Of the three positional groups, the guards by far have the most variables going into the start of the season. We know SU lost 25 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds, not to mention a boatload of experience, when Brandon Triche graduated and Michael Carter-Williams turned pro. So how will the Orange fill such a glaring void?
Let’s start with Tyler Ennis. The 6'2" suburban Toronto point guard (by way of St. Benedict’s prep in New Jersey) has been handed the keys to the SU offense, and will get as much court time as he needs to work out the kinks in his game. Ennis is the only true point guard on the roster, and Jim Boeheim is on record as saying Ennis will get all the minutes he can handle this season. Ennis has already been compared to MCW, his predecessor, but I think a more apt comparison will be Jonny Flynn, another point guard who was known to log iron man minutes in his freshman season. Boeheim has praised Ennis for his steadiness and knowledge of the game, and has pointed out Ennis’ ability to create for both himself and his teammates. I don’t believe Ennis is as gifted of a scorer as Flynn, nor quite the passer that MCW is, but if he can find his own niche somewhere in the middle I think he’ll be a great asset to SU from day one.
The big question is who will start next to Ennis on opening night. By many accounts Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije are neck and neck for the starting nod, and each brings something different to the table. Cooney is as close to a pure shooter as the Orange have, and SU fans have been waiting to see that shooting on a consistent basis for a couple of years. He had a couple of bright moments last year – let us not forget the Big East Tournament game vs. Georgetown – but for the most part his legend has been far greater than his output. That needs to change this year, and I think it will. Cooney told me at media day that he’s in better shape and played a lot of ball this summer, including a stint in a Philadelphia pro-am league. He says he worked a lot on his point guard skills, but still prefers to play shooting guard and knows he has to make shots this year in order for the team to succeed.
Gbinije may not be the shooter Cooney is, but he has other skills that will earn him plenty of floor time. At 6’7", Silent G is at least three inches taller than Cooney (I’ve stood next to Trevor and I’m not sold on him being 6’4") and a bit more athletic. He’s tailor made for the top of the 2-3 zone, which is probably one of the reasons Boeheim brought him in from Duke. Gbinije played point guard in practice while he redshirted last season, and will likely slide over to the 1 if foul trouble or fatigue send Ennis to the pine. So there should be plenty of minutes for both this year.
As for who will start? My money is on Cooney – at least on opening night. I think Boeheim will utilize Cooney as a spot up threat, to open spacing for Fair and Ennis to penetrate and Coleman to work in the post. I think Gbinije will come off the bench as a high-energy slasher/defender at either guard spot, and both he and Cooney will end up with around 25 minutes a game in the early part of the season. But I also think that Boeheim will not hesitate to employ a quick hook on his starter if he doesn’t like what he sees, along the lines of what we have seen him do to Fab Melo, Rakeem Christmas, and Dajuan Coleman in the past.
The X-factor of the group is freshman Ron Patterson. At 6’2" and 200 pounds, the Indianapolis native already looks like he is mature enough physically for major college basketball. But where he fits in on this year’s team is up for debate. He is certainly the fourth guard on the roster, and will be the first one to see his minutes diminish when Boeheim makes his customary cuts to the rotation around the start of the conference schedule. But he has a chance to impress with his athleticism, energy, and defense, not unlike what Jerami Grant brought to the team as a reserve forward last year. In time Patterson may turn out to be a major contributor for the Orange, but I’m not sure he should expect much more than spot duty in his rookie year.
Wednesday: The Forwards
Thursday: The Centers
Friday: Holy Family exhibition recap