The Syracuse Orange all season have found ways to win, if it were a close game or a rout, they found a way to win. Development from top to bottom is why they continue to win, a weakness never stays a weakness long. The most incredible part of it is that it isn't just one player that is continuing to grow, it's every single player on the roster from Tyler Ennis to Tyler Roberson. The growth could be seen in full against the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday.
Tyler Roberson who only plays sparingly even game the team good minutes against the Blue Devils, we all knew he would be another long defender in the zone who can grab a few rebounds but he also showed some help on offense with a drive that resulted with a foul on Duke. Roberson before that time didn't play that aggressively on offense even in blowouts. Roberson was given a chance to show his length and athleticism on the offensive end as well after a blocked three point shot and run out with a two handed dunk after receiving a pass from Michael Gbinije
Michael Gbinijie a 6'6 transfer guard from Duke is looking more and more comfortable playing the back up point as the season goes on. His ability to run the team has grown as his understanding of the offense grows, and as his understanding where his teammates belong on each possession. He is also shooting the three with more confidence as he is catching and shooting more and usually making them as of recently as he is shooting 50% in ACC play from three. His long frame has also been tremendous on the top of the zone allowing the zone actually to get longer while giving Tyler Ennis or
Gerry Trevor Cooney some rest for portions of the game.
Baye Keita the defensive stud in the center of the zone that took Cody Zellar out of their sweet sixteen matchup against Indiana has pretty much met his ceiling but like everyone else has also shown some improvement that will help the Orange into a run in the ACC tournament and hopefully the NCAAs. Keita's improvement has been on offensive end. Keita has shown more confidence in not just crashing the offensive glass, but after securing the rebound going right back up with it and scoring.
DaJuan Coleman unfortunately will miss rest of the season after a procedure on his knee. While Coleman played he again looked to be in better shape then he has ever been including his time in high school, also showing the same strength inside that he has always had. Being his second season and being in better shape has also given the big man confidence on both ends of the court. Defensively Coleman wasn't always in the right spots but when he was in he was moving with more conviction then he ever has and that allowed him to make up for some mistakes in rotations.Offensively we had a chance to see glimpses of the low post game we all heard about with double digit efforts against Fordham, St. Francis (NY), and Binghamton, not the top competition but still better. Coleman's shot selection also improved and you can see that by comparing his field goal percentage from his freshman year and sophomore year as his field goal percentage rose from .438 to .583.
Jerami Grant has been showing everyone (including NBA scouts) his athleticism all season with monster put back dunks and blocked shots. He has always had that tremendous athleticism that had in in the mid teens to early 20s in early mock drafts but today he is projected as a lottery pick by many NBA mock draft sites. His stock has rose because of most part that his offensive game has shown improvement. As it isn't as polished as players like Jabari Parker who are predicted to go ahead of him, but it is leaps and bounds better then last season. Last season Grant did most of his damage on second chance opportunities but this year he has shown the confidence to take the ball to the basket and even hit a rhythm 15-18 footer when the defense sags off of him. Grants confidence to take big shots has also grown as the offense ran through him during overtime of the Duke when he had a mismatch, Grant could' have deferred to C.J. Fair on his career night but instead stayed aggressive and had three huge dunks during the overtime period.
C.J Fair lead Syracuse with his career night against Duke. He was so good two Hall of Fame coaches even raved about his performance after the game. Fair has been the teams best player all season and has played like it at times when he had to take over like in Maui, the end of St. John's, and of course against Duke. Other games this season it seemed that C.J. shot to to shoot because he is the best player but not really take over. Saturday was the day he put it all together from outside shots that he created on his own to taking the ball to basket and finishing it with both hands. The most impressive move may have been when he crossed up Rodney Hood and hit a pull up jumper.
Trevor Cooney has shown a great amount of improvement from last season to this season, mostly with his increased playing time. During Cooney's shooting slump since ACC play, but has been helping the team in other ways, all were shown against Duke. As Duke denied Ennis the ball Cooney showed himself more the able to protect the ball against tight man to man pressure and bring it up against Duke. He has also added taking the ball to the basket by shooting more two point field goals such as step backs and layups. Against Duke Coney drove baseline and missed a layup but drew the attention of enough Duke defenders that Syracuse was able to get the offensive rebound an put it back for the score
Tyler Ennis has been a stud all season, he has been calm and cool under pressure and clutch all season. But Ennis himself has become a more confident player sense that one point outing to start the season against Cornell to the final minutes against Pittsburg and the beginning of the game against Duke when the rest of the team struggled to make anything happen Ennis put the scoring in his own hands and lead his team to victory. Ennis' ability to take care of the ball can't be overstated either, as a freshman he averages 4-1 assist to turnover ratio and his ability to guard on top of the zone leading the ACC in steals. He may not be as long as Michael Carter-Williams but he is just as effective on the top of the zone.
Rakeem Christmas in my opinion is the most improved player this season for the Orange and the majority of the improvement has taken place during the season. Christmas' improvement has depended mostly on his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor that has come with his increased confidence. Christmas now when he gets the ball within five feet of the basket on offense already knows that he is going to go up with it and most likely score. Christmas received a pass from C.J. in the Duke game and spun and with one hand threw down a massive momentum grabbing dunk on top of the Blue Devils defense. During the Pittsburg game he single handedly forced Pitt to abandon their zone and go man because Talib Zanna couldn't stop Christmas on the inside as he hit hook shot after hook shot, then when Pitt went man it was Ennis time and Christmas could be credited with helping put Ennis in the position to put Pitt away.
One of the best part of Syracuse's first season in the ACC is that the whole team is improving and eliminating all of their weakness making them one of the favorites as we hit the home stretch of the ACC conference schedule. If Syracuse continues to improve they're no reason for Syracuse not to go far and accomplish some great things towards season end.
Leave your opinion of who you think has ben the most improved this season or what you believe the team needs to work on as the season continues in the comments.