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Syracuse Basketball Roundtable: Season Preview Edition

Basketball season kicks off this Friday! To prepare you, TNIAAM's basketball experts dive into this season's burning questions...

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Syracuse men's basketball! When we last left our heroes, they'd fallen just short of a shot at another National Championship. And we spent a lot of time bitching about it (rightfully so). But now it's a new season, and with it come new possibilities -- for our first ACC basketball title, maybe a player of the year award for C.J. Fair and perhaps, even a National Championship.

As is and will be the norm all season, we're chatting about Syracuse basketball, the ACC and anything else that might come up in the never-ending soap opera that is Jim Boeheim's Orange team. Join us below...

Which departed SU player will SU miss the most this year: MCW, Southerland or Triche?

Chris Daughtrey: Most are probably going to say MCW, and with good reason. His vision, his command of the offense, his presence at the top of the 2-3. But I'm going to say Southerland because of the big games he had last season. Nine threes at Arkansas (to which Jim B attributed the W), 19 in the Big East Tournament. And you can even point to his lack of shooting in the Final Four as a key reason why the Orange lost to Michigan. Sure, the 2013-14 squad might have more guys who can reliably shoot threes. But J-Sizzle(TM) had some huge performances from deep which none of the current crop have shown they can replicate.

Lisa Nelson: James Southerland. Triche's best asset was his experience. He carried Syracuse through a brutal first half at Louisville last year because he knew how to play that team. In the ACC, that experience is basically useless. Next, Ennis can't replace MCW's length on defense, but he appears to be more than replacing his offense. I'm calling it a wash for now. Then there's James. Sure, he was streaky, but no one on the current roster has proven to be the same offensive threat, and that kind of reliability will be sorely missed.

Aaron Goldfarb: It's easy to say MCW, who was clearly the best of that departing troika. Yet every single time I watch Cooney launch a wide-open three that hits the side of the shot clock, I surely won't help but think, "Damn, what I'd give for Jimmy Smooth to still be on the team!" Three-point shooting will probably be our second biggest offensive weakness this year, after ball-handling, and Southerland's smooth stroke will sorely be missed as Ennis's ball-handling, penetration, and passing might be the equal of MCW's. Still, I opt for MCW. This year's team, much like last year's, will be a team that wins defensive rock fights, and the lanky MCW was our best ever zone guard. His imposing presence at the top of arc guaranteed we were in any games, even ones were we went countless minutes without putting the ball in the basket while Cooney shot the ball off the side of the shot clock.

Matt McClusky: I'll go with Michael Carter-Williams, if only because of his defensive prowess. Carter-Williams had the size and speed Jim Boeheim covets for the top part of his 2-3 zone. Tyler Ennis, from all accounts so far, seems to have a wealth of talent to go along with the hype, but his lack of height (maybe six-foot?) will be an issue in the brutal ACC. Plus, think of all the steals Carter-Williams forced because of his intangible knack for knowing where the ball was going? That's tough to replace.

Jeremy Ryan: It's easy to look at MCW's first week in the NBA and say he's the answer, but I'm going to go with Southerland. As we saw in last year's Big East Tournament, a knockdown shooter does wonders for floor spacing, and allows the other players more freedom to operate. His versatility was underrated, and he was tailor made to play the back line of the 2-3. He was also the player who was most likely to go for 30 on any given night, and outside of C.J. Fair I don't know if this year's team has anyone with that sort of explosive scoring potential.

Jared Smith: This is a tough one because it can be argued that each one of these players played such a big role in Syracuse's Final Four run last year. If I was to pick a final vote though it would be Mr. Michael Carter-Williams. Sure, he created some headaches along the way to Atlanta but his defense at the top of the 2-3 zone, ability to find the open player and balls to take the "no, no, no... Yes!!!" shot will be missed the most.

Sean Keeley: It's certainly looking like MCW just based on how much he's improved already in the NBA. Imagine if he was playing like that in a Syracuse uniform this year?

John Cassillo: Before we get caught up in the great things MCW's doing in the NBA, let's also remember that this wasn't the player he was every night for Syracuse. "Bad MCW" would show up plenty, and inevitably will for the Sixers as well. My pick's Triche, if only because of his long-standing place within the program and the relative inexperience we'll see at the guard spots this year.

Syracuse has several notable non-conference games this season. Which are you most looking forward to?

CD: How can you not get up for the Cornell Big Red? Seriously, though, it has to be the rematch with IU. Most of the star power from the NCAA tournament match up is gone, but any time you can replay such a greatly hyped (and thoroughly lopsided) game, it has to get a star by it.

LN: Indiana. Aside from the "Ron Patterson Revenge Tour" commentary, I'm excited to hear the analysts talk about this year's 2-3 zone; how it's small and out of sync, and if this had been the SU team that Oladipo & Co. met in last year's NCAA tournament, Syracuse wouldn't have advanced. Um, yea. And if teleportation was a thing, we wouldn't need cars. Really. Can't wait. Because comparing a late-season Indiana team to an early-season Syracuse team is totally appropriate.

