Edelin will be key to season

Syracuse got good news right after the start of practice. Billy Edelin, who had been suspended for the fall semester for academic reasons, had his eligibility restored as the NCAA approved his request for a waiver.

Of course, Jim Boeheim probably has his backup plan ready, just in case.

Edelin's career at Syracuse has been nothing if not star-crossed. The mercurial guard rejoined and left the team multiple times last season, and the team made its run in the NCAA Tournament without him.

Ordinarily a player wouldn't be worth that kind of aggravation, but Edelin fills a key need for the Orange.

With Hakim Warrick in the middle and Gerry McNamara sharp-shooting on the wing, Syracuse has as potent of an inside-outside threat as there is in the game. Josh Pace and Craig Forth are steady contributors, and only Jeremy McNeil, the disappointing backup center, is gone from last year's team.

Sophomores Terrence Roberts, Demetris Nichols and Louis McCroskey can be expected to make more of a contribution in their second season, and the freshmen may be ready immediately as well.

But Edelin is the only real point guard on the roster, and a scoring threat to boot. With him in the lineup, McNamara has little ballhandling responsibilities and is totally freed up to get in position to shoot. Without him, McNamara's got to worry about bringing the ball upcourt.

Most experts predicted Syracuse to finish near the top of the Big East, and this was with the expectation of just half a season from Edelin. If he can make it from October to March without a hitch, the Orange may well be playing in April as well.


STRENGTHS: Is there a better inside-outside offensive combination in college basketball than Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara? This is a veteran team that won't be fazed by adversity and knows its roles.

WEAKNESSES: Not much depth at the point if Billy Edelin continues to battle personal issues. The bench was very average last year, and the sophomores will need to step it up.

LAST YEAR: 23-8 overall, 11-5 in the Big East; lost in NCAA tournament Sweet 16.

HEAD COACH: Jim Boeheim (career 676-234); 29th year at Syracuse (676-234).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We definitely realize that a lot of teams are going to key on us. I think it's our job to go out there and make our teammates better. They're going to go out there and help us out. This is not a two-man team. We have a lot of depth this year and I really think we're going to make a long run in the (NCAA) tournament." -- Power forward Hakim Warrick, on whether he and Gerry McNamara will be marked men this season.


SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Both freshmen will push the reserves for playing time. Dayshawn Wright is only 6-6, but is a brick wall in the paint. His court time may surprise observers early. Super-quick Josh Wright will provide an offensive spark.

KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: Dec. 7 vs. Oklahoma State -- The Orange face an early test against a physical team in the Jimmy V Classic. Hakim Warrick will definitely get pushed around, and if he reacts well, stays within himself and keeps out of foul trouble, that will bode well for the Orange's prospects of challenging for the conference crown.

PROGRAM DIRECTION: Ascending. Once again, Jim Boeheim has a crew capable of cutting down the nets. Few teams have a more dependable offensive duo than Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara, and if Billy Edelin can just stay with the team for the entire season, the Orange have a backcourt capable of doing real damage.

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Point guard Billy Edelin, shooting guard Gerry McNamara, center Craig Forth, power forward Hakim Warrick, small forward Josh Pace.

ROSTER REPORT: Look for sophomore Darryl Watkins to pick up significant minutes filling the role of backup center. ... Terrence Roberts shot just 36.2 percent from the floor last year, perhaps an all-time low for a forward. That number is expected to improve considerably. ... Edelin won't practice much with the team in the early going, even with the waiver -- school is his top priority as part of his academic recovery plan.

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