Syracuse Orange 2013-14 Positional Preview: The Forwards

C.J. Fair - Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange 2013-14 basketball season is upon us, and TNIAAM is celebrating with a week of basketball-related content leading up to the first exhibition game on November 1. Today we preview the SU forwards.

On Tuesday we looked at the guards, which I believe have the most unanswered questions going into this season. The forwards, for the most part, are quite the opposite.

Let’s start with all-everything small forward C.J. Fair, the ACC Preseason Player of the Year and a possible All-America candidate. After watching teammates Brandon Triche, James Southerland, and Michael Carter-Williams depart for the pros, Fair couldn’t be blamed if he wanted to follow them and make a quick buck. But he stayed in school, and now is quite possibly the best player in the best conference in the country. He will have the chance to be SU’s primary offensive option each and every night, and much like John Wallace in 1996 Fair will get a chance to diversify his skillset and audition for NBA scouts in some of the biggest games of the entire college season.

By the way, his team is going to be pretty good too.

Fair really came into his own last year, when he led the Orange in per game scoring (14.5), rebounding (7.0), three-point accuracy (47%), and was second to MCW in minutes (35). His versatility and consistency helped SU withstand that notorious late-season rough stretch we’ve tried hard to scrub from our brains, and while Southerland and Dajuan Coleman were both sidelined he was in my opinion the team’s MVP. The left-handed Fair clearly spent time this summer working on his jumper, and improved his ability to create for himself with either hand off the dribble. He seems to have polished a nice little step-back three, which will undoubtedly open up more driving lanes if opponents have to play up on him and honor his outside shot.

At media day a couple of weeks ago, Fair told me that he is prepared to be the focal point of opposing defenses, something he hasn’t had to contend with in his first three years on the Hill. He said he plans to be more aggressive in looking for his shot this season, so I expect to see his scoring output increase significantly, even if his shooting percentage suffers a bit due to the added shot volume. He said the move to the ACC did factor into his decision to return to SU, but he doesn’t feel any added pressure from being named preseason POY.

Though no official announcement has been made, Boeheim has hinted this fall that he plans to again start Coleman and Rakeem Christmas together this season. That’s the frontcourt lineup he went with in the Orange’s four-game swing through Canada in August. We’ll talk about DC2 and Rak more in-depth when we discuss the centers, but regardless of who starts it’s a virtual guarantee that Jerami Grant will see heavy minutes, probably the third most on the team behind Fair and Tyler Ennis. Grant was extremely impressive in the aforementioned trip north of the border, and unleashed a couple of explosive drives that will melt Twitter when he does it in the regular season. He also gave us a tiny peek at an improved jump shot, which could be scary for opponents if he can hit it with any regularity.

I expect to see a huge increase in minutes and production out of Grant as the sparkplug sixth man Jim Boeheim likes to employ. He may even attract some all-conference or defensive player of the year consideration should he continue to improve upon the 14 points and 3 rebounds he put up last season. However, if Christmas or Coleman struggle this season, will fans call for Grant to move into the starting lineup a la James Southerland last year? Or will they be patient and let things work themselves out? We’ll talk about that more tomorrow.

It took way too long, but last month freshman Tyler Roberson was finally cleared to play by the NCAA after an eligibility issue cost him the opportunity to play with his new teammates in August. Hopefully that missed time won’t stunt his growth too much, because the man just oozes potential. The 6’8" New Jersey product is straight out of Boeheim central casting, long and athletic and perfect for the back line of the 2-3. He told me that it was tough sitting out in August, but the earlier start to fall practice has helped ease him into what is typically a difficult transition for freshmen. He says he understands that he has two great players in front of him in Fair and Grant, but he still thinks he can contribute with his defense, energy, and scoring.

Much like Fair, Roberson sees himself as a face-up forward, with confidence in his shot and his ability to take his man off the dribble. He’ll get a chance to compete against perhaps the best forward tandem in the country everyday in practice, and that can only help him fulfill that potential that has SU fans drooling in anticipation.

Through little fault of his own, the odd man out this year will likely be Philadelphia native B.J. Johnson. There is simply too much talent at the small forward slot for the freshman to see meaningful minutes this season, and I don’t know if there will be anything more than mop-up time available at the 2. Johnson is an excellent athlete and has the potential to be a deadly shooter from long range, and he's shown off glimpses of that stroke in his limited public exposure. But with only 185 pounds on his 6’7" frame, it may take a year or two before he fills out and can withstand the night in and night out rigors of the toughest conference in the country.

Tuesday: The Guards

Wednesday: The Forwards

Thursday: The Centers

Friday: Holy Family exhibition recap

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