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October 13, 2006

Will 'Cuse be even better without McNamara?

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Rivals.com has selected the Top 25 storylines for the upcoming 2006-07 college basketball season, and we will be releasing articles daily beginning today, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 25 storyline is the Post-McNamara Era starting at Syracuse.

Forgive Jim Boeheim if he looks a little lonely this season. The same goes for Syracuse fans and its players. They have a good excuse, although it won't draw any sympathy from the rest of the Big East.

The man they've relied on to hit one clutch shot after another in the last four years is gone.

Gerry McNamara, his eligibility exhausted, is playing professionally in Europe. He will go down as one of the best and most beloved players in Syracuse history and perhaps one of the best clutch players in college basketball history.

The 6-foot guard from Scranton, Pa., never missed a game, starting 135 consecutive contests, scoring 2,099 points and hitting a school-record 400 3-pointers.

But, anyone who saw the 2006 Big East Tournament knows McNamara's career wasn't about numbers. He put together a legendary run to carry the Orange to a shocking run to the title, filled with game-winning 3-pointers, game-winning assists and a long line of other heroics.

So how will a program that counted on one guy for so long respond without him? After all, with McNamara hobbled by a leg injury the Orange looked lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, trailing by double digits for most of the game and eventually fell to Texas A&M 66-58.

Senior power forward Demetris Nichols, one of four returning starters, believes the Orange will improve without their star.

"We are better than last year," Nichols told Rivals.com. "We have a lot more experience and different types of weapons and a lot of different combinations we can go with. We have a lot of expectations for ourselves."

Nichols is one of the biggest weapons and part of what may be the deepest and most experienced frontcourt in the Big East. The veteran was the second-leading scorer behind McNamara last season at 13.3 points a game.

Senior post players Darryl Watkins (6-11) and Terrence Roberts (6-9) each averaged more than seven boards a game.

There's also promising sophomore shooting guard Eric Devendorf, who emerged as a steady scoring force, scoring in double figures in 11 of the last 12 games.

Nichols' optimism isn't just founded on what's coming back, though. The Orange have also added a newcomer who is expected to make an immediate impact.

Versatile freshman guard Paul Harris (6-4, 220 pounds) from Niagara Falls, N.Y., was ranked the No. 12 overall prospect in the talent-laden class of 2006.

"Paul is definitely capable of starting and contributing right away," Devendorf said. "There's a tremendous amount of hype with him and you can't expect anyone to come in and put up Carmelo Anthony-type numbers, but he definitely is a tremendous talent. He can score, rebound and is comfortable playing three or four positions. It's tough to say where he will play because he can do so many things."

Regardless of where Harris winds up, expect the Orange to play at a faster pace. Junior Josh Wright will likely get the bulk of the minutes at point guard and he's a strong contrast to McNamara. Wright is known for his speed and is best suited for transition, which in some ways may be a better fit for his teammates.

"We are going to start to go up and down the floor more," Devendorf said. "We have the athletes to do it and I think Coach Boeheim sees as more of an up tempo team."

Still, just seeing the Orange without their longtime leader McNamara remains the biggest adjustment.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his weekly mailbag.

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