The Syracuse Orange football program did not play last weekend as they (hopefully) took advantage of one of its two regular-season bye weeks to turn things around before Big East Conference play starts with a Friday night, Oct. 5, contest against the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers (7 p.m. on ESPN) .
Because there was nothing sexy to write about concerning the football team, which currently is 1-3 overall and is coming off an uninspiring loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, I figured this would be a good time to catch up with the Orange men's basketball team that tips off in less than five weeks -- an exhibition contest against Pace University.
To do this, I decided to look at the roster and update any of the latest news on each of the key returning players, and express some of my opinions. Here's the breakdown in numerical order.
1 -- Michael Carter-Williams (6-foot-7, 200 pounds), Soph., PG
Carter-Williams was the typical greenhorn punching bag for head coach Jim Boeheim last season. Like Dion Waiters before him, Carter-Williams saw a lot of bench time during his rookie season despite having more raw talent than players ahead of him -- Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche.
As an incoming McDonald's All-American, Carter-Williams played in 26 of SU's 37 games and averaged just 10.3 minutes per game -- numbers not typical of an incoming five-star recruit.
The frustrations of not playing boiled over a few times, as Carter-Williams was seen lipping back at Boeheim after being scolded and benched. The attitude may have earned him a spot in Boeheim's doghouse, but the former rookie said to HoopsWorld.com's Yannis Koutroupis earlier this September that it was a good for him.
"I think it humbled me a lot," Carter-Williams told HOOPSWORLD. "It was a great learning experience for me. There was a lot of frustrating times. That was probably the lowest I’ve been in my career. My confidence was bouncing around. It’ll help me stay strong for this season, knowing things can be worse and to stay strong and be a leader."
This season, Carter-Williams will more than likely begin the season as the Orange's starting point guard or the second option off the bench if Boeheim decided to start Triche at No. 1 and shooting guard Trevor Cooney at No. 2.
Though, his overall role has yet to be determined Carter-Williams says he has worked hard in the offseason and knows what his expectations are entering this year.
"My offseason was good. I put in a lot of work on the little things in my game trying to perfect everything," Carter-Williams said. "Coming into my sophomore season I think I’m going to bring leadership to the team and just make sure everyone else does what they’re supposed to do because if I don’t make everyone else shine then our team is never going to work so I think that’s my job. By me doing that I think I’ll be doing what I need to do.
This season, Carter-Williams should play between 25-33 minutes per game and averaged 10 points and 4.5 assists per game. Best-case scenario, Carter-Williams makes a Waiters-like jump from freshman to sophomore year and averages near 12 ppg.
3 -- Jerami Grant (6-8, 203), Fr., F
The future of this four-star freshman recruit from Hyattsvill, MD is a bit uncertain entering the season. The chances are high Grant serves as a backup for the small and power forward positions, however, there's a slim chance, because of Syracuse's depth, he's given a redshirt. But if there's one thing college basketball enthusiast learned last season, its Boeheim is able to make a nine-player rotation work.
For those unfamiliar with Grant's high school playing days, he played at DeMatha Catholic, the most storied program in the Washington D.C. area, helping them to a 29-5 record.
Grant is regarded as a skilled offensive player that lacks the athletic build and explosiveness needed to be a top-tier recruit. However, 'Cuse fans have seen what Boeheim and Co. can do with untapped potential and that's what Grant could end up being.
The biggest offseason news surrounding the younger brother of Notre Dame starting point guard Jerian Grant, was a rumored growth spurt that added three inches to his overall height. However, the growth-spurt rumors were debunked by Grant earlier in September.
Overall, look for Grant to serve in a supporting role this season, but expect a few "wow" moments during early regular-season blowouts in which he plays in.
5 -- C.J. Fair (6-8, 215), Jr., SF
Remember how key Waiters, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine were to SU's success last season? Well, the trio of Fair, Triche and James Southerland will be called upon to fill those huge voids. And Fair is expected to be the player to breakout the most.
For the past two seasons, Fair has been 'Cuse's under-the-radar player as he's lived in the shadows of Joseph and Rick Jackson. Thanks to a new and progressing jumper, the Baltimore native averaged 26 minutes, 8.5 points and 5.4 rebounds last season, numbers that were better than his rookie year (18.6 mpg, 6.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg).
