It's surprisingly easy to put Syracuse basketball on the backburner this week, considering the off-the-field hullabaloo going on with our offensive coordinator. But we're still just five weeks away from the Orange's first real game, so time to start diving into previews for the 2014-15 season!
The TNIAMM hoops staff will be chatting all about the biggest questions, burning issues and interesting ideas around the Syracuse Orange up until tipoff vs. Kennesaw State on November 14. This week:
Syracuse hasn't exactly had a "dominant" scorer in recent seasons, but there's at least been a player or two you can count on to put the ball in the basket. In a year when they have to replace so much offense, which previously unproven Orange player will be the team's go-to scorer for 2014-15?
Trevor Cooney may provide consistent outside scoring for Syracuse. Maybe even to the tune of 15 to 17 points a game, assuming Cooney gets and makes enough shots. And we've all heard that maybe Tyler Roberson or one of last year's "kids" step up and fill a role - a la Michael Carter-Williams. Kind of coming from nowhere to either be a star or a sufficient enough leader.
And yet I think I'll go with the big man underneath in Rakeem Christmas. He's a four-year player who has absolutely paid his dues and has actually shown improvement every season. Jim Boeheim says the senior has been working on his game, and it sounds like the old coach is expecting big things from Christmas. Of course, as a junior, Christmas only scored in double figures five times. And he's prone to periods of ghostness. But if Christmas can provide 12 to 14 power points underneath, to go along with 6 to 10 boards, every game out, then Syracuse will have a major advantage in the post.
There are so many possible answers to this question because there's so many question marks heading into the season. My gut says Trevor Cooney is going to be SU's leading scorer for the season, and if that's the case that means other players are shooting the ball well and the junior sharpshooter is getting better looks than he did during the tail end of last season. (Yes, I believe a lot of Cooney's struggles during ACC/NCAA Tournament play had a lot to do with the Orange having zero wing shooters to help spread the floor.)
But, I think the biggest sleeper pick is Mike Gbinije. To me, he's going to play a huge role in this team's success and I think he has all the tools to do it. He is going to handle the ball a lot, he is going to have plays run for him a lot and all of this leads to more shots and points.
I don't think Rakeem Christmas is going to be a consistent scorer. There's going to be nice he scores 20+ points because he can, but there's another nights when Jim Boeheim is just going to ask him to play solid defense, collect rebounds and collect the garbage in front of the rim.
Overall conclusion: Cooney leads the team in points but Gbinije will be a close second.
Syracuse's offense doesn't lend to one player dominating touches or scoring, and I think the attack will be similarly balanced this season. One guy that we know will get his is Trevor Cooney. While B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson, and Mike Gbinije, among others, should add a bit of deep shooting, Cooney is going to be the main guy when it comes to stretching the defense. If he doesn't go into another big mid-season slide, he could very well be the team's leading scorer. I expect Rakeem Christmas to improve, but not to the point where he is overtaking the backcourt players. If he can consistently chip in 9-12 points, this team will benefit greatly. I also expect Tyler Roberson and Chris McCullough to have their moments, but if I have to choose a leading scorer right now, I'd probably lean Cooney. He might run hot and cold, as shooters do, but he has the ability to absolutely torch teams, which we haven't seen from others on the team quite yet.
Jim Boeheim is really trying to convince me it's going to be Rakeem Christmas. I'd love to believe it. I'd love to see him pull a Rick Jackson and suddenly become a double-double monster. But...I just can't believe it until I see it. Trevor Cooney is somewhat proven is that he's capable of scoring 20 points in a game easily, even if it seems to be just as easy to score two points in a game. While there's been a lot of focus on the veterans and the incoming freshman, it makes me wonder if this year's delightful surprise won't come from the sophomores. I'm looking at you, Tyler Roberson. You've got a prime chance to get serious minutes at the 3 or 4 and you've got a sneaky amount of experience under your belt. Now go out there and average 11 PPG out of nowhere...
I've been throwing my opinion about this around since last season ended, and will repeat it: MICHAEL GBINIJE! "Silent G" showed flashes of what he could do last year, and now given an opportunity to contribute a whole lot more in 2014-15, perhaps he transitions to "Loud G." I mean, who else on this team is built like he is? At 6'7" and 200 pounds, he has the potential to possess a really great inside-outside game and improve upon last season's already solid 35-percent shooting from three. His speed and ability to create (both for himself and others) will be assets for the Orange as he hopefully takes the leap we've seen from many SU players at this point in his career. No, he's not a 20-point scorer, but I'll take him for 14-15 points per game in a surprising performance that helps the Orange make up for the losses this year.