Editor’s note: It’s never too early to start to look ahead to next season. Over the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 that could make noise on the national stage. Today, the Syracuse Orange.
Those gray skies normally associated with winter in Syracuse, New York, engulfed the men's basketball program last season. First came the self-imposed postseason ban that kept the Orange from appearing in the ACC tournament and marked the first time since 2008 the Orange did not make the NCAA tournament. Then the NCAA dropped its sanctions from a nearly eight-year investigation that included deleting 108 wins from coach Jim Boeheim’s resume and a reduction of scholarships.
Promising freshman forward Chris McCullough, who played just 16 games before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, declared for the NBA draft earlier this month. Boeheim spent half the season dismissing mock drafts that claimed McCullough was a lottery pick at one point saying, “I’ve got a better chance of winning the lottery and I don’t buy tickets,” back in December.
Coupled with the transfers of forward B.J. Johnson and guard Ron Patterson, and the Orange could be down to 10 scholarship players next season. That could actually be the starting point for NCAA penalties that called for the loss of three scholarships for four consecutive years. The mother of recruit Thomas Bryant, ranked No. 22 in the class of 2015 and a native of nearby Rochester, New York, pointed to those transfers and the sanctions as reasons why her son signed with Indiana after Syracuse had been a front-runner throughout his recruitment.
Boeheim has seemingly coached at Syracuse forever and even at 70 years old, physically looks like he could continue on for much longer. The fallout from the sanctions brought an end date to his Hall of Fame career, too. He agreed with the university to coach for three more seasons before making way for longtime assistant and coach-in-waiting Mike Hopkins.
What the immediate future holds: It’s not all bleak for the Orange. Their postseason absence made many forget about them, but Boeheim has a lot of experience returning starting with senior guards Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije. Junior forward DaJuan Coleman will return after missing all of last season recovering from knee surgery.
Sophomore point guard Kaleb Joseph endured the typical growing pains of a rookie thrust into a starting role. His 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio was comparable to that of Louisville Cardinals freshman Quentin Snider, who was put in a similar role late in the season. And like Snider, Joseph has to work on his shot after shooting 37.6 percent from the field. But starting 30 of 31 games last season should pay dividends with his play making next season.
The Orange should return to the NCAA tournament partially thanks to a recruiting class of four ranked fifth nationally by ESPN's RecruitingNation. What Boeheim does as well as any coach in the country is to bring in players who fit his system. No surprise, he’s got more length for his signature 2-3 zone led by Moustapha Diagne, a 6-foot-8 power forward. Diagne will be another in a long line of rangy shot-blockers who protect the paint for the Orange.
Defense, however, hasn’t really been a weakness the past two seasons. Scoring has. The Orange ranked 145th in adjusted offense last season, according to Ken Pomeroy tracking. That was their worst showing since Pomeroy began keeping record in 2002.
Boeheim signed shooting guards Franklin Howard and Malachi Richardson, who was ranked No. 19 overall in the class of 2015, that will go a long way to correcting that trend. Richardson has deep range, but, more importantly, can create shots off the dribble. Tyler London, a 6-foot-8 forward, could serve as a stretch 4 in the lineup or play small forward. He also has 3-point range, which should help make those scoring problems a thing of the past. (Howard declined invites to multiple all-star games, including the Jordan Brand Classic, because he didn’t want to miss classes.)
A big test for the Orange will come at the start of the ACC schedule. Boeheim, as part of the NCAA sanctions, is being forced to sit out the first nine games of conference play. How the team plays without him during that stretch could play a big factor not only in the standings but potential postseason seeding. The league could do Syracuse a big favor by placing its toughest games on hold until February and March.