Meet The New Orange: Syracuse Outpaces Setters

If the first exhibition is any indication, Jim Boeheim will have a lot to clap about this season. File photo. - Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

If all roads lead to Atlanta for the 2013 Final Four, the trek started in the Carrier Dome on a rainy November night. From what I saw sitting courtside, this season is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

The Syracuse Orange defeated Pace University 99-63 in the first of two exhibition games before the regular season starts on November 9 aboard the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego. I had the opportunity to sit courtside and watch the Orange work out the kinks against the Setters in a glorified scrimmage. Here’s a bullet points recap of what I saw and heard.

- Some of the players were already on the court warming up when I arrived about two hours prior to tip-off. On my end of the floor, closest to the Syracuse bench and student section, the forwards and centers worked on their shooting before the big men broke off for some post drills. The mood was relaxed, yet businesslike - when on the court the players were focused, but many of them made time to greet fans, Dome staff, and other people milling about courtside.

- Glancing at the Pace roster, they had one player taller than 6’6". Syracuse has seven. That coupled with SU’s athletic advantage helped the Orange to out-rebound the Setters 55 to 24, and dissuaded Pace from coming anywhere near the basket lest they get their shots sent back to them in earnest.

- While I’m thinking of it, can we talk about the "Pace Setters", please? Is that the world’s worst pun or what?

- The starting lineup consisted of Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, DaJuan Coleman, and Rakeem Christmas. Or as Keeley put it, "The lineup we all thought we’d see."

- With less than 5 minutes gone in the first half C.J. Fair already had 8 points, both on drives to the basket and outside shots. I think his improved perimeter skills will be a huge factor in the Orange offense this season.

- With Trevor Cooney out after having his tonsils removed, James Southerland was the backup shooting guard when MCW came out of the game in the first half. Southerland played at the top of the zone. Triche stayed in and played point guard. More on this later.

- It was interesting to see Christmas come out of the game before Coleman. Keita replaced him and Coleman stayed at power forward.

- With about 11 minutes to go in the first half, Coleman saved the ball off a Pace player’s hip or stomach and it made a nasty thud. He’s probably going to have seam marks on his skin for a week.

- Keita definitely looks more comfortable catching the ball and scoring under the basket. He made a couple of layups in the first half that he would have fumbled last year. That will be a huge bonus if he can finish around the rim when his man steps up to help on guard penetration.

- It was interesting to see SU’s first press lineup: MCW, Southerland, Grant, Christmas, and Fair. They really turned up the tempo and energy level with their speed and athleticism.

- Someone asked me why Trevor Cooney was allowed to play in preseason games last year but Michael Gibinije isn’t playing this year. It’s because Cooney was a freshman and his status hadn’t been decided yet. Gibinije is a transfer (from Duke) and is not eligible to play this year.

- Former Orange forward Rick Jackson arrived at halftime at sat next to Daryl Gross in the front row under a basket. Jackson was cut by the Golden State Warriors at the end of their training camp last week.

- DaJuan Coleman already looks comfortable and polished with the ball in the low post. It will be great to watch him develop his game this season. He may already be the best post scorer we’ve seen in orange since Arinze Onuaku.

- Southerland buried two straight threes from close to the same spot in the middle of the second half. If playing him at SG doesn’t hurt their ballhandling, he could be a terror at the top of the zone and shooting over guards 5-6 inches shorter than he is.

- The announced attendance was 7,145. That’s only about 1,700 less than the Knicks-Sixers game just last week, featuring SU hero Carmelo Anthony and what should be the region’s preferred NBA team.

- Looking at the freshmen, DaJuan Coleman appeared very comfortable under the basket against admittedly much smaller players. Once I saw him use his shoulder and power dribble to create space, for an easy layup, something he’ll need to do when he isn’t able to go over the top of taller players. He was also 5-5 from the free throw line, which will be huge if he draws as many fouls as I think he will.

- Jerami Grant showed flashes of athleticism, energy, and length, especially on defense. He was a little shaky with the ball under the basket, but had a nice breakaway dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.

- As a team, SU shot 18-23 from the charity stripe. That’s a great sign. No matter the opponent, the free throw line doesn’t change.

- The team was 7-14 from the 3 point line, and three of those misses were by the walk-ons (or former walk-ons. That’s impressive.

- After the game, both Boeheim and Cooney said that Trevor will practice Friday and play Sunday vs. Bloomsburg. Cooney told me that it was "terrible" not to be able to play, but he’s fine now after his tonsil surgery.

- When I asked him about playing SG, Southerland said he had practiced there "a decent amount" and feels comfortable at the top of the zone. He said his stroke felt good (7-8 from the floor, 3-4 from three) and he wasn’t forcing his shot.

- Carter-Williams said that it was good to get the first game out of the way. He said they were happy that they didn’t play down to the level of their opponent, and they were all excited and "pumped up" to play.

- Coleman said that it felt good to score his first points in an Orange uniform after growing up an SU fan. He said he was ready for the starter’s role, and while he is adjusting to playing power forward he knows that his bread and butter is scoring and rebounding down low.

- Boeheim’s press conference was brief. He said it was a "Good overall first game", but the team lost its defensive intensity in the second half. He said they plain on playing nine players this year, and will use a number of different combinations, but didn’t agree when the word "experimenting" was used by a reporter. He said Southerland will play some guard this season, splitting time between guard and forward.

Jeremy Ryan is a writer/editor for CNYcentral.com in Syracuse. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyRyan44.

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