Syracuse Basketball Roundtable: What's Up With the Orange Big Men?

Nate Shron

TNIAAM's esteemed basketball panel dives into what's going on with the Syracuse bigs, while dealing with other important, Orange-related issues, too.

Welcome back to the Syracuse basketball roundtable! Syracuse had an interesting game against St. John's on Sunday, and it's opened up a whole host of new questions about this team -- most good, a few concerning. Also: SU's still undefeated and we hope it stays that way through Christmas and beyond.

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...

Are you troubled or encouraged by Syracuse's win over St. John's?

Chris Daughtrey: Encouraged. True, the Orange were totally outplayed for 15 1/2 minutes in the second half. But it wasn't that Syracuse played poorly. The Johnnies just played out of their minds during that stretch. This was the type of businesslike win that Syracuse has hung its hat on the last couple years. And that's what great teams do; absorb the opponent's bet shot, recover and then finish with a W.

Lisa Nelson: Both. It's encouraging that they won without firing on all cylinders. However, St. John's imploded at the end, which helped. Yes, Syracuse capitalized on it, but there's tougher competition to come. Teams like Villanova won't fall apart. If the Wildcats had been the opponent this time, I'm not sure the Orange would have pulled it off.

Matt McClusky: A win is encouraging, no matter what in my opinion. Add to the fact Syracuse beat a decent St. John's team with a no-show by Trevor Cooney and I think everyone should be pretty happy and relieved, truthfully. Plus, Tyler Ennis adding 21 points, to go along with his floor leadership, has to make Jim Boeheim all sorts of happy as the Orange get closer to ACC play.

Jeremy Ryan: Encouraged. SU went on the road (yes, on the road) against a former conference opponent who knows them well, and came home with a solid win. C.J. Fair showed, perhaps for the first time this year, that he deserves the preseason hype. Jerami Grant reminded us how much of a super freak he is. Tyler Ennis shook off a couple of rough plays to put together an all-around impressive game. St. John's is going to sneak up and surprise someone this season. Let's be happy it wasn't SU.

Dan Lyons: More encouraged than troubled for sure. I expect this to be a win that looks much better down the road than it does right now, as I see St. John's getting better and being a fringe-tournament at large team by March. They got a huge lift from Rysheed Jordan playing his first good game, and their gameplan to take Cooney out of the mix was great, and almost completely worked. I'm definitely encouraged by the playmaking that we saw from Ennis and Fair down the stretch. They both had really rough stretches during the Johnnies' big run in the second half, but both looked like go-to guys and leaders to close out the game.

Jared Smith: Encouraged. The fact that St. John's gave Syracuse its best shot and this "young" squad was able to hang in there and rally back to win on the road showed a lot. The Orange proved they can win a tough game if one of their four offensive weapons -- this time Trevor Cooney -- doesn't even score, and they did so with Tyler Ennis playing well and C.J. Fair being so clutch. Overall, fantastic win.

Sean Keeley: Encouraged. For all the jokes, it was a win on the road against a quality team that made a game out of it. You can complain about what SU didn't do in the second half but they also did comeback and earn the victory. Plenty of Syracuse teams before them have let a game like that slip away. It's still December and there are losses ahead, but this game was no ominous black cloud.

John Cassillo: Both. Encouraged by how well we played in the first half and in the final few minutes. Pretty concerned by how we played for an extended period in the second half where we were thoroughly outplayed by a very young St. John's squad. Granted, it could have gone much worse than it did, so in that regard, encouraged that for the second time this season, this SU team was faced with some challenges near the end of a game. And for the second straight time, they rose to the occasion.

In the history of "troll gods," Boeheim's certainly in any "top 10" conversation, right?

CD: I see what you're saying, but I don't know if I'd label Boeheim as a troll. Sure, he'll needle people just because he finds is amusing. But he doesn't really persist in the conversation after that. He lobs his thinly veiled insult and then moves on while everyone is up in arms about it. A true troll would keep feeding the fire and Boeheim doesn't really do that.

LN: Absolutely. The best part is, he probably doesn't think about what he's saying before he says it. Once it's out, he'll smile or make some "they'll like me a lot now in Clemson" comment to show he realizes what he just stirred up; but he makes no apologies. And it's great.

