Coming off of a self-imposed postseason ban, losing its top scorer and rebounder to graduation, and putting three true freshmen into a sanction-shortened rotation, Orange fans could be forgiven if they were less than optimistic about the upcoming season.
However, after just one exhibition game, I think it's safe to say we’re in for a fun - yet bumpy -ride.
Syracuse opened the preseason portion of its schedule with a solid 97-58 win over the neighboring Le Moyne Dolphins. It was the first opportunity for Orange fans to see the 2015-16 Orange against live competition, and there were some high and low points we can take away from Monday night’s contest.
Here is my report card from courtside:
Head of the Class: Michael Gbinije
Gbinije, the redshirt senior, showed in 33 minutes why he will be the best overall player for the Orange this season. He had an all-around excellent outing, scoring a game-high 21 points on 7-13 from the field, and showed improved range by burying 5 of 10 from beyond the arc. He started the game at point guard, but regularly switched to small forward when Kaleb Joseph checked into the game. Gbinije added 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals, and set the tone for the Orange with a couple of key threes early on when the offense was struggling to find its rhythm.
Curiously, Jim Boeheim didn't pull Gbinije until there were only a couple of minutes left in the game and some of the walk-ons had already started to filter in. Was that just an oversight, or was there a particular reason why the team's best player was still on the floor late in a meaningless exhibition blowout?
Dajuan Coleman: I'll be blunt and say I'm a mark for Dajuan Coleman. I like the kid, even if I have cracked jokes at his expense from time to time, and I genuinely want to see him succeed. I'm also a sucker for good post play, so having someone like him on the roster, but unable to live up to his potential, has been a huge tease. However, after watching him put in 23 minutes on Monday, it looks like all of his hard work over the past two years has finally paid off.
We all know his injury history, so I won't rehash it here. But it's fair to say that 15 points and 7 rebounds, - against Division II competition or not - is an unqualified victory for a guy whose entire career was in doubt just several months ago. He looks comfortable in and around the lane, scoring on a couple of pick and roll dives to the rim and even a face-up 15-foot jumper. He still needs to knock the rust off of his hands, as several potential rebounds slipped through his fingers, but if he can contribute even half of Monday's output in ACC play Orange fans should feel a lot better about the team's center situation moving forward.
Malachi Richardson: I don't think it's a stretch to say Richardson is already the best pure shooter on the Orange. The kid has no fear - in a good way - and has no problem launching bombs from just about anywhere on the court. He makes them, too, hitting three straight long-range jumpers in the first half to help Gbinije crack open an otherwise tight first half. He ended up shooting only 5-12 from the field and 3-8 from deep, but showed a confident swagger that can be infectious when he gets hot and his teammates start splashing a few of their shots too.
Stay After School:
Rebounding: Stop me if you've heard this one before - Syracuse had trouble rebounding out of the 2-3 zone. I know, it's hard to believe, but it's true. Even against a Dolphin pod which started no one taller than 6'6", SU and Le Moyne were tied at 19 total rebounds at halftime and the Orange only ended up winning the board battle by a measly four. I know it's tougher to rebound out of a zone and blah blah blah, but no rebounds = no rings. I think Coleman will help out with that once he gets back into the swing of things, but SU is going to need all five players rebounding on every possession if they have any hopes of scratching and clawing their way to some upsets in conference play.
Taco Time: I found out during the game that earlier in the day they changed Taco Time from 75 points, where it had stood for all of eternity, to 70 points. Great. Just another example of our society getting soft. This never would have happened if Doc Gross was still alive. What other sacred traditions can we defile? Wait, don’t answer that…
Final Grade: A-
All three freshmen looked good in their Carrier Dome debuts. They brought some energy and enthusiasm to the lineup that was missing over the past couple of seasons. Tyler Lydon's rare blend of height, athleticism, and skill is going to make him a fan favorite sooner than you think, and Frank Howard's ability to play both guard spots will be extremely valuable should veterans like Joseph and Trevor Cooney stumble as we've seen in years past.
I also think the return of Coleman is a feel-good story that shouldn’t be understated. The guy basically lost two years of his career to injury, and had fought his way back onto the floor. Every game is a gift for him. It should be for us too.
For additional commentary on the game and Jim Boeheim's postgame news conference visit my Twitter feed @JeremyRyan44.