Welcome back to the Syracuse basketball roundtable! After two games, we still don't have a firm grasp of this team, except for the fact that they're unbeaten and are certainly not Boston College (thankfully). So in the interest of diving in deeper to get some answers, we all got together for a chat.
As is and will be the norm all season, we're chatting about Syracuse basketball, the ACC and anything else that might come up in the never-ending soap opera that is Jim Boeheim's Orange team. Join us below...
You okay, C.J. Fair?
Chris Daughtrey: Not sure if I know what this question means. CJ's been fine as far as I can tell. He's scoring at will, which the Orange will need him to do until the rest of the team can gel. He's had a lot of TOs, but that's to be expected early and with the added play-making responsibility. CJ is good.
Lisa Nelson: Meh - he's fine. He's just adapting and workin' some kinks out. Part of me also thinks he might be trying to live up to everyone's expectations. Already. And all at once. It's a great attitude, C.J., but mistakes happen when you try too hard. Take my advice: keep calm and 2-3 zone.
Matt McClusky: Fair will be fine. Actually, while he hasn't been too "C.J. Fair-ish" so far, he has put up some points and been active on defense. Death, taxes, C.J. Fair. He'll adjust to the new guys.
Jeremy Ryan: He's fine. He just set a new career high in scoring Tuesday night. His turnovers are a slight concern, but I think he's adjusting to handling the ball more, and his role as the team's primary scoring option. I also think he's pressing a little too hard and trying to do things that are slightly out of his comfort zone. I think by the time the ACC portion of the schedule rolls around he'll have settled down and gotten into a nice groove.
Dan Lyons: I sure hope CJ's okay. Through two games, his scoring has been great. I don't think he'll average 20+ points through a full season, but it's nice to see him dominate lesser competition on that end of the floor. I know there are some concerns with his turnovers, but I think that mostly stems from him figuring out being "the guy" on the team, and being more aggressive on offense. He should have a great season, and will only get more comfortable handling the ball and creating for himself.
Sean Keeley: John, I'm not C.J. Fair. But I'll answer for him. Yes…yes I'm fine. I'm allowed to work some kinks out early in the season and get my legs under me. Because all that really matters is that I've got it come February and March. And trust me, I will.
John Cassillo: He's fine. I just wanted to see how everyone else would react to questions about him through two games (the answer: not amused). As was covered in the responses above, the turnovers are a bit of a concern, but outside of that, scoring's been positive and defense has been everything you'd want it to be. As long as he continues to improve over the course of the season, he's quite alright.
Who is the "leader" of this Orange team?
CD: Gonna have to go with Baye Keita. CJ is the "lead by example" type. I'm not sure Ennis has fully seized the reigns yet. Keita has the energy, passion and seniority. He's the guy.
LN: My gut said Fair because he's the go-to guy, and we can't win without him. But I feel like leaders also energize their team. I don't mean making a flashy play and bringing the house down, although that doesn't hurt, but they rally the troops. I've seen a lot of that from Baye Keita and even Trevor Cooney. Can I choose three?
MM: Fair is the big-gamer who will do what it takes when absolutely needed, but as far as a focal-point-on-offense leader? At this point, it could be Trevor Conney, Tyler Ennis, or even, dare I write, Rak Christmas! We'll have to wait a few more games to find that out.
JR: Usually it's the best all-around player, but I don't think Fair is a vocal or demonstrative person by nature. I think Baye Keita is the role model that the other players need to emulate. He plays hard, embraces his role, has plenty of experience, and is unquestionably the best defender on the team. He's also known to have a colorful personality and great sense of humor, which are good qualities for a leader to have to keep the locker room loose over the course of a long season.
DL: CJ seems like a quiet leader, while Baye and, according to people who've seen the team live, Trevor Cooney seem to be more vocal guys on the team. This team is a bit older than other top squads, and a lot of these guys have played together for two or three years, so I think there should be some strong natural chemistry, and less of a need for an Andy Rautins or Scoop Jardine intense, vocal leader. Everyone on the team seems to know where they stand.
SK: I think by default that role is slowly going to go to Tyler Ennis. C.J.'s just not the kind of presence to take over in the huddle and I don't know if any of the big men command such a title. So I think the point guard becomes that guy by default. We've seen before with Jonny Flynn that a freshman can be that person.
JC: It should be Fair, shouldn't it? But I could buy into one of the younger guys -- Ennis, Cooney -- taking the lead and really guiding this team on the floor. Emotionally, C.J.'s stoic nature is great as a locker room presence and when the game is on the line. For the day-in, day-out on-the-floor leader however, I think it ends up being one of the guards.
As a fan base, has Syracuse become "spoiled" by the recent run of success?
CD: As I posted to in response to the first comment about being "spoiled", this treads dangerously close to the "gravy" discussion. I think that Syracuse fans are right to feel disappointed by anything less that Final Fours. I know it's unrealistic, but it's just as unrealistic for Duke fans or Kansas fans or Kentucky fans.
LN: No. They've just become louder. The team wasn't always this successful, and people who remember that aren't taking it for granted, that's all. They're enjoying the hell out of it, but they're also waiting for the other shoe to drop. You're not spoiled with that creeping into the back of your mind - you're appreciative.
MM: I wrote a little to this on Tuesday and I think it's true: Syracuse fans are spoiled. And there's nothing wrong with that, so long as everyone enjoys the ride. It's okay to expect a high seed and a long run in March, but if things go sour, don't ever forget what draws all of us to college hoops: the drama of the entire season.
JR: I suppose it depends on your definition of "success". 99% of the other programs in the country would love to trade places with SU. But if the Orange want to truly be an "elite" program, shouldn't they make it to more than one Final Four every ten years? Syracuse routinely finished at or near the top of the Big East, but I wouldn't call them dominant. This season, in a new conference, is the perfect time to cement their reputation as one of the top tier basketball schools year in and year out.