MM: Truthfully, I don't Boeheim does anything to get a reaction. I honestly think he just says his opinion and is genuinely shocked when there is some type of major negative reaction to it.

JR: In an era where coaches and players censor themselves for fear of making headlines for the wrong reason, I think it's refreshing to hear Boeheim's candor. He's the ultimate example of the guy who is old enough and accomplished enough to not give a crap with other people think about him. He's going to say what's on his mind. If that means once in a while he bruises some egos, so be it. Here's my question - He may not be the most tactful guy on Earth, but how often is he flat out wrong?

DL: I'm starting to think that Boeheim has pulled the wool over our eyes with this "I don't understand technology" thing and is probably a top commenter over on Syracuse.com.

JS: Yeah. The fact that he is always on the media for stuff he has read that he disagrees with is awesome. Many coaches just ignore little things, but not Jimmy B! Its great.

SK: Oh my God, he is a man amongst trolls. He's so effective because I'm not even sure he realizes he's doing it as he does it. And to be honest, I'm not even sure he realizes people outside of he and the interviewer know his words will be out there. Maybe he doesn't know how interviews work…

JC: Undoubtedly, and mostly because he's not even trying. The Carolina comment from the other day was based in fact. But his curmudgeonly presentation is what puts it over the top. Hate us, ACC. Please. We thrive on it.

Current Syracuse big men: Please discuss...

CD: I've said it a few times in various threads. The three Syracuse centers average about 12 points and 12 rebounds per game. What more do you want from your 5 spot in terms of production. Sure, it'd be awesome if one of them was a reliable low-post scorer, but that's not the case. Collectively, though, they get the job done and let's not forget. These are the same three that manned the middle for last year's Final Four squad. So it's not as if they're total scrubs back there.

LN: I have a theory -- the bigs weren't reliable the last season or two, so the offense stopped using them. This happened for so long that it became a habit to find ways to score without going inside. Ironically, the bigs are better now (Rak's shooting 72%, FYI), but it doesn't matter. They've been forgotten. Once the team snaps out of this and starts to look inside again, we'll see that the big guys can contribute.

MM: It's sadly more of the same, really. Both Coleman and Christmas have shown some moments of improvement but there is absolutely nothing consistent. And Keita's play looks like it's regressing. Basically, the middle of the lane is a quagmire and a major flaw for the Orange. The only good out of it is that all three do have major positive attributes on the defensive side -- anchors to what looks like another lock-down zone.

JR: The talent is there, and the improvement is palpable. They're just very slow to develop. SU's offense starts with the guards and ends with the forwards, and anything the centers contribute is gravy. Boeheim has said it himself. So when Coleman is able to drop in a couple of buckets early - like he did at St. John's - it's a bonus. If Christmas can block a couple of shots and finish a couple of dunks - it's a bonus. We know what we're getting from Keita. It's no secret that Boeheim will play the big men who rebound and work hard on defense. Any offense is really a bonus. It is somewhat maddening to know they CAN score, but for whatever reason they just can't do it consistently. But is that a center problem, or a guard problem? A big man can't score if he doesn't get the ball...

DL: I actually thought they looked decent against St. John's and Chris Obekpa, who is a terrifying defensive presence. He got his blocks, but Coleman and Christmas both did a really good job of backing him down and sealing him off. As Boeheim said this week, the guards and forwards have to continue looking their way as the game progresses when they get good position. As a group, they're still a big work in progress, but I've definitely seen encouraging flashes.

JS: So far, they're doing what they need to for Syracuse to win. Rakeem Christmas isn't an offensive threat, but he is playing pretty sold 2-3 zone defense, as he is blocking shots and collecting rebounds. Dajuan Coleman's offensive game has really developed, but he is hampered by not being able to move down the floor on defense. Coleman is just in there for the first few minutes to get a few buckets and rebounds and then get the heck out of there. Meanwhile, Baye is Baye. When he is asked to step up, he will. I have no problem with how these guys are playing as a trio.

SK: Of all the great things that Syracuse has improved on in the last 5-6 years, big men is the only area that hasn't quite taken off. Arinze was solid. RickJack was solid. Fab was solid for, like 20 games. But we haven't had a transcendent big man since…I don't know…Rony? Imagine this team with a dominant center…unstoppable.

