Welcome to the Syracuse basketball roundtable! The Orange find themselves at 4-1 through five games, and while we're starting to get some answers on the court, there are still a whole host of questions lingering -- some of which are more problematic than others. Oh, and we're unranked now. Sorry. We'll have chances to fix that, though.
As is and will be the norm all season, we've opened the floor to the basketball TNIAAM wing to discuss this week's burning questions about Syracuse on- and off-the-court, the ACC and more. Join us below:
What's the biggest lesson you're taking from Syracuse's showing at the 2K Classic?
Ben Burrows: That this team has a lot of potential but, as you can imagine, is still quite raw. I’ve been saying the team has been doing some little things right — spacing, running in transition, attacking the rim — that may not seem like big things right now, but will pay off later in the season. I stand by that and believe once some shots start going in and everyone gets used to playing together that SU could be a very dangerous team
Matt Constas: That this is a young team that just isn’t that good yet. The key word being yet, because I think they have something special in the works. This year’s team features a lot less experience then last year’s, so I think we will need to be patient. At the end of the day, Cal is a team they should have beat but also a solid squad that earned its way to victory. This Orange team still needs to grow a lot, so we shouldn’t rush them.
Michael Burke: That it’s going to take time -- maybe even a couple months -- until this team reaches its full potential. And for a team that returns only two starters, that’s okay. Hell, aside from Cooney and Rak, Syracuse doesn’t have a single player who was a significant contributor on last year’s team. So I’m not worrying, at least not yet.
Jeremy Ryan: I was reminded how YOUNG they are. Even their most experienced players are either being thrust into new roles (Christmas) or wildly inconsistent (Cooney). Joseph and McCullough have all the potential in the world, but I think the Orange are going to lose a few games before things start to click - especially on offense.
Matt McClusky: They are who we thought they are! As in: Syracuse struggles to score and will have to win some rock fights centered around Rakeem Christmas on offense and that 2-3 zone on defense. Although 25-0 sounded pretty, it was actually fairly ugly at times last season. Those same struggles scoring the basketball will continue, but Christmas, at least against Iowa, looks ready.
Sean Keeley: That this team is going to need time to develop...and that's okay. We're a spoiled lot and it's hard to realize we have a Syracuse basketball team that needs time to come into its own instead of one that comes out firing on all cylinders. Seriously though, wouldn't you rather see this team struggle now and get better than come out guns blazing and run out of steam like we have in quite a few recent seasons?
John Cassillo: That this defense may be a couple steps behind the last couple vintages of SU basketball. That's not a bad thing at this moment, but it could become problematic in the long-term. This team can't score points like last year's (which also couldn't score, obviously). So they're going to rely on that defense even more. It'll take a few weeks, but they'll get back to solid transition defense, etc.
Guard play: Short-term concern, or season-long issue for the Orange?
BB: Short-term concern. My only real concern is for the secondary ball-handler when Kaleb Joseph sits. I like Michael Gbinije, but at some point he’s going to have to dribble against pressure and I don’t think it’s going to go as well as we hope. As far as the position overall, I think Cooney settles down and shoots better eventually and Joseph will eventually settle in, too. He’s turning the ball over, but when you consider he has several turnovers where Chris McCullough ran the wrong direction that takes a few turnovers out. Some others have been physical errors rather than mental errors. So that’s encouraging. He still has a lot of improving to do and I think he does that in time.
MC: With the amount of backcourt players they have, I hope just short term. I think the no true backup point guard thing is something they can get over like last year, but somebody needs to start hitting shots. One person needs to consistently knock down shots and be a threat, giving everybody more confidence and better looks. Hopefully within the next couple of games at least one of the guards can find their stroke.
MB: It could be an issue throughout the season, but things won’t be as bad as they were during the 2K Classic. Kaleb Joseph is going to get better. He looks like a freshman point guard right now, and that’s fine. It’s November. Cooney will be up-and-down, and Gbinije will have his moments. Guard play will never this group's strength, but it also shouldn't be the detriment that it was last week.
JR: Season-long issue. There is very little consistency among any of the guards right now. Cooney is hot and cold (mostly cold), Joseph is showing some real promise but has to work on his poise, and Patterson/Johnson have yet to make much of their opportunities. Gbinije had been a bright spot, especially on defense, but if he is forced to play more small forward it will only further expose SU's backcourt issues.
