MBB : Second time around: Coming off freshman campaigns, SU’s sophomores bring experience to roster

first_img Published on October 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm Comments Scoop Jardine can understand the expectations placed on the Syracuse basketball team heading into the new season. He gets why the experts are so high on the Orange in spite of a disappointing second-round NCAA Tournament exit last year.And while the fifth-year senior and his fellow upperclassmen, Kris Joseph and Brandon Triche, are major factors in the preseason hype, Jardine pointed out a different group that could be the key for SU this season.‘We’ve only lost one guy,’ Jardine said at SU men’s basketball media day Oct. 14. ‘That’s why a lot of people are saying we’re Final Four caliber. We’ve got everybody back. We’ve got our freshmen, now sophomores, knowing what it takes to win in the Big East and knowing what it takes to finish games. It’s going to be huge for those guys.’The one player SU lost was senior big man Rick Jackson, who averaged a double-double and was arguably the best inside presence in the Big East. And the sophomore class features four players who shined at times last year, but served more as role players during their freshman seasons.Entering the 2011-12 season, though, Syracuse will look to rely heavily on sophomore centers Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita to fill the void created by Jackson’s graduation. Their classmates, forward C.J. Fair and guard Dion Waiters, will also look to build on solid freshman seasons and increase their roles with a year under their belts.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text‘I think the key with these four guys is they all got to play last year,’ head coach Jim Boeheim said Oct. 14. ‘They all contributed. Obviously, Ricky Jackson is the biggest hole we have to replace, and that’s where the two big guys come in. They have to step up and do what Ricky did for us last year. C.J. and Dion played well last year, and you’d expect them to build on that.’After entering Syracuse as one of the top centers in his class and being named the Preseason Big East Rookie of the Year, Melo failed to meet expectations in his first season. He started 24 games but only scored 2.3 points and pulled in 1.9 rebounds per contest.Keita, on the other hand, largely surpassed expectations in his freshman season, even without major contributions on the offensive end of the floor. He averaged more minutes per game than Melo, grabbed 3.7 rebounds per game and finished second on the team with 43 blocks.The job of replacing Jackson appears likely to fall directly on the shoulders of the two sophomore centers. Rakeem Christmas, a 6-foot-9 freshman, could provide some help on the inside, but Boeheim expects his two sophomores to carry the load.Especially considering Jackson played a lot of minutes at center last year, with Melo and Keita adjusting to play at the collegiate level.‘In my experience, centers from freshman to sophomore years take big jumps,’ Boeheim said. ‘I think our centers will take big jumps this year and be much more effective. I think last year was a good learning experience, the fact that they got to play so much as freshmen.’For the Orange, the biggest question could be whether one of those two centers develops into a low-post scoring option. Jackson was a go-to scorer down low and ranked second on the team with 13.1 points per contest. He showed a knack for being able to create his own shot with moves on the inside.Neither Keita nor Melo showed much of an offensive skill set in the post last season. With Jardine, Joseph and Triche running the perimeter offense for Syracuse, adding a scoring option on the blocks would add another dimension for the Orange.‘I’ve been working on my offense and my defense,’ Keita said. ‘Everybody thinks I’m a defensive player. Yeah, I love playing defense but offense, too. Whatever coach (Boeheim) needs me to do, I will do it.’As for Fair and Waiters, their roles are expected to increase since their freshman year. Both served as a spark off the bench last year, with Fair primarily bringing a defensive presence and Waiters showing the ability to score the ball.Fair ranked third on the team with 3.8 rebounds per game, and he averaged the most playing time aside from the Orange’s top four options of Triche, Jardine, Joseph and Jackson. Fair also had a huge game with 16 points and nine rebounds against Pittsburgh, and he scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a standout performance against Rutgers.Waiters, on the other hand, scored double figures in seven different games off the bench, including a career-best 18 points in SU’s NCAA Tournament loss to Marquette. His ability to slash to the basket added an element that complemented the outside shooting of Triche and Jardine.In all, the four sophomores must provide reliable backup to the three-headed attack of Joseph, Jardine and Triche that will lead Syracuse this season. With their support, the team could be ‘Final Four caliber,’ as Jardine said. But without them, another short postseason run is certainly possible.But they seem confident and ready for the challenge in 2011-12. And Waiters’ attitude entering this season summed up the expectations for himself and the rest of his classmates.‘I got a year under my belt,’ Waiters said. ‘I matured more. I still have maturing to do, but at the end of the day, I just feel like I could have gotten out there and done more. I feel like my opportunities were shorter than what I expected, but this year, it’s a different me, it’s a different team. And we’re just trying to do it.’zjbrown@syr.educenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more