On the Bench:
A key off-season issue revolves around the coaching staff. Will it remain intact, or change up as it has several times over the last few years? Is Bernie Fine itching to head south and see his son play at Jacksonville? Will Mike Hopkins gain interest from other schools once the coaching carousel hits maximum RPM? If either (or both) of these coaches leave, who will be in line to replace them? Would Boeheim look for a new big man coach to tutor his inconsistent inside players? These are all difficult questions that won't be answered until well into the summer.
Backcourt: Without question, the most immediate difference between this season and next will be the absence of Gerry McNamara. The scrappy Scrantonite has been a mainstay in the Orange lineup, playing more minutes over the last 4 years than any other player in the school's history. The Orange(men) will undoubtedly miss his never-say-die attitude and his ability to hit clutch shots. McNamara also proved to be the only member of the team who could consistently generate offense for his teammates. Consequently, his graduation will also fuel ample conversation on the topic of SU's next starting point guard.
On the surface, rising junior Josh Wright would appear to be the most likely candidate for the job. Wright was making significant contributions to the team early in the season, but a toe injury suffered before the Davidson game derailed him somewhat. His play throughout the second half of the season was sporadic. He made some key plays in wins over Rutgers and Connecticut, and scored 12 points in the NCAA tourney loss against Texas A&M. But Wright was equally as likely to look lost and frustrated, and his inability to set-up his teammates for scoring opportunities has clearly vexed head coach Jim Boeheim.
It would seem that the primary alternative to Wright is rising sophomore Eric Devendorf. Boeheim put the ball in Devendorf's hands an awful lot in the second half of the season. Eric showed the ability to get into the paint and make things happen, but most of the time he looks for his shot first. He should be able to step into a bigger scoring role next year, but like Josh Wright, Devendorf also has trouble keeping his teammates involved.
The wildcard in this discussion is incoming freshman Paul Harris, an explosive 6-4 athlete whose game defies normal basketball convention. On the one hand, he is the epitome of power – he rebounds, defends, and attacks the glass like a player half a foot taller. On the other hand, he is deadly in transition with his ballhandling, pinpoint passing, and ability to drive to the basket. I have had the pleasure of seeing Harris compete on 4 occasions, and I can say without reservation that he's an excellent passer in the open court, a tremendous rebounder, and one of the best all-around defenders I've ever seen in the high school ranks.
High praise, but none of it helps to answer the key question here: what position is he going to play (and more importantly, can he run the point)? Unfortunately, I'm not sure that I have an answer to that. In the 4 games I've seen Harris play, he's averaged 14.3 ppg, 18.7 rbg, and 8.0 apg. The assist totals are wonderful for a player who isn't always the primary ballhandler, but it's important to point out that almost all of them have come in transition. I haven't really seen him run a half-court offense, so it's difficult to tell at this point if these gaudy passing numbers will follow him to Syracuse.
Two other players figure into the backcourt mix next season: rising senior Louie McCroskey and rising sophomore Andy Rautins. McCroskey is coming off a turbulent junior season (no need to rehash here), and with Harris coming in, it's hard to see where he fits in next year. Rautins turned in a pretty successful rookie season considering that there were virtually no expectations surrounding his recruitment. He is the type of player that Boeheim likes – confident in his shot, heady on defense, and smart with the basketball. My gut feeling is that he steps into a bigger role next year, especially considering how much the team is going to miss McNamara's 100+ three-pointers.
With the apparent logjam in the backcourt, it wouldn't be a complete surprise if one of the returning trio (Wright, Devendorf, and McCroskey) isn't back next season. This is the last I'm going to say about potential transfers, as it's unfair to speculate more without talking directly to the players. In any event, it is rather difficult to get a good feel on the Syracuse backcourt next year. Replacing McNamara's passing and shooting may prove difficult for the returning players, but they certainly offer a lot of versatility and potential.
Join us tomorrow for a sneak peak at the '06-07 SU frontcourt.