They are playing basketball in the Carrier Dome this afternoon. It's NFL Week 7 and I'm watching the Orange take on Cal State University at Los Angeles. The visitors coached by former SU great Stevie Thompson.
It is an exhibition game. It doesn't count, but it may start to answer some questions about the Orange. Not much being thought of from SU this year, as the top three scorers from last year are gone. Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris are all gone, so many expect that it will be hard for the Orange to duplicate its Sweet 16 showing of last season.
Still, the Orange has plenty of experience returning. With Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku, and Rick Jackson back, the Orange brings back three players who started plenty of games a season ago. Onuaku and Jackson should be one of the top inside combos in the country. Kris Joseph, who gained some experience last year, and 7 foot freshman Deshonte Riley should provide some depth up front.
Rautins is the sharpshooter the team will need. He will have to be a bit more consistent with the jumper this season. And how he performs without the outside shooting of Devendorf and Flynn on the floor remains to be seeen.
The Orange will look to either freshman Brandon Triche (he started today) or Scoop Jardine (back after last year's injury) to handle the point guard duties. Jardine looks in much better shape than he did two years ago, and has looked good in the playmaker role in this first half. Triche, the son of former Orange star Howard, comes with the reputation as a big point guard, who can score and run the show. These two might not have the flash or the flair of Flynn, but they will be adequate replacements.
The fifth starter will be Wesley Johnson. The transfer from Iowa State may actually be an improvement on the floor for the Orange. A 6-7 wing, he's got great athleticism, and a good jump shot with range. He needs to shake off the rustiness after the year off, but he averaged 12 points a game during his two years with the Cyclones.
Overall, I think there are a lot of people who are discounting this bunch, simply because the top three scorers from last year are gone. But examination beyond the "Who left" category shows that this could be a pretty good Syracuse basketball team. Certainly with the talent capable of getting through the first weekend of the Big Dance if not beyond. However, how they develop in the next several weeks will be a key. I'm excited to see how things transpire. There seems to be a sense of cautious optimism surrounding this group and after seeing one half of action (the Orange leads 44-19 at the break) its easy to see why.