CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 18: Scoop Jardine #11 of the Syracuse Orange pumps his fist during the second half against the Indiana State Sycamores during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 18, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Behind a late 19-4 run the Syracuse University men's basketball program finished its exhibition season Tuesday night with a 87-69 victory over the College of Saint Rose at the Carrier Dome. In just four days, the Orange, ranked No. 5 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls, will begin its quest for its fifth Final Four appearance and possible second NCAA National Championship.
To SU basketball fans, those last 14 words were probably pretty heavy. However, this season, Syracuse has a lot of heavy expectations -- and whether head coach Jim Boeheim likes it or not -- which includes contending for a national title.
Now, I'll be honest. I hate preseason basketball. Especially, since there are 30-plus regular season games to pick apart. Add two more meaningless games that fans and experts get a chance to dissect and it's enough -- for a guy like me who doesn't like to look into things too much and take a season game-by-game -- to pull his hair out.
But, with that said, there were some things that I did take out of SU's two preseason games. So, here they are.
Fab Melo Is Progressing
Last year, Melo slowly -- at a snails pace -- developed into a player Boeheim could use. Now, with Rick Jackson gone, everyone was curious how the sophomore center, listed at 7-foot-0, 244-pounds, would progress during the off-season. The answer: pretty well.
In the two preseason games, Melo averaged 19.5 minutes, three blocks, 10 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. But, most importantly, Melo's floor presence -- knowledge of: where to stand, how to slid in the 2-3 zone, how to make his own shot -- has greatly improved. Boeheim credited a lot of this to Melo's conditioning, which was, at best, mediocre last season.
On Tuesday, Melo found himself in some very early foul trouble, but, somehow, played his way out of it -- last season, that would have not happened.
"I think he understands what he shouldn’t do," Boeheim said after Tuesday night's victory. "And that first foul was silly because we aren’t screening out that far trying to get a shot. I thought he was much better in what he needs to do."
Scoop Jardine Could Be SU's Best Player
This season, this will be a common theme of mine: "(senior point guard) Scoop Jardine is good, really good, and those who hate him need to back off because without him SU is not going anywhere."
So many times, this preseason Jardine showed that flash of greatness that SU will need during the season. Don't be surprised if Boeheim allows Jardine to become the go-to man and tries to get senior guard Kris Joseph to sit back and become the side kick -- a role, I think, Joseph is best suited for.
Don't Be Surprised If The Two McDonald's Freshman Play Little Minutes In Regular Season
It clear that freshman forward Rakeem Christmas may get the start a majority of the time over sophomore C.J. Fair and junior James Southerland. But, Christmas, a McDonald's All-American, will not be on the floor for too long.
In both preseason games, Christmas got the start but played a 16.5 mpg, while veterans Fair (20.5 mpg) and Southerland (14 mpg) saw a lot of the floor.
"Obviously, they are not ready to be out there and it’s fortunate that they are not because they won’t be out there all the time," said Boeheim after SU's 79-49 victory over Cal State Los Angeles, Nov. 1. "But, they’re good players. They are playing behind guys that are more experienced and probably better players. I think Michael can play and I think Rakeem (Christmas) helps us.
At the beginning of the season, I expect Christmas to start, but his minutes will dwindle, while Southerland's will increase. Now, depending on Southerland's play and how well Christmas progresses, will be the determining factor on playing minutes as the season moves along -- like I said, there's a long way to go.
For now, that's all I have on Syracuse basketball. On Saturday, the Orange will begin their 2011-12 season by hosting Fordham University at 4 p.m. at the Carrier Dome. SU will need to be careful as, last year, the Rams stunned NCAA-Tournament bound St. John's in an early-season match up.
SB Nation New York will be blogging live from press row Saturday at the Carrier Dome. Be sure to check back for a complete Syracuse Vs. Fordham StoryStream that will have pre- and post-game articles. Follow along on Twitter at SBNationNY or JaredSmithCNY.