Welcome to the midseason assessment of the 2013-14 Syracuse Orange Men's Basketball Team! We will take a look at how each player has performed, compare to expectations, and preview ACC conference play.
Syracuse is off to a stellar 13-0 start to the season, including back-to-back-to-back road wins over formidable foes in Baylor, California and Minnesota en route to a third Maui Invitational Title. Throw in a home dust up over Indiana, a tight bout with St John's at their "home" court of MSG, and a heavyweight win over a top 10 Villanova team and suddenly things are looking pretty good so far.
Whenever taking a look at the Orange, you have to start with the venerable face of the franchise for the past 30 years, James Arthur Boeheim. And Boeheim has been excellent.
Coach: Jim Boeheim - A+
You can't ask for much more from Coach Boeheim so far. With the undefeated start featuring two new starting guards and a tough non conference slate, Jimmy B seems to be hitting all the right buttons. The offense seems as smooth and natural as ever, and while the 2-3 zone may have lost a step from last year, it remains extremely effective.
The keys for Boeheim this year may be the off-the-court issues. Will we finally see a year without players missing due to academic issues? Can we keep three highly recruited freshman happy while they sit on the bench? How can we set expectations for this team short of the Final Four?
Point Guard: Tyler Ennis - A+
How can I justify giving Cool Hand Luke anything short of an A?? The fact that Ennis is a frosh sometimes tempers our expectations, but T-Ennis has single handedly pushed Syracuse to victory on multiple occasions, and it's not even January. As Boeheim mentioned, this team would be 10-3 without Tyler.
The stats can speak for themselves, from the impressive assist-turnover rate(70 assists to only 15 turnovers) to his filthy number of steals(35 plus deflections), and then seemingly modest 12 PPG before you consider he is the point guard and fourth scoring option. But what sets him apart is his Benjamin Button demeanor for a freshman; He never speeds up, he doesn't make bad decisions, and he makes big plays. The biggest stat Ennis provides is the 'W'.
One last note about Ennis. He is always touted as a "Pass-First" point guard. One thing that is clear is Ennis never forces a bad shot (I still wake up shouting "SCOOP, NO!! DON'T SHOOT"). Of his four games scoring under 10 points, we won three of those games by at least 22 points. The last was the St Francis Experience, which was a big learning experience for everyone. What this tells us is that Ennis doesn't look to score unless the rest of the team is struggling, and he needs to step up.
Shooting Guard: Trevor Cooney - A
I was beginning to doubt Cooney's mortality before the goose egg at St John's proved he was still human. Trevor has provided this team with a true outside scoring threat by throwing in 43 three pointers with 50% accuracy, in addition to his stellar defense, pure hustle, and raw emotion.
Trevor is still working hard to silence the doubters, but the fact is, a streaky three point assassin that can carry the team on both sides has been missing from the Orange arsenal since his mentor Gerry MacNamara wore jerseys instead of suits.
While Cooney definitely earned an A so far, unlike Ennis, he will need to prove himself all year to avoid hitting a slump or bringing out the ghosts.
Forward: C.J. Fair - B+
Don't get me wrong, the Maui MVP has played every part of the Senior leader and go-to-guy that we had expected (see St John's), but we have yet to see CJ break through to the next level. We see flashes of stardom, one highlight dunk at a time, and while we are spoiled with 17 point, 5 rebound efforts, I was hoping to see more 25-10 nights under his belt.
Fair's shortcoming is his momentary lapses. As soon as he gets hot, he throws in a travel or offensive foul. He is currently averaging more than three turnovers a game, which is tough for a team that thrives off turnover differential. Also, while he has displayed a good shot selection, his long range seems to have taken a hit from last year, and he is shooting a paltry 27.5% from deep.
CJ is the heart of this team, and we will go as far as he takes us. I look at him like my child, in that even though he is doing well, I expect better. And I think he won't disappoint with a terrific second half to his season.
Power Forward: Rakeem Christmas - C+
Welcome to the land of untapped potential! Christmas has the skills and athleticism to play like a lottery pick, but the mindset and temperament of a soccer player. He has the ability and opportunity to be the backbone of one of the top teams in the country, but has struggled to be reliable on either side of the floor.
There's plenty of positives to take away so far. Rak has given us the physical play characteristic of the Orange, and continues to be an effective defender for the most part. While Baye provides defense and Dajuan specializes on offense, Rakeem has the most complete package, which allows Boeheim to keep him on the floor longer.
With Dajuan out, the Orange are going to have to rely on Christmas for more consistent play. Hopefully, the Eastern Michigan eruption was an indicator of things to come, and we don't see him shrink from the spotlight of opportunity that is currently shining very bright.
Center: Dajuan Coleman - C-
Currently Dajuan Coleman is sidelined with a knee injury, with no indication of how long. We hope to see him back soon, because he adds a much needed weapon to Boeheim's tool belt.
While Dajuan is still having trouble operating as the backbone of the 2-3 zone, he is still young. We have already seen terrific improvement from last year, and with his ever-improving physical fitness, it is just a matter of time before it clicks. Unlike Christmas and Keita, Dajuan is not a shot-blocker. He is a physical dominating offensive rebound machine.