Fair's sophomore season featured eight times as many 3-point shots (24) than his rookie stint (three), and that trend is expected to continue as SU will need him to not only rebound on the wings but spread out an opponents' defense with a mid-range jumper -- something Joseph could do constantly.
Over the summer (July 6-8), Fair participated in the Lebron James Skills Academy, a camp that showcases top high school and college players, and showcased his ability to knock down the mid-ranger jumper, says NBADraft.net's Aran Smith.
Fair was a player that really helped his stock during the LeBron Camp. He showed the ability to knock down mid-range shots and his run/jump athleticism in the open floor is elite. He's a tweener, lacking great perimeter skills but with good strength he could be a good tweener. He may be able to play both forward positions, despite the fact that he's under 6'8. His body strength and leaping ability combined with his intensity make him a beast around the basket.
After the camp, Fair talked to Coast 2 Coast Hoops and admitted Boeheim expects him to step-it-up this season.
"He told me I need to up my production," said Fair. "I think I am ready for that. I guess, I am going to be the main focus of the team, so I just gotta be prepared for each game."
10 -- Trevor Cooney (6-4, 195), So., SG
The biggest offseason question I get from Syracuse hoops fans is: How good is that Cooney kid?
My response always is, "Not as big of a player maker as Gerry McNamara but he's possibly a better shooter. So, real good."
The fact Syracuse could redshirt ESPNU's No. 64-best player in the Class of 2011 says a lot about the talent on last season's squad. However, that depth allowed Cooney one solid year of working with assistant coach Gerry McNamara and prepared himself to fill the jump-shooting shoes of Waiters and Joseph.
If there's one thing the Orange lacked last season, it was a player that could constantly knock down 3s and Cooney should immediately fill that hole.
The good news, that's not the only thing Cooney can do says Post-Standard writer Mike Waters.
The 6-foot-4, 188-pound Cooney is known as a shooter, but he brings much more than an accurate outside shot. He's gained a lot of strength and he's athletic enough to throw down 2-handed slams. He'll be very important to the Orange's success this season.
12 -- Baye Moussa Keita (6-10, 215), Jr., C
Keita was the Syracuse player that regressed the most last season as his playing minutes fell from 14.6 per game during his freshman season to 12.3 last year. However, Keita's downward trend wasn't all his fault.
A lot of times last season, the Senegal native was either dealing with an injury or lack of constant playing time because Rakeem Christmas and Fab Melo were playing well. Keita seemed to finally find a rhythm once Melo left the team for good, as he tallied a season-high 10 rebounds and four blocks in SU's Elite 8 loss to the Ohio St. Buckeyes.
Keita will never be asked to anchor the Orange's center spot but Boeheim will expect solid play when he's filling in for either Christmas and newcomer DaJaun Coleman.
If Keita can return to his freshman form (2.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg and 1.2 blocks per game) and produce in his limited minutes than that will be huge for Syracuse, which is trying to replace probably the best shot blocker in the country with three bodies.
20 -- Brandon Triche (6-4, 210), Sr., PG
Despite all the focus on the Melo-drama or Waiters' star power last season, SU's Achilles' heel ended up being the disappearance of its senior leader, Kris Joseph, during crunch time.
No one will ever downplay how much Joseph's leadership and talent meant to the Orange's record-setting run of 34 victories, but 2011-12 will always be known as the what-could-have-been season. And Joseph's no show (11 points, one rebound in 37 minutes) in SU's Elite 8 contest against the Buckeyes will always be there.
Because of Joseph's short comings, Triche will enter the season with more fan pressure on him than initially thought. Just like Joseph, everybody has seen Triche's untapped potential as he has all the tools to be the team's alpha dog.
However, there's a creeping concern the local prospect from Jamesville-DeWitt will not find that fire or killer instinct Waiters found in his sophomore season -- because lets be honest, that's what separates a player from being a top 5 NBA Draft pick (like Waiters) from a late-second rounder (like Joseph).
This season, Triche could provide both veteran leadership and intensity needed to elevate his team to the next level. And according to Triche, who recently spoke with ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan, he's ready for the challenge.
