wright
Well, Greene was a real talent, but Devendorf's numbers were about the same when he was healthy. If Devendorf didn't lose anything for good, they might not feel the loss of Greene all that much. The other two were only minor pieces of the puzzle, and make room for the new guys below.
Wesley Johnson F (transfer from Iowa State) I believe he has to sit out the 08-09 season, but he gets a mention just in case. He averaged 12.4 points and 4.4 rebounds at his old school.
Kevin Drew G
Brandon Reese G
Mookie Jones F
Kris Joseph F
James Sutherland F
OK, there's a lot to talk about here, so I'll get to it. First, Drew is a walk-on from the Lacrosse team and Reese is a "preferred walk-on" himself. With all the other guards on the roster, I doubt they'll make much difference. Next, I'm not sure that James Sutherland is joining the team this year...I found conflicting reports. Kris Joseph and Mookie Jones, however, are for sure, and they're the 11th and 12th ranked high school SF, and 4-star recruits. I know many people like to reserve judgment on freshmen, but when you bring in two guys rated that high for the same position (and maybe a third ranked 25 at SF in Sutherland) you have to think at least one of them will have an immediate positive impact. Finally, it is fair to include Rautins as an "arrival" because he didn't play all last season. He and the two scholarship freshman will make Syracuse a very deep team.
Nonconference Games: Le Moyne, Richmond (regionals of CBE Classic), Oakland, Florida (semifinal of CBE Classic; Syracuse will then play either Washington or Kansas), Virginia, Colgate, Cornell, Long Beach State, Cleveland State, Canisius, Memphis, Coppin State
That's quite the schedule. Florida and Memphis will be tough, as will whichever of Washington and Kansas they play. Cornell and Cleveland State are likely tournament teams, and should not be taken lightly. This is a slate that's either an opportunity for Syracuse to make a strong early case or a chance to lose credibility fast.
Two Time Opponents: Rutgers, Villanova, Georgetown
That's a more forgiving set than most teams got, but is still not a picnic. One of the Nova games is at a neutral site.
Remaining Roadies: South Florida, Pittsburgh, Providence, Connecticut, St. John's, Marquette
Home Games: Seton Hall, DePaul, Notre Dame, Louisville, West Virginia, Cincinnati
That's a pretty even home/road split. It's getting harder to say something unique about everyone's Big East schedule. The Orange, like everyone else, will have to win some tough games to stay alive in conference.
Best Case Scenario:
Harris and Onuaku add defense to their list of skills. Devendorf is more mature after the injury, and that helps make his game very good. Flynn runs the floor with the best of the nation's PGs. The rest of the returning players (Jardine, Ongenaet, and company) are lifted by the good play of the starters. Joseph and Jones make the team very, very deep up front with excellent play, while Rautins and a rotation of four or five other guards spell Flynn and Devendorf effectively. All of this leads to first undefeated ooc play, including wins over Florida, Memphis, and the defending champs, second to an above .500 Big East mark - perhaps even good enough to sneak into the top 4 - and third, a deep run in the BE tournament. The resume from there is good enough for a 4 or 5 seed and Sweet Sixteen or better.
Worst Case Scenario:
The highly anticipated return of Devendorf goes sour when it is noted that his play has been hampered by the injury, and that his maturity never set in. Rautins is unable to elevate his game from what it was in '06-'07. The freshmen and returning backups are competive but not stellar. The defensive concerns from last year return. This causes them to lose to both Florida and Memphis, as well as either Cornell or Cleveland State. A win over Washington is little consolation, because already the resume is looking familiar. they again hover around .500 in the Big East, and lose some games they shouldn't, finishing again in that 8th or 9th place range. They don't do enough in the BE tournament, and once again are left on the outside and have to get up for some NIT games. Maybe they win it, or maybe they fold right away.
I believe that this is an NCAA tournament team; I even have them in my preseason top 25. There are some questions, though. They have four players we know will be very good in Devendorf, Flynn, Harris, and Onuaku. The kind of play expected from those four alone SHOULD be enough to get them to the NCAA tournament. What will determine if they are a top 25 team with a pretty high seed is the play of everyone else. They don't have a true Center, so the defense inside the paint might still be weak. They have two freshmen in Jones and Joseph who should help address that issue. Rautins and Scoop Jardine will need to supplement the guard play of Devendorf and Flynn, as well, if they want to be an elite team. What we know is that the Orange have a very good starting frontcourt and backcourt, and what I suspect is that the players mentioned above will make them very deep in both cases, as well. I don't believe Syracuse will be capable of excellent defense, but they are capable of competent defense - an improvement over last year. While I could see their tough schedule biting them, I think they are more complete than they have been the last few years, so if they miss the tournament they will have underachieved.