Until Coleman's minutes stop getting capped at 10 due to defensive issues, he can only be so effective. Right now, Dajuan is still very much a project for Coach Hopkins.
Power Forward - Jerami Grant - B
Jerami Grant has been a terrific asset for the Orange this year. Jerami provides a change-of-pace look with his energetic and physical play. Grant helps to take defense's the focus off of C.J. by driving the ball to the basket with conviction, and knowing how to finish. Jerami is third on the team in PPG, and has come up big in several crucial games, especially in Maui.
Jerami oozes with talent. He can jump and dunk like he's using Flubber, and he absolutely demoralizes other teams with his shot blocking. However, he is still only 70% of the way to becoming an effective professional. There are a couple key areas that he needs to improve in order to make the leap.
Grant needs to develop a jump shot. Even a reliable foul line jumper would force opponents to cover him closer, which would give him more driving opportunities. I don't think he necessarily needs to be able to shoot three pointers, but he needs to find a way to pull his defensive match-up outside the paint. Also, Grant's physical play results in lots of free throw shooting, and Grant seems to be temperamental at the line. He will hit 8-9 FT one game, and then 5-10 the next game. This usually means it's more of a mental issue than a shooting stroke, but it is still probably tied to his poor mid-range shooting.
Grant is going to be key for Syracuse to make a tournament run this year. I just worry that since the NCAA has a microscope on our program, and since Jerami already to sit out the first game due to summer ball and his brother was forced to leave Notre Dame due to his academic struggles, his every move is probably under watch. I think Grant needs one more year to be a top 10 pick, but I hope he doesn't go Fab Melo and push for the NBA early due to the NCAA bothering him with red tape. (Edited thanks to clarification from DPJ)
Center - Baye Moussa Keita - B-
Oh Baye. BMK is truly one of my favorites to watch. He brings passion, energy and a defensive back-bone to the 2-3 zone. Keita is arguably the best defensive center that Syracuse has had this decade. He takes a couple silly fouls at times, but his ability to command the defense is unparalleled.
My issue with Baye is that we have seen zero offensive progression in his game. He is almost able to catch a basketball every time, but he seems to shy away from the offensive glass, where he could be a force. Baye is the same player as last year, good or bad. He is a great senior leader, who can help tighten the defense, but will never hit double digits scoring or rebounding.
Still, gotta love the Matrix. BMK's reliability is necessary for this team to excel.
Guard - Michael Gbinije - C+
Gbinije is an odd case study. He has served very admirably in his backup PG role. In fact, he has done excellently handling the ball, with only 6 turnovers to his 20 assists. The part of his game that I wonder about is his SG abilities. Gbinije can drive, and he can shoot. So why doesn't he? I think he is afraid to take a "bad" shot and fall out of Boeheim's graces. His reliability allows him a lot of minutes for a back-up, and I think his performance will only improve as he finds the confidence he needs to pull the trigger.
One thing Silent G does extremely well is play defense. He picks up too many fouls, but he provides a physical element that Ennis and Cooney can't. He is tall, and has good hands. He can rebound, and he can bang around with the Bigs. He is a very important piece to fill in the gaps of this great Syracuse Team.
Forward - Tyler Roberson - C
Tyler is a traditional Syracuse recruit. He is a very long defensive specialist with tools to make a solid offensive player. He has done a great job rebounding, but we are still waiting for the other areas of his game to come around. Roberson was used to being the tallest player on the court in high school, and now has to work on being the 3rd tallest player on his team at any time. As he gets more comfortable shooting mid-range shots, the rest of his offensive game will come around.
I think Roberson will be the first option off the bench in conference play. He already showed a lot of potential against Eastern Michigan in Dajuan's absence. Let's hope he gets more comfortable, as he's going to be a great Syracuse player for several years.
Guard - Ron Patterson - B-
I like Ronny Patterson. He has a fun game. He shoots the ball, is very active on defense, and doesn't rush himself. I think he's going to be a great volume scorer in the upcoming years, but will probably be resigned to garbage time this year. He's gotta work very hard on his defense to find any minutes for the next few years with Cooney in front of him. Good shooter, Great offensive weapon, project in the making.
Guard/Forward - B.J. Johnson - D
BJ Johnson is shaping up to be more of a project player. His specialty so far has been missing three pointers and defensive assignments. A lot of this can be chalked up to a young player trying to make the most out of limited court time. However, as CJ Fair and Jerami Grant leave, Johnson is going to need to shape into a Kris Joseph type player in order to be effective.
Team Grade - A++
As a fan, I could not be happier watching this team. They are fun, emotional, and competitive. I have no doubt they can contend with any team, although they tend to play down to competition at times. As the team chemistry improves, this team will be a real force in March, and the only challenge will be meeting expectations. Boeheim and the Orange team has done an incredible job as they enter their inaugural ACC campaign.
What more can we expect? Seriously. What more? I love to hear from other people on their thoughts of this team and players, so please feel free to leave me your thoughts!
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year! Until next time fellow Juicers, Let's! Go! S! U!