Syracuse has had some pretty good teams since 2000. That’s a little bit of an understatement, I know. After all, the Orange won a championship in 2003 and went to Final Fours in 2013 and again this past spring. But what’s the most talented team, top to bottom, in that timeframe?
What made me start wondering about this is the possibility that the 2016-2017 squad could feature one of the most loaded 10-man rotations in recent Syracuse history, at least on paper, if Andrew White decides to spend his graduate year in Orange. Let’s assume for a moment that White does, in fact, choose Syracuse. That’d give the Orange a 10-man rotation that looks like this:
Dajuan Coleman, Tyler Roberson, John Gillon, Andrew White, Tyler Lydon, Frank Howard, Matthew Moyer, Tyus Battle, Taurean Thompson, Paschal Chukwu
That’s a pretty stacked rotation, right? Lydon is a potential Lottery pick in the very near future, and I’ve been shouting from the rooftops to anyone who will listen that Battle is arguably the most talented guard prospect Jim Boeheim has recruited in a very long time. Gillon and White were both double-figure scorers last season for Colorado State and Nebraska, respectively, and when he’s on, Roberson is one of the best rebounders in the country.
And I haven’t even gotten to Coleman, Howard, Moyer, Thompson, or Chukwu yet. Chukwu could wind up being an NBA center thanks to his combination of size (7-foot-2) and athleticism, and while Coleman’s injuries have basically eliminated any chance of him becoming the player we all hoped he’d be, he’s still a former McDonald’s All-American who started playing some very solid basketball at times last season.
Howard is an intriguing player with outstanding court vision and athleticism at 6-foot-4, and if he ever develops his jump shot could become the next Michael Carter-Williams for the Orange. Moyer is a ball of energy with solid all-around skills, and Thompson is a big, athletic shot blocker and rebounder with an offensive game that’s getting better and better.
In other words, the 2016-2017 team has a chance to be special. But how do they compare to some of the best teams of the past 15 years?
Keep in mind, I’m only talking about overall talent and depth here. The 2002-2003 team – better known as “the champions” – certainly had some outstanding talent. Obviously, that team featured a transcendent player in Carmelo Anthony, as well as a future All-American and NBA draft pick in Hakim Warrick. But believe it or not, that team only had two players (the two I’ve already mentioned) who spent any time in the NBA.
Yeah, there were some solid players there, but that’s a team that only went eight deep. After ‘Melo and Hak, obviously you had Gerry McNamara, Kueth Duany, Josh Pace, Billy Edelin, Craig Forth, and Jeremy McNeil. McNamara has become a Syracuse legend, and you won’t find a bigger fan of either Pace or Edelin than me, but it’s hard to argue that’s one of the top-to-bottom most talented teams in Syracuse history.
In fact, the following year actually had a deeper roster, with 10 players who, over the course of their careers, saw significant time. Now, let’s fast forward to the 2009-2010 team. This team clearly has to be one of the most talented of the past 15 years, right? I would actually argue that this was the best and most balanced team of the past 15 years – and I’m including the national title team here. I know, I know. Blasphemy.
And honestly, looking back at the roster…I’m starting to question it a bit myself. It’s hard to imagine now considering just how beautifully that team played together, and how balanced it was offensively, but that’s a team that really only went seven deep. I would be willing to bet heavily most Syracuse fans don’t remember that, but it’s true. Here was the main rotation that year:
Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson, Arinze Onuaku, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche
Yeah. That’s it. Yes, James Southerland was also on that roster, but he only appeared in 13 games, logging just 97 minutes overall. It’s kind of astonishing that a team with such a limited bench (the 8th man was Mookie Jones, who played in just 17 games, averaging slightly more than 10 minutes per game) went 30-5 and is rightfully considered one of the best teams in Syracuse history. If Arinze Onuaku hadn’t gotten injured, I still believe that team would have cut down the nets.
But there was another team that missed out on a title run when its big man went down prematurely, and wound up not even making the Final Four. This is the team I would argue, as I look back now, was the most talented top-to-bottom team since 2000 for the Syracuse Orange.
Obviously, I’m referring to the 2011-2012 roster. I mean, go back and look at that squad. It was absolutely loaded from 1-to-10:
Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, CJ Fair, James Southerland, Fab Melo, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Moussa Keita, Michael Carter-Williams
Mookie Jones was the 11th man on that roster. Hell, Trevor Cooney was even redshirting that season. You’d be hard pressed to find a more complete collection of talent in the A.D.C. (After Derrick Coleman) era. Joseph, Waiters, Melo, Christmas, and Carter-Williams were all NBA draft picks (with three of the five being picked in the first round). Southerland has spent time in the NBA, as well. Fair has put up big numbers in the D-League, and was an All-American later in his career. Carter-Williams was the 10th man this season…and he went on to become the NBA Rookie of the Year only two years later!
It’s kind of amazing looking back and seeing just how stacked that team was. I realize now that when I look back at the best and most talented teams in recent history, part of the reason I remember this particular squad so much differently than the 2009-2010 roster is the circumstances surrounding the aborted title run. One featured one of the classiest players in Syracuse history getting injured, derailing the championship push. The other featured one of the most infamous players in Syracuse history, whose off court career caused endless headaches and turmoil that have resulted (at least in part) in Jim Boeheim being stripped of more than 100 victories.
Yes, I’m saying it right now: I remember the 2009-2010 team as being superior to the 2011-2012 team primarily because of Fab Melo, and the manner in which he has retroactively tainted that season, and Syracuse basketball in general. But there’s no denying it: top-to-bottom, I’m just not sure Syracuse has put together a more absurdly talented roster this century than Jim Boeheim did in 2011-2012.
If the Orange land Andrew White, the 2016-2017 team has a chance to challenge it. But it’ll be one hell of a tall order.