At long last, Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange basketball team are back tonight as the team opens the exhibition portion of the schedule against LeMoyne. This will be the first real chance for Syracuse fans to catch a glimpse of the three newcomers to the Orange, though obviously there won’t be much to be gleaned from a glorified scrimmage against a Division II school. After all, six years ago the Dolphins beat the Orange 82-79 in an exhibition game to open the year, and all that happened that year was that the 2009-2010 squad became one of the best in Syracuse history.
So what will be worth watching for tonight? Well, funny you ask. Here’s what I’ll be looking for…
1. How’s DaJuan’s Knee, Really?
The most important question of the early season is that of DaJuan Coleman’s health status. The Orange are painfully thin in the post, and I mean that both in terms of depth as well as literally, given the fact Tyler Lydon may get some run at the center spot. But Coleman’s health and ability to shake the rust off are two of the most crucial components for this year’s team to have any success.
And believe me, everyone watching tonight will be scrutinizing every bump, every apparent tweak, and every grimace on his face. Let’s just say the collective breath of Orange fans everywhere will be held until Coleman proves he can make it through an entire game without getting injured again.
2. What Will Kaleb’s Role Be?
The other big question coming into the season was what would happen at the point guard position. All signs are pointing to Michael Gbinije opening the year running the point, which would bump Kaleb Joseph to the bench in all likelihood. So that begs the question: what kind of role will Joseph play this year?
The sophomore clearly wasn’t quite ready to compete at this level last year, but he’s reportedly added 16 pounds of muscle and improved his shooting stroke from long range. If his confidence level rises to meet these physical improvements, he could be a good weapon for Boeheim (and, for a nine game stretch, Mike Hopkins) to deploy. With Frank Howard looming in the background – especially after Boeheim recently said that had Howard been a year older he’d have started at point guard last season ahead of Joseph – will Kaleb be shuffled deeper down the bench, or will he become either a sixth or seventh man and a key member of the rotation?
3. Just How Ready Are the Freshmen?
Speaking of Howard, he’s actually the freshman I expect to contribute the least this season – not because he isn’t talented, but simply because the opportunity is there for Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon. Richardson seems likely to start at the small forward position, which will be interesting to see in the 2-3 zone. Will Richardson be able to rebound from the wing at this level? Physically, he’s pretty solid and athletic, but his reputation isn’t exactly as a rebounder or defender. It’s as a shooter and scorer.
Lydon, meanwhile, has all of the athletic and basketball skills to succeed right away but from a simple bulk standpoint, it will be interesting to see how well he’s able to compete and scrap on the inside. Tonight’s game against D2 LeMoyne will prove interesting. Hopefully Lydon is able to bang with the Dolphins, because if not, well, then he certainly won’t be able to push back very successfully against ACC opponents.
4. How Deep is the Bench?
Obviously an exhibition game doesn’t really tell you much when it comes to bench depth. Everyone is going to play, especially since chances are this will be a blowout win in the 25-35 point range for the Orange. But it will still be pretty intriguing to get a glimpse of the rotation, and how early Boeheim goes to his bench. Who will be the annual doghouse dweller? Who will be the first guy off the bench? Just how much does Boeheim trust Chino Obokoh, even in an exhibition game against a D2 opponent?
Boeheim has said that he’s planning on playing all nine scholarship players this year, but obviously given recent history, we’ll believe it when we see it.
5. What’s the Style of Play?
Syracuse hasn’t exactly played a very exciting brand of basketball the past few years, and it was due in large part to a lack of overall basketball skill from a lot of key players. The team lacked shooters and scorers, and therefore focused more on winning with defense. Even with a natural point guard like Tyler Ennis running the show, the team played a pretty boring brand that could get pretty stale in the half court setting and very rarely got out into transition.
But this year? Well, the team is undersized and has a lot more (potential) shooters than any team in the past several seasons. It might wind up being the best shooting team since that same 2009-2010 team that lost to LeMoyne. Will the group of Trevor Cooney, Gbinije, Richardson, Lydon, Joseph, and Howard help this year’s squad become the best shooting team since Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, James Southerland, and of course, Mookie Jones were all on the same roster?
We might get an idea tonight. Then again, we’ll probably be able to throw everything we see tonight out the window. After all, we lost to LeMoyne six years ago. That sure as hell didn’t tell us anything about that year and what could have been had Arinze Onuaku not suffered a horribly timed injury.