Here we are in July, with college basketball season months from even opening up practice, and I’m about to dive into hypothetical player rotations for Jim Boeheim’s squad this year. Why? Well, what the hell else do we have to talk about on a random Friday when it comes to Syracuse University basketball?
It’s probably impossible to peg exactly how the rotation will work itself out until we have some clarification on a few things. Most pressingly, it remains to be seen what will happen with Moustapha Diagne, who is not arriving on campus until August and has been the subject of some rumors about whether he’ll be eligible to play this season. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to head into this little exercise with the assumption that all scholarship players will be available, including Diagne.
The next biggest question marks are at the point guard and center positions. I think it’s safe to say that Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, and Tyler Roberson are locks to start barring something completely unforeseen. Dajuan Coleman is almost certainly going to start at center, with the lingering question mark there being his health. When you’ve missed the better part of two straight seasons, obviously people are going to start wondering whether you’ll actually ever get back on the court. But let’s assume Coleman is back and healthier than ever, because frankly, Syracuse needs him this season, and the idea of not having the 6-foot-9 post player is not something I want entering my brain just yet.
As far as the point guard position goes, we know that the starter will be one of two people: Kaleb Joseph, or Gbinije. Gbinije has hinted at point guard becoming more of a focus of his this offseason, but as far as I’m concerned, the starting spot is still Joseph’s to lose. He was thrown into an unfair situation last year, when he clearly was not ready for starting minutes. Tyler Ennis had been expected to be a sophomore, handling the ball handling duties for one more season before bolting and handing the reins to Joseph, but obviously that’s not what happened. Joseph, a kid with clear potential (particularly when it comes to athleticism) was just a deer in the headlights, and some of the postgame comments made by his coach certainly didn’t help his confidence.
The tools are all there for Joseph to succeed, though. He’s 6-foot-3 and a terrific athlete, and he has the ability to knock down midrange jumpers and get into the lane. The flaws in his game are mostly simple fixes, like doing a better job of protecting the basketball (he had a tendency to get a little sloppy with his handle), and simply getting his hands up on defense, rather than keeping them at his sides. Because these are correctable things, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that a full year in the strength and conditioning program, and working with a high level staff on his game, practicing against big time talent, will make him vastly more ready to play a big role this season.
So let’s presume that Joseph makes enough progress to retain his starting spot, because frankly, that would be the best possible outcome for Syracuse. Gbinije is much better playing off the ball than he is trying to run the offense, because Syracuse needs him to be a scorer and shooter this year. He’s not a natural point guard, and he shouldn’t have to be. He’s going to get minutes at the point, but the team will be much better off if Joseph is able to emerge as a reliable floor general.
That said, let’s break down the roster:
Trevor Cooney | 6-4 | G | SR (Returning Starter)
Michael Gbinije | 6-7 | G/F | SR (Returning Starter)
Dajuan Coleman | 6-9 | F/C | JR
Chino Obokoh | 6-10 | C | JR
Tyler Roberson | 6-8 | F | JR (Returning Starter)
Kaleb Joseph | 6-3 | G | SO (Returning Starter)
Malachi Richardson | 6-6 | G/F | FR
Tyler Lydon | 6-9 | F | FR
Frank Howard | 6-4 | G | FR
*Moustapha Diagne | 6-8 | F | FR
Right off the bat, we’ve got five guys who have started at some point in their Syracuse careers, with the four highlighted above along with Coleman. That’s a healthy amount of experience for Jim Boeheim to rely on, especially given the complete lack of experience his bench will have. When Chino Obokoh is your most experienced returning bench player, you know you’ve got a lot of youth.
PG – Kaleb Joseph
SG – Trevor Cooney
SF – Michael Gbinije
PF – Tyler Roberson
C – Dajuan Coleman
Due to the lack of depth and health concerns at the center position, this could be a very fluid lineup throughout the season. There are any number of combinations we could see, which is why it’s nice that every single incoming freshman has the ability to play more than one position. Frank Howard can play either guard spot, Richardson can play either the 2 or the 3, Lydon can play either forward position, and Diagne can play the 4 or the 5. That is a great asset to have in any situation, but the versatility is an enormous help this season.
Cooney, Gbinije, and Roberson will get the lion’s share of the minutes out of that starting rotation, probably followed by Coleman and Joseph each getting about 22-28 minutes per game apiece. As Syracuse fans, we should want to see Coleman log more minutes than that because there’s virtually nothing behind him (sorry Chino, but you’re still raw as a junior – and as far as Diagne goes, well, it’s still too much of a wait and see to feel confident). But between Coleman’s health issues as well as the potential for foul trouble from the Jamesville-DeWitt product, it would be a little too optimistic to expect more than 25 or so minutes per game.
I’m anticipating seeing a lot of smaller lineups this season because of that, with Roberson playing a sort of modified center in the zone while guys like Lydon and Gbinije are on the wings. However, when Joseph takes a seat, that’s when things could get interesting, and potentially cause nightmares in the 2-3 zone for opponents.
I fully expect Gbinije to be the primary backup for Joseph, with either Richardson or Lydon coming in at the small forward position when Joseph goes out. If Richardson is the one who enters the game, I’d still anticipate Gbinije remaining on a wing of the zone while Malachi plays up top with Cooney. On the other hand, whenever Lydon checks in for Joseph, you’ve got the 6-foot-7 Gbinije up top and a back line that includes the 6-foot-9 Lydon, 6-foot-9 Coleman, and 6-foot-8 Roberson. Not only is that a tall lineup, it’s a potentially tremendous rebounding lineup as well. Coleman entered college with a reputation as being arguably the best rebounder in his entire high school class, nationally. Roberson proved himself on the boards last season, posting multiple 17-rebound games.
And Lydon, while still rail thin, has proven himself an aggressive rebounder thanks to his length, athleticism, and size. When he played with the USA U18 team on a roster that included Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, Stephen Zimmerman, and Myles Turner, it was Lydon who led the team in rebounding. Needless to say, whenever Lydon, Coleman, and Roberson are on the floor together, I don’t expect opponents to get many second chance opportunities.
I’ve been high on Lydon for awhile, and according to Syracuse.com, former players like Eric Devendorf and Terrence Roberts are quickly catching on to just how good he could be. I’ve previously said I think he’s the most talented player on the team, which is why I’m expecting it to be Lydon, and not the McDonald’s All-American, Richardson, as the first man off the bench in most scenarios. Assuming Diagne is on campus this fall, he and Richardson will most likely be battling it out for 7th man status, and Howard will be the odd man out when it comes to the four freshmen. That’s not a knock on Howard, who I believe will become a very good player. He’s still just so new to the point guard position that I think Gbinije will take the bulk of the backup minutes, and Richardson is a better shooter so he’ll take whatever backup minutes there are at the shooting guard spot (and don’t be surprised to see Gbinije sliding over to the shooting guard position if Boeheim decides to sub in Lydon for Cooney, for example).
My guess for how the rest of the bench will shake out:
6th Man: Tyler Lydon
7th Man: Malachi Richardson
8th Man: Moustapha Diagne
9th Man: Frank Howard
10th Man: Chino Obokoh
Of course, who knows? Perhaps Obokoh has had a transformative offseason and will vault up the rotation, which is something I desperately hope happens since we’re going to be so woefully thin at center this season. If Dajuan is unable to stay healthy, and if Diagne for whatever reason is unable to get to Syracuse, it all falls squarely on Obokoh. We can only hope that 1) it doesn’t come to that, and 2) if it does, he’s up to the task.