Hey, we're getting close to the Syracuse basketball season! And as we get even closer, we can also take this time to get more prepared for what we'll see on the court. With all the changes this offseason, what we'll see is going to be a WHOLE lot different than what we saw last year, so might as well start getting down to the questions and issues that this team is going to face.
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:
Despite a lot of upheaval on Syracuse's roster, they do return experience at the center position. Does that mean senior Rakeem Christmas automatically has the spot in your hypothetical lineup, or is the door very much open for Chino Obokoh or Chris McCullough to jump in and be the difference-maker starting in the middle?
I can't imagine that Christmas won't start. I just don't see it. With the way Boeheim's been raving about him since the spring, I fully expect the big man to have an even larger role than he did a season ago. But I also like the idea of McCullough starting alongside Christmas. Even at 6-foot-10, McCullough has a nice outside game and should thus be able to stretch the floor, making him -- presumably, at least -- a good fit with Christmas. As for Obokoh, I do expect him to contribute this season, but, at least for me, there isn't any room for him to secure a spot in the starting lineup.
This has to be Christmas' job to lose. He is the team leader and the only player on the roster with starting experience at the center position. He is the anchor of this team, not only in the zone defense but also off the court. His experiences will make him a teacher to guys like McCullough and Obokoh, who undeniably will have to step up this season. McCullough will play some center when needed, but they won't need him to do so often, nor should he have to since it isn't his natural position. Look for Christmas to have the best season of his career at Syracuse a the team's starting center.
From all accounts, Rakeem Christmas is ready to go. And since we don't have any proof one way or another, I'm inclined to believe what I've heard. They say Christmas is in great shape and is dominating his teammates in practice. If any of that can translate to games, the Orange should be set in the paint. Now, if it doesn't translate to game action? Well, I think by default Christmas is going to start and going to eat up a lot of minutes because Chino Obokoh hasn't played a minute and DaJuan Coleman may never play again.
Though, I do think Chris McCullough will be a difference maker, too. The difference is that McCullough will probably bring more to his game than Christmas' interior-centric play. Rakeem is the Man in the middle, whereas McCullough will probably do his scoring from inside and a little from the outside too at the four and maybe even at the three position. And if that's the case, well, those two will go a long way toward making us forget about all the scoring SU lost from last season.
It has to be Rak's job. We've heard very positive things about Christmas coming out of camp, and I expect him to get the lion's share of the minutes in the middle, where he tends to play his best. Chino will hopefully be able to chip in with a Baye Keita-esque effort and hustle, but I don't expect him to automatically step in and make a massive impact. It was definitely interesting to hear that McCullough may get some run at the five. I don't expect that to be his main spot, as he seems like the prototypical Syracuse four, but if he can give five or so good minutes a night to spare Christmas at center, that would definitely add to the team. I'm still a bit skeptical about that being a major role for him though.
If nothing else, Boeheim has made it clear that Rakeem Christmas is the centerpiece of this Syracuse basketball team. At least in theory. I think Boeheim is either trying to tell us or convince himself that Rak is the next center in the same vein as Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, a potential double-double waiting to happen every night. So I think Christmas starts at center and spends most of the game there.
So the question becomes, who steps in when Christmas is invariably in foul trouble? That honor has to go to Chino Obokoh, who will be this year's "Big Man Thrust Into Important Moments & Pulled Almost As Quickly." It's a right of passage, young man. Also, I'm sure Chris McCullough can fill the space when needed but I don't think a guy that athletic will spend too much time in the middle of the paint.
You know who won't be standing there? DaJuan Coleman. Cause he ain't playing this season.
Again... I asked this question, so my answer's sort of wrapped up in it. I've heard all the positive things about Rakeem Christmas this offseason and the increased role he's supposed to play in the offense. And I'm happy to see it if it comes to fruition. But I don't necessarily want to bank on that just yet -- I have watched Rakeem Christmas play basketball for several years now. It's not to hate on our senior leader, though. I respect his game quite a bit. But until I can see him string together several games of scoring prowess, I need some time to be swayed. That's where Chino (the team's best rebounder, apparently) comes in, along with Chris McCullough. Even if Christmas is improved, it'll be because of those two making a larger impact on the game as well and helping him stay out of foul trouble.
We saw glimpses of what Christmas is capable of with a healthy DaJuan Coleman last year. Now, he'll have two different players who can really help him thrive. He will certainly stay the starter to start the season. But that still may only mean 25 minutes per game and ceding some mid-game minutes to Obokoh and McCullough.