Syracuse was given a vote of confidence coming into the 2013-14 season, when the Orange were ranked No. 8 in the AP preseason poll and picked to finish second to Duke in the ACC. And, to be honest, you have to give those prognosticators credit. Based on what we saw from this program in 2012-13, there would seem to be good reason to expect a top-10 performance and second-place finish from this latest edition of Syracuse.
After all, last season we watched a team that had just lost Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine go all the way to the Final Four. Why should it be any tougher for this season's team to replace Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland?
That's a very good question, and at first glance it might appear that Syracuse hasn't missed a beat. Jim Boeheim's team is 4-0 and still ranked in the top 10 as it prepares to face Minnesota in the Maui Invitational (Monday at 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN). Then again, winning home games against Cornell, Fordham, Colgate and St. Francis was expected of this team. The question going forward is whether the Orange can uphold a somewhat overlooked but very vital tradition: maintaining a top-notch offense.
You know all about Syracuse's impressive defense, and you saw that D in all of its glory last March in the NCAA tournament as it pummeled the previously impressive offenses of Indiana and Marquette. But what you may not know is that the Orange offense has been very good in recent years as well. In each of the past four seasons, Syracuse has finished either first or fourth in points scored per possession in Big East play. Future NBA players like Wes Johnson, Waiters and Carter-Williams have passed through the program and allowed Boeheim to put teams on the floor that were excellent on both sides of the ball.
I have little doubt that a rotation with the likes of C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman, Jerami Grant and Baye Moussa Keita will be able to defend -- there is a lot of length and athleticism in that group. I did wonder coming into the season, however, where the points would come from with this particular roster.
It's still fair to wonder that. Syracuse's shooting from the field in its first four victories has been very ordinary: 47 percent on the team's frequent 2s, and just 32 percent on its rare 3s. That hasn't mattered to this point because of huge advantages achieved by the Orange in the areas of free throw attempts and turnovers. It may matter soon, however, as the level of competition improves.
If there's a featured scorer in this bunch, the job may fall to Fair due to sheer seniority. The 6-foot-8 senior is new to that role, however, and when he was brought to Syracuse in the same recruiting class as Waiters and Fab Melo, it wasn't necessarily with the expectation that he'd develop into a featured scorer. (Much less the featured scorer. Here's one scout's assessment from October of 2009: "Offensively he projects as more of a role player in the Big East.")