Orange nation received a pretty harsh, albeit not unexpected blow today when Jerami Grant declared for the NBA Draft. Because, let’s face it, the NBA is the devil and can go suck an egg. But now it’s time to start looking ahead, and realizing that the cupboard is far from bare for Syracuse basketball, thanks largely to the presence of Tyler Roberson.

One of the guys a lot of people believed would become more of a factor than ever transpired through the course of the 2013-2014 season was Tyler Roberson, a well-regarded forward prospect from New Jersey. By the time the season started, he was known as “that other Tyler” in most discussions, but the fact remains he’s going to be one of the keys to the 2014-2015 season, if for no other reason than the fact that he simply has to play a massive role with both Grant and CJ Fair gone from the roster.

By pretty much all accounts, the coaches are extremely high on Roberson’s potential. It seems pretty telling that when Grant went down with an injury, it was Roberson, and not Michael Gbinije, who filled in as a starting forward against Georgia Tech. True, the results were less than pretty, and Jim Boeheim kind of threw his freshman under the bus in his postgame interview. That doesn’t change the fact that the 6-foot-8, 212 pound forward is by far the best bet to take on the starting small forward role next season.

It’s getting easier to project next season’s starting lineup based on the quickly dwindling roster, with the most likely scenario being Kaleb Joseph at the point, Trevor Cooney at the two, Rakeem Christmas at center, and then some combination of Roberson, DaJuan Coleman, and Chris McCullough at the forward spots.

Gbinije could factor in on the wing as well, but chances are he’ll come off the bench as a sort of super-sub, with the capability of filling in at the 1-2-3 spots. Coleman is coming off of a bad injury but, based on recent pictures, looks to be in the best shape of his career. McCullough will instantly be perhaps the most talented post player on the team, but the buzz around him is that he lacks the consistent fire to live up to what would otherwise be lofty expectations. That leaves Roberson as the most likely candidate to grab a starting role at the forward spot.

Last preseason, folks who watched practices would come away thinking the former Roselle Catholic star would emerge as an outstanding option off the bench, but a combination of timidity and unfamiliarity with the patented 2-3 zone left Boeheim wary of giving his talented freshman many minutes. And to be clear, the timidity seemed to be a major issue, as the athletic, potentially ferocious inside presence wound up lingering on the perimeter, hoisting 18 footers more than attacking the rim when he received meaningful minutes.

Still, it’s hard to forget the game against Duke, when Roberson showed true flashes of his abilities when he got out in transition and, in a blink and you’ll miss it sequence, jab stepped Jabari Parker out of his jock and drove baseline in a small but dazzling display of quickness and skill. The bottom line is that as we head into next season, the future is now for Tyler Roberson. Hell, it kind of has to be, by default.

It’s not a surprise that Jerami Grant left for the pros, but it leaves Syracuse fans a little nervous about how well the front line will perform next season. Thankfully, sophomore forwards have had a tendency to make enormous leaps for the Orange. Fingers crossed that Tyler Roberson is able to keep that streak alive.

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