AG: I'm most excited for the entire Maui Classic. During my wasted, sports-obsessed youth, the best way to get through the holidays was with bowl games and basketball tournaments in exotic destinations. Back then there weren't dumbass post-season tournaments in places like Fort Myers, or Brooklyn, it was strictly Alaska or Hawaii. It was so thrilling to be home from school and allowed to stay up til whenever, and find live--LIVE--basketball on the air at three in the fucking morning. Coaches in polos or Hawaiian shirts, sleazy announcers in leis ("Who wants to get lei'd by Dicky V?!"), gyms with a few local Samoans or Inuits watching the action. Unfortunately, we haven't been in one of these tournaments since, what, 1998?! That's why, I'm so thrilled to finally be taking part in a three-game, non-contiguous United States tournament once again.

MM: I'm salivating thinking about Maui! I know the field isn't as star-studded as in years past, but count me in for Minnesota and possible games with Gonzaga and California! Not to mention, the Maui Invitational is three days of appointment viewing for hoops fans, with a couple days of day basketball(!), throwing in the Orange is just icing on the cake.

JR: It feels weird to type this, as a 'non-conference game' - but I am going to say Villanova. I think it's great that SU is maintaining some of the long-time Big East rivalries, starting with St. John's and 'Nova this year. I really hope they get the Georgetown deal done, and that it's for several years. It would be nice to count on seeing St. John's and G'town every year, then rotate the other Big East schools through the schedule to keep things fresh.

JS: The opener for the Maui Invitational. That begins a stretch that allows us to clearly say the season has started. Plus, any time there's. Chance Jim Boeheim is going to wears a silly shirt, I get pumped for that.

SK: Probably the Indiana game. That NCAA Tournament win was one of the most satisfying Syracuse wins I've watched in a long time. I'm kinda looking forward to doing it again.

JC: Indiana, because it'll be fantastic to watch replays of that dominant tournament win over and over again. I'm avoiding the Big East teams because there was no drop-off, so it's tough to assess the impact of playing them when we never stopped.

Is this whole ACC thing going to be a whole lot weirder in basketball than football?

CD: I think you have to say yes if only because most of the rivalries associated with Syracuse are in basketball and now they're gone. No UConn. No Georgetown. No Villanova. No St. John's. Hell, I might even miss Providence. Of course, Pitt's there and Louisville will be soon. And there's no ignoring the various blue shaded elephants in the room. But even with the power programs that inhabit the ACC, rivalries take time to evolve. Until that true sports hate develops, there's always going to be part of us pining for the old BEast.

LN: Yes, but only because I actually understand basketball. I think football is weird anyway.

AG: It will only be weird to have to agree that, yeah, that Mike Patrick fella sure knows what he's talking about!

MM: Oh yeah! Syracuse football has been an independent, joined the Big East, and survived the Big East adding and dropping teams over the past twenty-plus years. Syracuse basketball, on the other hand, has seen some teams come and go, but it has been Big East basketball. Playing games in the south on a regular basis, seeing the "ACC" logo on the jerseys and court, watching Syracuse basketball on MSG+ or NBC will be as strange as it gets.

JR: Probably. Even though SU fans had to trudge through games with the likes of DePaul and South Florida, at least we could count on the traditional rivalries year in and year out. Football never really had that sort of continuity, so in my mind the change of league isn't as big of a deal on the football side. But for SU to not go to D.C. or Hartford this year? That's going to be weird.

JS: I think so. Big East football had never been the same since Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami left and basketball, you could argue, got better. What we left behind basketball wise was special, but it will not take us long to really like where Syracuse is now.

SK: I bet it won't be as weird as they thought it was. The initial shock has worn off. It will be weird not to play UConn or Georgetown, but I think you'll find that you won't miss as many Big East schools as you think you will. Have you even thought about Seton Hall in the last six months? (John's note: Has anyone ever thought about Seton Hall?)

JC: Yup. You spend as much time talking about ACC football as I have, you forget there's a basketball component to it, too. Not seeing Georgetown on the schedule is the strangest part of all, and I don't think I'm okay with it. Once February rolls by and we still haven't played the Hoyas, then maybe I'll have come to terms.

Which "new" conference foe will have Orange fans' hatred by the end of the year?

CD: Going to forgo the obvious; Duke and/or UNC. Honestly, it's hard to say. I'd have to say whatever mid-low tier team gets hot from 3 one game and drops the Orange unexpectedly. That, or default to NC State, just due to the recent history (Julius Hodge, "Popping off"). Other than that, hatred in the absence of a true rivalry stems from respect. We hate Duke and UNC because we respect them. Call me arrogant, but there's not another ACC team I yet respect enough to hate.

