Now that Andrew White III is finally in the fold, Syracuse’s roster appears to be complete. Yes, there is room for one more scholarship player, but unless the staff pulls a rabbit out of a hat, the Orange will roll with a roster of 10. On paper, this is as deep and talented as any Orange team in recent memory.
Talent and versatility. Jim Boeheim will have both in spades. Most of the players on the roster are more than capable of playing multiple positions, giving JB the opportunity to utilize several different lineups and adjust to a variety of game situations.
First off, it’s far from clear cut who will start. Based on precedent, one could assume fifth year senior Dajuan Coleman would get the nod at center over sophomore transfer Paschal Chukwu due to his experience and familiarity with the system. It would also be hard to imagine a player as talented as freshman guard Tyus Battle coming in off the bench. The other slots are not so clear cut. One of the debates is whether the 6-foot-7 White will be a SG or a SF. My guess is that White, a lethal outside shooter, steps right into the Malachi Richardson role.
He’ll play the wing on offense and the backside of the zone, as he is a competent rebounder, though he doesn’t come with the best defensive reputation. JB might tinker with White’s role on offense by giving him a few minutes at the two, but considering our lack of pure small forwards, White will be best suited at the three. John Gillon, yet another fifth year grad transfer, will likely be our best pure point guard, so I see him running the show to start games. Returning senior starter Tyler Roberson should get the nod at power forward, but ironically is in jeopardy of seeing his minutes reduced. If he’s finally developed a consistent jump shot and some semblance of a face-up game, then JB will have even more decisions to make with playing time. If Roberson does not play with intensity and focus, he will ride the bench more than he’d like due to the logjam of talented bigs. I’m not sure Roberson’s skill set is ideal for a bench role, since he does not bring much punch on offense.
One player I haven’t even mentioned yet could very well be the best player of the team: sophomore sensation Tyler Lydon. I know what you’re thinking. How could the best player on the team come off the bench? Well, when has being the starter at SU really mattered in the big picture? It all comes down to who gets the most minutes, and Lydon is perfect for the Super Sixth Man role that Dion Waiters parlayed into becoming a lottery pick. Lydon is a team player who is used to coming off the bench and can play three positions. Talent and versatility. There it is again.
Boeheim will have a bunch of different teams rolled into one: the starting lineup, the pressing lineup, the big lineup, and the closing lineup. As I’ve said, I foresee the starting lineup as Gillon at PG, Battle at SG, White at SF, Roberson at PF and Coleman at C.
(By the way, I think Coleman plays 15-20 minutes at Center, with Chukwu getting the lion’s share of the other minutes.)
The pressing lineup could be: Franklin Howard (no, I didn’t forget about him), Battle, Lydon, Roberson and Chukwu. Chukwu at the back end of the press will give a JB the opportunity to pressure opponents throughout the game and start our running game. Syracuse will have plenty of horses in the stable this year, so let them run.
The big lineup could be: a backcourt of Battle and White (or Howard and Battle), Lydon and freshman Taurean Thompson at the forwards, and Chukwu at center. Either backcourt combo would be long and athletic. That frontcourt might be able to block out the sun.
The closing lineup is the team Jimmy B rolls with when he wants to put a team away down the stretch of a tight game. That lineup could be: Gillon, Battle, Lydon, Roberson, and either Chukwu or Coleman, depending on the foul situation and hot hand that game. I’m not sure White’s in the closing lineup until he gets into the circle of trust, and if he’s a subpar defender that won’t help SU put the lights out. If he shows his mettle, White could work his way into the closing lineup, at the expense of Roberson. White is a good free throw shooter and, of course, that’s always valued in tight games.
The amazing thing about this is I haven’t even mentioned highly regarded freshman forward Matthew Moyer and I’ve barely mentioned Thompson. I think Moyer could carve out a role on this team but it’s going to be tough for him considering the competition and JB’s long track record of playing a short bench. He has to really impress in the non-conference to earn more than token minutes in the ACC. He’s also currently in a walking boot with some sort of foot injury. Even hoping for the best, if Moyer is green-lighted for this season, I see Thompson and Moyer as the ninth and tenth men in an eight man rotation. That could change, especially for Thompson. If our centers are not providing enough offense or if Roberson is having an off-night, the 6-foot-10 Thompson could be called upon to provide a spark. Both players have a bright future in Orange; I’m just not going to hold my breath that Boeheim is going to morph into an Izzo or Calipari and play ten guys.
Another player I’ve barely mentioned is Franklin Howard, a very talented old school pass-first sophomore point guard. Howard would start on most teams but will likely have to take a backseat due to Gillon’s fifth year status and track record of success. Howard should get a fair amount of playing time this year, and maybe can steal a few more minutes if he has improved his outside shot. Reports out of the Melo Center are that Howard has really turned heads, so he shouldn’t be underestimated.
Of course, with all this talent, chemistry will be a huge factor. How a team gels can be as important as the talent it possesses. For all intents and purposes, this is a brand new team but then again, that’s the new normal in college hoops. The odd thing about this squad is that it has a good deal of experience but also a bunch of players who have never played a single minute in a real game with their teammates or in the Carrier Dome. It’s going to take a while for them to become a cohesive unit. The hope is that some of these guys put their egos aside in their hope or lust for playing time and let JB play around with different combinations, even if it means riding the pine a little.
On paper, this team is loaded, with a Hall of Fame coach putting all the puzzle pieces together. This edition of Orange hoops should be a lot better in March than it is in November. That prospect should give opposing coaches a few sleepless nights in March, don’t you think?
Follow Vince on Twitter @IommiCuseFan