I’m definitely ready. Scoop and Kris prepped me to be in this position. I learned a lot from those guys and in high school, I was pretty much the go-to guy my whole time so it’s not like it’s new. I’m more of a leader by action, not so much verbal. I’m working on being more verbal. What I’ve found out is the guys on this team are willing to listen. That’s half the battle, having guys who trust you. You have to have that inner circle behind you or it doesn’t work and I have that here.
25 -- Rakeem Christmas (6-9, 242), Soph.,C/PF
Because Jim Boeheim and Co. aren't always able to convince recruits to come to the sunny, seaside, beach town of Syracuse, NY, the Orange basketball program relies on developing prospects that other schools look over. The good thing, Boeheim and Co. are very, very good at doing just that.
Boeheim's three most recent projects that went from scarecrows to national juggernauts were Hakim Warrick, Rick Jackson and Fab Melo. Though, it took Warrick and Jackson three to four seasons to become "the guy" it took Melo just one offseason.
The progress of Melo from his freshman season to sophomore year was amazing. The 7-foot Brazilian transformed from the smallest, most fragile big man in the Central New York area, to a force that wreaked havoc on the Big East Conference.
And though, Christmas' first season was inconstant (2.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 0.81 blocks per game) it was slightly better than Melo's first go-around (2.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg and 0.75 bpg).
And because history always repeats (right?), the Philadelphia native is expected to make a bigger leap than Melo -- I believe that will be the case (heck, I've been saying it since last season so why back down now?).
During the offseason, Christmas hit the gym to get stronger and quicker. But its still unclear if Christmas answered his biggest question heading into this season: Did he get tougher?
As much as a physical transformation helped Melo morph into a shot-blocking monster, it was really his confidence and attitude that brought everything together.
After almost every press conference last season, Boeheim always said the same thing about Christmas, "he's too nice," and the difference between him being an OK player to being a very good one was a mean streak.
Last season, Christmas rotated from playing power forward to taking over the center spot when Melo was deemed ineligible. He has admitted he prefers playing center over forward, but SU's newest additions could claim that spot...
32 -- DaJuan Coleman (6-9, 288), Fr., C/PF
... Enter SU's newest and possibly most key addition of the 2012 offseason -- because if there's one way to fill a big void like Melo's, its plugging in a center that's ready to contribute right away.
To many, Coleman will enter the season as the son of former Syracuse superstar Derrick Coleman. But for those who know what's going on, this local prospect is not that, but instead he's a Dickie V diaper dandy.
The McDonald's All-American comes to SU at a perfect time, as not only is the center position up for grabs but Coleman will make Syracuse's weak spot last season, rebounding, a major focus.
The biggest concern surrounding Coleman is his size, as he's been known to be a bit overweight which leads to laziness. However, the latest reports from the Syracuse Post-Standard say Coleman is slimmer than ever.
I checked with SU officials about the weight listed for Coleman and was assured that 288 was an accurate measurement taken earlier this month. I asked because Coleman has never looked leaner (aside from his eighth-grade playing days at Fowler High School, when he was pencil-thin). And SU coach Jim Boeheim said last week that Coleman has significantly reduced his body fat from the start of the summer.
What will decided if Coleman starts at the 5 or 4 will be his ability to adapt to the college game, says head coach Jim Boeheim.
"That remains to be seen. You never can predict what a freshman’s going to do. You have to wait and see just what they’re really capable of."
43 -- James Southerland (6-8, 215), Sr., SF
The SU player with the least pressure on him entering the year is Southerland. Despite being asked to be one of the two players to somehow replace the production of Joseph, the 6'8, 215 pound forward is just expected to keep doing what he's been doing for the past four seasons -- improve his game a bit in the offseason, make open 3-point shots and contribute on the boards.
At times last year, Southerland did all of this extremely well, however, he was also good at doing a Houdini act. Some of that wasn't all his fault considering SU had a lot of different options. But to help make up for the loss of a All-Big East selection, Southerland is going to need to produces a bit more than his 6.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg and make more than 33.6-percent from behind the 3-point arc.
If Southerland can do that, the Orange will be one step closer to being a Final Four contender.