JC: The held their own for part of the game, and as a total unit, do well enough to score points and collect rebounds. So, that's good. But we need more. And more importantly, we need this sort of play (or better) without the fouls. Christmas and Coleman get themselves in foul trouble seemingly every night -- and very early, too -- which does affect the game in a very negative way. Stop doing that, and we're looking much better.

Excited about 5-star recruit Malachi Richardson's arrival?

CD: I make it a point not to get excited about recruits until I actually see them play. I got lucky and was able to see Ennis in some real game action during the tour of Canada. But as far as Richardson goes, all I've seen is highlights. Apparently he's a great shooter, but so is BJ Johnson. So was Mookie Jones. Shooting won't get Richardson on the floor. Defense will. If he can defend well enough to get on the floor, then I'll be excited.

LN: Yes? At the moment, I only know two things: (1) he's 6'6"/190, so he'll probably grow into the prototypical 6'8"/200-ish Syracuse wing by the time he gets here; and (2) he picked SU over the likes of Indiana, Villanova, and Georgetown. Good man. Works for me.

MM: I never try to get too crazy about "big time" recruits, but I'll say, seeing a five-star commit, and given all the other good-gets the Orange coaching staff has gotten, is exciting. Who knows what the team will look like then? But I'm guessing it will look a lot like the other top-10 teams we've gotten used to seeing. The addition of Richardson is kind of more affirmation that those NIT days of the last decade are long gone.

JR: Sure. He seems to me to be a prototypical two-guard: tall, athletic, good shooter. A guy like that terrorizing offenses at one end and stretching defenses at the other? What's not to like?

DL: Very. Between his sharp shooting and his 6'10" wingspan, he's a really great fit at the top of the zone. The combination of Cooney, Silent G, Patterson, BJ Johnson, Ennis (if he's around), and Malachi is pretty terrifying from a defensive standpoint for 2015. The Syracuse elite recruiting train continues to roll.

JS: Yeah, I am always excited about five-star guys that commit super early. It always good to know you have holes plugged, so in case some other players decided to jump early to the NBA, you can target other top-teir recruits in recruiting class. The fact Syracuse already has two verbals for its '15 class, and they're pretty good player, is fantastic.

SK: I echo John's sentiment that day in saying I was no longer surprised to see a five-star player choose Syracuse from a list a elite programs. I kinda expect it now. Like any recruit, it's best not to get your hopes up too high. You never know...

JC: Sean already used my answer, but it's no less exciting to think about. Even from the time I first enrolled at Syracuse (in 2006), this program's come a very long way. I love watching their growth into a national power. And I hope that feeling never gets old.

What would you like the Orange to give you for Christmas (whether you celebrate the holiday or not)?

CD: An undefeated non-conference season. High Point, Villanova and Eastern Michigan round out the non-con slate before the new year starts. I'd like for the Orange to take a 13-0 record (knock on wood) into their first season of ACC basketball play.

LN: #BeatNova. That is all.

MM: The best presents would probably be staying healthy and avoiding controversy. Watch those ACLs and stay far away from the Charles Robinsons of the world.

JR: A great Villanova game. I love the continuation of these former Big East rivalries like 'Nova, St. John's, and (I assume) Georgetown. It allows the program to hold onto a bit of the past while still embracing its present and future in the ACC. It's just about the best of both worlds as far as I can see. I think the SU-'Nova game on the 28th should be a lot of fun, and could be the Orange's toughest test to date.

DL: An undefeated record heading into the ACC, and maybe a number one ranking coming up? That second one isn't too important, but it's always nice to be able to brag to your friends/every person in this state who has appeared out of the ether that was UConn fandom the last couple of years.

JS: More wins. I like wins that bring a smile to my face. So far, the Orange are doing a great job of that, so they should keep it up.

SK: I like to think you mean what would I like for Rakeem Christmas Day. In that case, I want Rak to immediately develop into a big man who averages 10 points, 15 rebounds and 7 blocks a game. Is that asking too much from White Santa?

JC: Zero injuries and an unbeaten non-conference slate. Or just give me a belated Christmas present around the first week of April. That would be nice.

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