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Early departures of Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant will force Syracuse's freshmen to step up

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger
Syracuse's Jerami Grant (3) walks off the court after their loss to North Carolina State in a quarterfinal NCAA college basketball game at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 14, 2014. North Carolina State won 66-63
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Syracuse's Jerami Grant (3) walks off the court after their loss to North Carolina State in a quarterfinal NCAA college basketball game at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 14, 2014. North Carolina State won 66-63. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

What happens when the three leading scorers are removed from a Syracuse program that already struggled to generate enough offense late last season?

We're about to find out.

Syracuse announced Monday that sophomore forward Jerami Grant will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and declare for the NBA draft. His decision ensures Syracuse will lose the core of this past season's 28-win team since All-ACC forward C.J. Fair is graduating and standout freshman point guard Tyler Ennis is also entering the NBA draft.

The departure of Grant is not a huge surprise since he showed enough promise while averaging 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds this past season to intrigue NBA scouts. Even with an inconsistent jump shot and little in the way of a back-to-the-basket game, Grant is a likely first-round pick this June thanks to his explosive athleticism, impressive wingspan and ability to make an impact on the glass and finish around the rim. 

Syracuse's chances of contending in the ACC next season took a significant hit with the loss of Grant considering how strong Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville all should be. In reality, it will be an accomplishment for the Orange to merely crack the top five in the league standings and comfortably return to the NCAA tournament for the seventh straight season.

The only double-digit scorer who will return from this past season is guard Trevor Cooney, a catch-and-shoot specialist who slumped badly in late February and March and still doesn't create much off the dribble even at his best. The Orange do not have a proven replacement for Ennis at point guard, nor do they have much depth or scoring punch in the frontcourt.

Either Duke transfer Michael Gbinije or incoming top 50 recruit Kaleb Joseph will be the heir apparent at point guard, with Joseph likely to be given every chance to win the job. Cooney and sophomore Tyler Roberson are the favorites to start at wing, with Gbinije serving as a sixth man for a second straight year.  

Defensive specialist Rakeem Christmas will anchor the frontcourt at center, but Grant's departure leaves the power forward spot up for grabs. One option is highly touted freshman Chris McCullough. The other is veteran DaJuan Coleman assuming he is able to recover from the leg injury that cost him the second half of last season.

In its six losses after a 25-0 start, Syracuse failed to shoot 40 percent from the field and became too reliant on Ennis and Fair for offense. Now with Ennis and Fair gone and the next-best scoring option also joining the exodus, the Orange will have to rely on young, unproven talent to maintain their defensive mastery yet fix the offensive woes. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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