Syracuse basketball is in a very strange spot heading into the 2016-17 season. A year after the most improbable Final Four run in school history, the Syracuse roster is deeper, and arguably more talented, providing hope that perhaps this spring could be another special time in upstate New York.
Yet, the team doesn’t enter the season without question marks, mainly in regards to who replaces all the departed scorers.
In typical Orange fashion, Jim Boeheim’s offense didn’t exactly light buildings on fire last season. Syracuse ranked 251st in DI with 70.2 points per game. The team’s field goal percentage and free-throw percentage also finished outside the top 235 schools. Syracuse failed to score more than 65 points on seven occasions during ACC play.
To a certain extent, that’s OK because Boeheim-led teams play such great zone defense, Syracuse doesn’t need a lot of points to win. Overall, the Orange went 9-7 when they didn’t at least hit the 70-point mark.
But scoring could be even more of a problem this season due to the departure of Syracuse’s top three scorers — Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson and Trevor Cooney. Those three players combined to score 43.8 points per game.
In other words, about 62 percent of Syracuse’s offensive production needs to be replaced. Not to mention seniors Gbinije and Cooney were the Final Four team’s heart and soul. Gbinije was one of a handful of players in the entire country that scored at least 10 points in every game, and Cooney is amazingly the only player in Syracuse history to make the Final Four twice.
Those are some huge shoes to fill.
But the positive thing about the 2016-17 Syracuse squad is Boeheim doesn’t have to ask one player to fill the holes left behind by Gbinije, Cooney and Richardson. With 10 scholarship players, the most Syracuse has possessed since 2011-12, the Orange could have some of the best depth in the ACC, and multiple players will be able to fill the scoring void.
After some discussion of whether he would leave for the NBA, sophomore Tyler Lydon returns as the Orange’s best overall player. Lydon was the only other player besides Gbinije, Cooney or Richardson who averaged more than 10 points per game, he also posted the best 3-point field goal percentage on the team at 40.5 percent.
However, his versatility and defensive prowess is what makes him a potential first-round pick in the NBA draft next June. In the NCAA tournament, Lydon averaged 4.0 blocks per game. He swatted away a potential game-winning shot against Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, and then blocked five shots in the Elite Eight versus top-seeded Virginia. Lydon will most definitely move out of the sixth-man role he had last season and into the starting lineup.
The team’s two returning starters are forwards DaJaun Coleman and Tyler Roberson. Coleman, who the NCAA awarded a fifth season of eligibility due to his injury past, isn’t a natural scorer, so Syracuse isn’t going to be counting on him at the offensive end.
Roberson led the team in rebounding but was inconsistent on the offensive end. When he was able to grab offensive rebounds, he could score, but when those dried up, he was invisible. Syracuse is going to need him to average near a double-double every night in order to be a legit title contender. When Roberson posted a double-double last season, the Orange went 7-0.
Also in the front court, Boeheim will have freshmen Matthew Moyer and Taurean Thompson and sophomore transfer Paschal Chukwu at his disposal. Moyer and Thompson were both ranked as four-star recruits, according to 247 Sports. After transferring from Providence, Chukwa spent all of last season on the Syracuse bench due to NCAA rules.
The guard positions are a little bit more murky because both starters — Gbinije and Cooney — are gone, but Boeheim could go a couple different ways.
Sophomore Franklin Howard is the one returning guard who already has experience in the Syracuse system. He is a very good passer, but he shot just 28.6 percent last season. If his shooting doesn’t improve, that’s really going to hurt the Orange offense because there are already a couple forwards in the lineup that don’t consistently score.
The three new faces at guard are graduate transfers John Gillon and Andrew White III, along with another four-star freshman, Tyus Battle.
Gillon is a good mid-range shooter and averaged 13.2 points per game last season with Colorado State. The biggest transfer of all for Syracuse, though, was White, who averaged 16.6 points per game with Nebraska in 2015-16. Once considered a five-star recruit out of high school, White shot 41.2 percent from the 3-point line, which is better than what both Cooney and Richardson did last season.
Traditionally, Boeheim likes experienced players that fit his zone, so Gillon and White appear to be natural fits to start, especially with their ability to score. Last season, both Richardson and Lydon averaged more than 30.0 minutes per game as freshmen, so if they earn it, Battle and Howard could both make major contributions too.
Expectations are high in Syracuse, as the team tries to make one final push toward a championship before Boeheim retires. The Orange will again have its stellar defense, but they will also be counting on depth making up for the scoring deficiencies in 2016-17.