DL: Probably a bit, but I believe that this is part of taking that next step to being on of the truly elite programs in the nation. Right now, Syracuse is on the cusp of that standing, and I think that a large portion of the fanbase is really starting to itch for that second national title, with the near-misses in 2010, 2012, and this past season still fresh in our minds, and the fact that Jim Boeheim probably has to retire at some point. No matter what happens, Syracuse basketball has been a special program to follow over the last five or so years, and it's hard to complain much about the run that this program has had, even without a national championship since 2003.
SK: Yes, but we should be. We think Syracuse should be in the same breathe as Duke, North Carolina and Michigan State. As such, that requires success beyond what we've been used to. And it means while another Final Four is nice, we still demand more.
JC: I wouldn't even call it "spoiled." I'd say we're getting what we've rightfully deserved after years of teams that either weren't talented enough, or were, but just couldn't execute. I remember some very bad games as recently as the 2007-2008 season. We're not that far removed, but yet, it appears as if the entire culture of the program has shifted. If this isn't the new normal for Syracuse, there's going to be a lot of upset fans, though.
Most encouraging factor after the first two games?
CD: Tyler Ennis: 12 AST, 2 TO. This team will go as Ennis goes and, so far, he's shown the poise that we all hoped he'd have. A 6:1 ratio is a pipe dream, but if he can maintain it at 3 or 4 to 1, Syracuse will go far.
LN: There was a palpable boost in chemistry for the Fordham game. Maybe it was because Jerami Grant returned, and he and Fair feed off of each other so well. It was more than those two guys, though, and I think that proves my point - this feels like a team already, and that's a really good thing.
MM: I think it's encouraging for Syracuse fans to see Cooney hit some big shots when needed against Cornell, but the most reassuring take away may be the play of Michael Gbinije. Syracuse is dangerously thin in the backcourt and Gbinije has proven to be, at the very least, a competent option off the bench for Jim Boeheim.
JR: I would say the play of Michael Gbinije. I haven't mentioned him in any of my game recaps, but he has been a solid contributor off the bench at both guard spots. I still expect Tyler Ennis to end up with the lion's share of playing time at point guard, but if Gbinije can allow Ennis to rest for even ten minutes a game I think it will pay off huge for both of them down the road.
DL: This team seems to be able to beat opponents in a number of ways. The first game was all about Trevor Cooney bombing Cornell out from deep, while in game two Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis made bigger impacts. DaJuan Coleman also got into the action against Fordham. C.J. Fair has been a steady scoring presence throughout. I don't think this is a team that can be shut down by taking away one guy - there are too many players with unique skillsets, and the coaches and players should continue to find ways to blend them together as we near ACC play.
SK: Different guys stepping up when needed. It seems to be a yearly story for Syracuse that it's a collection of solid players that may or may not show up on any given evening. The better SU teams are the ones that always have someone step up to counter the person who isn't.
JC: Everyone seems to understand the team concept, and are happy to get out of the way when one player gets hot. That hasn't been much of an issue over the past couple years either, but it's good to see them picking up right where they left off. Definitely like what we saw out of Jerami Grant in just the one game. I know we always talk about the "leap" one of our centers usually makes from year to year, but non-center Grant could be the player that ends up improving the most compared to last season.
Most disconcerting thing you've seen through two games?
CD: Not that I got to see it but, from what I gather, the defense from the younger guys in the second half against Fordham. Now, are those guys gonna play many (if any) crunch time minutes against big time opponents? Probably not. But from what I've heard, the issue was lack of effort, not lack of execution, which needs to be fixed immediately.
LN: Free throws. (Preemptive apologies. I went a little Rain Man on this one.) Syracuse hit 66.7 and 69 percent in the first two games. Free throws are crucial, so this needs to improve before we start playing with the big kids. FYI, Duke was 73.9% last year, and another squad was 71.5%. I won't name the team, but it looks like FTs are how they'll get back in this.
MM: It's the same ole same ole: Syracuse's inability to put together two solid halves of basketball. A no-show in the first half of game one was followed by everyone falling asleep in the second half of game two. This isn't new for Syracuse, and who can blame the players for not going a full forty against the likes of Cornell and Fordham. But consistency will be needed soon, very soon.
JR: As a young team, Syracuse has had trouble keeping their collective foot on the gas for a full 40 minutes. They started out slow versus Cornell and coasted in the second half of the Fordham game. Better teams will be able to quickly mount comebacks if the Orange don't sustain their intensity for an entire game, especially on the defensive end. But that will come with time, experience, and coaching. They may even need to give up a big lead and take a loss in order to have the point driven home, but that's one of those mistakes that you typically don't make twice.
DL: It's hard to get too worried about anything after only two games and two comfortable wins, but the team hasn't put together a great full 40 minutes of basketball yet. Cornell came out hot in the first game while Fordham more or less outplayed Syracuse on Tuesday. The 2010 team, and to a slightly lesser extent, the 2012 team went out and buried every over matched opponent. This year's squad isn't quite there yet, but again, it's not really a concern this early on, especially with four freshman and other young guys who are really learning the ins and outs of Boeheim's offense and the 2-3 zone getting so much time.
SK: Lack of a dominating performance from the bigs. Coleman had a solid game the other night but I just want to see him or Rak just absolutely dominate and scare people the way Fab Melo (briefly) did.
JC: Free throws and rebounds. And that's against two sub-par teams. What happens against real competition? If we can't lock down those two elements of the game (which seem to be struggles annually), things are not going to go as well as we'd planned.
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