Just yesterday the word came out that Kaleb Joseph would be leaving the Syracuse basketball program, and now it’s been announced that little-used backup center Chino Obokoh will follow suit. With the futures of players like Malachi Richardson and, to probably a lesser degree Tyler Lydon still up in the air, what will the Orange look like heading into next season?
First things first, as I did with Joseph yesterday, I wish Chino nothing but the best moving forward. It was clear he’d never become a real contributor at Syracuse, as his skill set just never caught up to his size and natural athletic talent. He has a chance to go and play somewhere immediately, as he’ll be graduating in just three years (making him only the second Syracuse basketball player to ever accomplish that feat, following Rakeem Christmas).
That said, here’s a breakdown of what next year’s roster will look like, if everyone returns, and not counting any potential late additions:
Guards: SO Malachi Richardson, SO Frank Howard, FR Tyus Battle
Forwards: JR Tyler Roberson, SO Tyler Lydon, FR Matthew Moyer
Centers: SR Dajuan Coleman, SO Paschal Chukwu
You can see that, immediately, the Orange suddenly have a lot of space “under the cap” so to speak, with regard to scholarships available. That was always going to be the big question: would the Orange have room to bring in additional talent? Obviously, there was one free scholarship available once the NCAA reduced some of its punishments, so Jim Boeheim was free to bring in another player no matter what.
But now, he’s free to bring up up to three more players, which gives next year’s roster an awful lot of flexibility. Instead of trying to choose between Taurean Thompson and Cheickna Dembele, the Orange could – at least conceivably – find room for both players. There’s plenty of room left for a graduate transfer like Columbia’s Grant Mullins.
And might the Orange decide to take a look at someone like Kent State’s Kellon Thomas, a 5-foot-11 point guard who averaged 12.3 points last season and just got his release to become a graduate transfer for next season? What about Katin Reinhardt, the 6-foot-6 guard who started his career at UNLV before moving on to USC, and is now seeking a new program for his final year of eligibility? He, like Mullins and Thomas, would be immediately eligible. Of course so far at least, Mullins is the only player Syracuse is known to have contacted from a graduate transfer standpoint.
There’s also the possibility – however slim – that elite 2017 shooting guard Hamidou Diallo could reclassify to 2016 and join the roster next year, giving Syracuse one of the top 20 players from next year’s class if he were to choose the Orange. That is still a relatively farfetched proposition, but is not out of the question. If Syracuse is expected to be among Diallo’s finalists, no matter which class he’s in, and there is at least some chance he decides to try to join the class of 2016.
But all that aside, let’s not talk about what might happen and start focusing more on what we know about next year’s roster. With only eight scholarship players currently set to return, and even that’s up in the air considering the uncertainty about, primarily, Malachi Richardson, it’s pretty easy to project the rotation. Frankly, I expect all eight players – again, if they’re all back – to get playing time, which makes next year’s roster simultaneously deep (by Jim Boeheim’s standards) and a short bench, given how few players are currently set to wear orange next year.
The starting lineup could go in one of a few different directions, and it boils down to some combination of how Boeheim projects Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, Tyler Lydon, Dajuan Coleman, and Paschal Chukwu.
Will Boeheim elect to go with a more “proven” point guard in Frank Howard, or turn things over to Battle – who is certainly much more of a natural scoring guard and a prototype shooting guard, when push comes to shove? And the wing rotation directly impacts Lydon, given that if Battle and Richardson are the starting backcourt, Lydon will almost certainly slide in at the small forward position alongside Roberson, who should be back to man the power forward spot.
However, if Boeheim elects to start Howard, and Richardson is back, it’s almost certain that Frank, Mali, and Battle will each start, leaving Lydon as the sixth man who can come in and play the three, four, or five spots if need be. That kind of versatility, given the relatively thin bench, is not a bad thing.
The other big question mark is whether Dajuan Coleman – who has started at Syracuse whenever he’s been healthy – gets the nod at the center position, or if that goes to Paschal Chukwu. Chukwu, at 7-foot-2, is a rare transfer player for Jim Boeheim. Boeheim doesn’t accept transfers often, and when he does, the almost always play immediately.
Michael Gbinije didn’t immediately start, but he also had plenty of talent ahead of him, making him a bit of an exception to this rule. But players like Jason Cipolla and Ryan Blackwell became immediate starters. Basically, if Jim Boeheim likes you enough to take you as a transfer, you’re going to play. That makes me think that Chukwu – who seems to have been built precisely to man the center of the 2-3 zone – will wind up playing a lot next season. Will he supplant Coleman in the starting lineup? That remains to be seen.
If I had to guess, I’d say that at this point, Moyer will be left as the eighth man in next year’s rotation, playing bit of a “Frank Howard” role from this season. He’s a talented kid who will show signs of being a solid contributor, but with more proven players ahead of him, it’ll be tough for him to get much more than eight or nine minutes per game, as Roberson’s backup.
A lot of this hinges on the decisions yet to be made by Richardson and Lydon, of course. I’m fairly positive both players will test the waters, to at least take advantage of the new rules and find out where they stand. With that in mind, I’m about 90% sure Lydon will be back next season, and about 65% sure Richardson will return. If they do, and Syracuse can add either Thompson or Dembele, as well as a graduate transfer like Mullins, next year’s roster could give Boeheim his deepest, and most talented since the 2009-2010 campaign.
It’ll be fascinating to see what happens as the recruitments for Thompson and Dembele come to a close. Thompson, for sure, seems to be getting closer and closer to a decision, while things are a bit murkier with where things are in Dembele’s recruitment.