MM: It's a short-term problem because Kaleb Joseph is only going to get better. He showed a couple of moves in NYC that have to make fans excited for what he'll develop into. But the guard problems, in terms of defense-stretching shooters? Those problems will persist throughout the season.
SK: I don't think we'll ever get to the point where we're satisfied with the guard play, but, it is what it is. Joseph should improve and is capable of being a floor leader once he learns control. Cooney gonna Cooney. And as for Gbinije, I feel like he's going to have good games and bad games and we'll just have to see how it plays out.
JC: Could be long-term if Trevor Cooney doesn't transition to a different style of play. I hope he can get back to hitting threes consistently, but if not, there are other ways for him to contribute. Get to the rim and the free throw line, and continue to play great off-ball defense. But yeah, things are going to be rough for awhile here...
Were you shocked at Jim Boeheim's short bench for the Iowa game (just seven players saw the floor)?
BB: I probably shouldn’t have been but I definitely was. I don’t really mind guys playing 34 minutes in the tournament, but if they are playing that in November it’s going to get ugly in March. At this point in the season there is absolutely no reason that Buss can’t come in strictly to shoot a few 3s or for BJ Johnson to get benched for whatever reason so early. The fact that Chino isn’t playing is also troubling. Christmas is going to foul out early at some point and when that happens there isn’t another true 5 to come in.
MC: And one of the seven only saw three minutes. Am I surprised? No. Am I confused as to why he did it? Yes. I think that as a unit, a lot of these younger guys are talented but still finding themselves. They are going to need more frontcourt depth if Coleman can’t play, they are going to need more players to knock down outside shots. I feel like everybody needs to keep getting experience and reps, because this team will need more than seven, or basically six, to get through the rigors of the ACC schedule and postseason play.
MB: I wouldn’t say I was shocked -- a short bench is synonymous with a Boeheim team. But even for Boeheim, it seemed like a little much. One of those seven players (Ron Patterson) only played for three minutes. So, basically, Boeheim used a six-man rotation. I don’t know if it was or wasn’t because of fatigue that the Orange nearly allowed their lead to completely slip away in the second half, but that’s at least a possibility, right? Going forward, I’d at least like a legitimate seven or eight-man rotation.
JR: No. At some point we're going to collectively make peace with the idea that Boeheim doesn't employ a deep rotation. That's just how he coaches, for better or for worse. Anyone expecting anything else from him simply hasn't been paying attention over the last few years.
MM: Not even a little. We saw most of the "Not Ready For Prime Time Players" on Thursday against Cal and how many "Why is he shooting that?!" shots did we see them take? Boeheim has forever been comfortable with playing seven to eight guys and right now there's no reason he'll change that. I mean, why put in inexperienced players whom you don't trust?
SK: Not at all. Boeheim will always go short when given the opportunity against a quality opponent. For better or worse, he likes to stick with the sure things (in theory) against quality opponents.
JC: As I said in last week's recap, the length of the bench was not surprising for Boeheim, but it was surprising for this time of year. For a Syracuse team that seems to only have two definite starters (Rakeem Christmas, Chris McCullough), it seems odd to limit the bench when we've yet to figure out who are primary contributors are.
Your most surprising development in all of college basketball so far?
BB: I haven’t really been surprised by anything. A lot of the incoming freshman studs have been exactly that. I haven’t seen a big-time team lose badly (Florida was a game-winning 3 so that falls into the crazy stuff happens category). Everything has been pretty normal otherwise.
MC: I have to give a shoutout to Jim Larranaga and the Miami Hurricanes. Picked to finish 10th in the ACC, they are 5-0, beat an eighth ranked Florida team in Gainesville (where they had won 33 straight games) and won the Charleston Classic, good enough to move them into the top 25. Just another team to look out for in the ACC.
MB: Has to be Miami, right? The Hurricanes didn’t just beat Florida, they beat the Gators in Gainesville and overcame a 15-point second half deficit to do it. I didn’t see that coming.
JR: Just how good Kentucky has looked. I mean, I knew they had a loaded team, but they are downright frightening when clicking on all cylinders. Just wait until March when they have 30+ games together under their belts. I'm getting sick just thinking about it.
MM: It's a little too early to say I'm surprised by too many things. But I'll say how I'm mildly surprised at Miami. Clearly the transfers will take the Canes to a higher level than thought preseason. Also, while it's not at all shocking, Kentucky looks like a freight train.
SK: I can't say I'm surprised by anything so far. I suppose Kentucky is who everyone except Boeheim thought they were. That's not a surprise but just a reality check.