LN: Boston College. They're the annoying little brother who beat you at HORSE that one time on a trick shot and will never let you live it down. If BC beats Syracuse, which is not entirely out of the question, we'll hear nothing but "Boston's better than Syracuse!" for years. Yes, years. 'Cuse could win 417 national championships, and we'd still get it from these people. Why? Because their collegiate team hasn't been relevant in roughly a decade. And they all like to hear themselves talk. A lot. It's a recipe for disaster.

AG: Duke. Who else? As for teams we don't yet know we will hate, I could have seen that honor going to a similiarly demographical school like Maryland. But with them departing next year, who cares? Instead, I see that honor eventually going to Virginia. Fuck them and their gorgeous campus.

MM: Duke is just too easy, so I'll go with Virginia. If only because Virginia is a team that could end up taking the ACC title, a team that will want to prove itself against the big boys like Syracuse. Of course, I'm just taking a guess only to be different. Let's be real, it's just too easy to hate Duke -- I mean, imagine if the Devils beat the Orange with Gameday in house in February? Yikes.

JR: Duke is the obvious choice, but I could see some serious trash talk taking place on Twitter when SU heads down to Clemson and thrashes the Tigers the same way their football team handled the Orange in the Dome. It probably won't develop into anything long-term, but for one year things could get interesting.

JS: Every ACC blog has said our hatred for anything Carolina is going to go up, so I am going to take their word for it. Of course, Duke will probably at the top to start, but, when the Tobacco Road bias begins to show, Syracuse fans are going to go nuts.

SK: I'm going to go with North Carolina. Duke's too obvious and I feel like the Tar Heels are the ones who have taken a big of a backseat thanks to our arrival. I have a feeling they're going to want to send us a proper introduction, on the court and between fans.

JC: Well, we've got a rivalry trophy (#OrangeEagle) with one of them already, so you'd think it would be them. But since I hated Duke beforehand, just like any other basketball fan with a pulse, that'll also be an easy one.

Can C.J. Fair live up to the considerable hype around him (and this team) this season?

CD: Yes, in that I think he'll play very well. If the ACC is truly as soft as they say (not quite buying it), then years of hardening himself in the "football on the hardwood" Big East has CJ primed to abuse any and all comers. Still, being pre-season ACC POY means that, to live up to the hype, he needs to win the award after the season. And while I think CJ will play very well, I think he's still going to stat ninja his way to 19/8. I think guys like Jerami Grant or Jabari Parker will have flashier seasons and steal some of the limelight. So, is Crushtastic Jam-Meister Fair going to win ACC POY? I'm not sure. But I'm absolutely sure that he'll earn the right to be in the conversation.

LN: No. Guys, he's the preseason ACC POY. It's an incredible honor, but there's only one way to go from there - down. Unless he's voted the ACC POY, people will say he had a disappointing season and didn't live up to the hype. It's stupid, but it's true. Now, is C.J. a fantastic player? Yes. Will he give our opponents hell? Absolutely. But they already expect it. He's got to be better than expectations to be impressive, and I'm sorry, but it's reeeally hard for C.J. to be better than C.J.

AG: I think so as C.J. seems like a guy almost immune to hype and pressure. Never too excitable when he does something awesome, never too "Triche-like" when he does something terrible, just a steady and calming influence. And he makes it look so easy. His stats won't be insane by year's end, and people that don't watch hoops won't understand his allure based purely on those box scores, but I fully expect him to be the ACC player of the year and forever cement his place in Syracuse lore as one of our five best forwards ever. (Seriously.)

MM: There are few things in life that I never question, one of them so happens to be C.J. Fair. I don't know if Fair will up his game to 20 points per, but we know he'll improve and he'll lead and, when needed most, Fair will be there to help the Orange. I could see Fair missing out on the ACC Player of the Year award, but that will only be due to another player putting up more "highlight" style numbers, but I guarantee Fair will have a great season.

JR: I think so. I don't know if Fair's demeanor will allow him to be a ball dominant, 20 points per game scorer night in and night out, but he will still be one of the best and most complete players in the country. I think All-American status and contention for national player of the year are reasonable individual goals for him, and of course team success (and the visibility that comes with it) will help a lot.

JS: I think he can, however, it will not be in the way Syracuse fans think. See, we have seen CJ do his thing for a few years now and he is just going to keep doing it, but on a bigger stage. His numbers aren't going to skyrocket, but he will be an all-around awesome player.

SK: Sure. By all means, Fair is capable of putting up points and putting this team on his back. The question might be, can everyone else keep pace with him? I'm very excited for Senior Year Cerebus Jankyleg Fair.

JC: I'd like to think so. But he's such a humble guy. There's a small part of me that's scared to see what happens when all eyes of the world are on him. Can he function when there's no one to deflect attention and criticism? We'll see...

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