JC: Miami's surge through the rankings? If not, Providence has looked oddly impressive and SMU has looked pretty terrible considering some early expectations. The 'Canes are the most immediate concern for Syracuse, obviously...
Which current reserve will play himself into a more regular role over time?
BB: Not counting Gbinije, Patterson and Johnson will get more minutes. SU is struggling to shoot and at some point you need them on the floor. I get the whole ‘they may not know the zone’ argument, but SU really struggles to score at times and sometimes you have to give a little on defense in order to get some scoring opportunities. SU doesn’t have someone right now that can go get their shot whenever they want, so it’s important to have as much scoring on the floor as you can when possible.
MC: Chinonso Obokoh. I think they will need this guy at times. The front court is where the Orange lack most depth, especially at that center position, and if Boeheim is already going with the small bench approach I have no idea how everybody won’t be tired out before the end of the season. Hopefully Obokoh can step in for around 10-15 minutes and make an impact on the glass and on defense.
MB: It’s hard to tell at this point, but it’ll likely either be B.J. Johnson or Ron Patterson. I tend to believe Johnson has a better chance at being a consistent contributor. He’s capable of heating up from deep, but he can also score near the basket, whereas if Patterson’s shot isn’t falling, he’s pretty much out of luck. And Johnson can rebound, too. For whatever reason, he didn’t see the court at all against Iowa, but I expect we’ll see more and more of him as the season progresses.
JR: I'm going to cheat a little and say DaJuan Coleman. If he gets healthy, I think Boeheim will try to get him back on the court to provide some much-needed frontcourt depth. I don't think Chris McCullough at center is an optimal situation, and if Comeman can get healthy he could provide a bit more beef in the paint, something McCullough (or Obokoh) sorely lack.
MM: I honestly can't even guess at this one right now. The thought is SOMEONE will have to step up and force Boeheim's hand. But, at this point, any name I throw out would be a total guess -- save, for of course, Gbinije, who is stepping into that Dion Waiters/Scoop Jardine reserve playing starters' minutes role.
SK: I don't know if Gbinije really counts as a reserve but he'll have sixth starter status this season. After that, I think Patterson has a good chance to see more playing time as the year progresses.
JC: It should be Chino Obokoh, but since it won't be (damn...), expect to hear Michael Gbinije or B.J. Johnson's name a whole lot more later in the year as compared to now. Tonight gives us a slight hint that the frontrunner is Johnson, but let's see if that holds.
How much more does SU's schedule worry you now than it did before the season?
BB: No more than I was before. ACC schedule will be tough and Villanova and Michigan look like locks for losses now. I figured that before but, for what it’s worth, at least those teams are playing well so down the line the selection committee may see how strong SU’s schedule was and give it a bit of a pass for early struggles. If you’re going to lose, you should lose to a really good team, right?
MC: I knew it was scary, so I’d say about the same. I like it, because with markers like Villanova, Michigan and St. John’s in the preseason, the Orange will be able to have some early test and take things one step at a time. Each test will help them grow and see where they are as a unit.
MB: It doesn't worry me much more than it did a few weeks ago. ‘Nova looked really good against VCU on Monday, but Michigan struggled at home to beat Detroit last week. And aside from those two teams, I expect Syracuse will be favored in most every game between now and late January. The road from January 24 onward is a very daunting one, but we knew as much before the season.
JR: Not much. They're going to take their lumps for sure, but they just have to make the tournament. Remember, some of Boeheim's best NCAA Tournament runs have been with unheralded squads that flew under the radar during the regular season. I'm not saying this team matches up with 2003 or 1996 or any of those, but they have a capacity for growth that could have them surprising a few teams come February and March.
MM: The trip to Michigan certainly looks more daunting given SU's struggles against Cal and Iowa -- it'll be a tough spot for sure. Also, Villanova looks like a legit Final Four contender after hammering what was thought to be a pretty good VCU. And the ACC, with Duke and Louisville looking great so far and the Hurricanes playing well, will be a monster as always this year. So, in other words, getting to that 20-plus win plateau may be a little more difficult than assumed.
SK: I don't know if the schedule worries me more or less but I definitely see a few more likely losses in there before we get to ACC play. And maybe, just maybe, that's okay.
JC: At least a little more. Pretty sure we lose to both Michigan and Villanova now, and I'm officially worried about both St. John's and Long Beach State too. The ACC also seems even better than I expected. So yeah, color me worried.