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Report Card: Christmas, McCullough Impressive as Syracuse Marches Past Holy Cross

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The Syracuse Orange hoped to burn off some turkey and mashed potatoes as they hosted the Holy Cross Crusaders in the Carrier Dome Friday night.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Orange, who came into the game with a 4-1 record, rode their burgeoning big man combination to a 39-17 halftime lead and never looked back as they won rather decisively, 72-48.

Here is my report card from courtside:

Head of the Class: Rakeem Christmas

The competition notwithstanding, Christmas had his most complete offensive game as an Orange man Friday night. He set a new career-high with 25 points, including a blistering 8-10 from the field and a career-high 9-10 from the free throw line. He also chipped in 8 rebounds and 3 blocks, with *only* 3 personal fouls. It’s impressive to see how far he has come since his freshman year, when he literally couldn’t stay on the court for five minutes before being yanked. Now he’s one of the best centers in the league, and it will be very interesting to watch him match up with some of the other stud post players in the ACC this season.

Passing Grades

Chris McCullough: It’s easy to see why McCullough is widely expected to be a lottery pick when he declares for the NBA Draft, probably after this season. Jim Boeheim went off on a mini-rant about ESPN and their "draft boards" during his post-game news conference, which I think was odd considering McCullough isn’t exactly the first one-and-done candidate to come to Syracuse. Maybe Boeheim is getting tired of losing good players after only one or two years? Who knows. But it looks like McCullough could be the next in a long line of Orange early entry prospects. He already is light years head of Jerami Grant offensively, and while he has a lean frame I think he’ll be able to develop physically as he gets older. He was a man among boys against Holy Cross, contributing 14 points (on 7-11 shooting) and 13 rebounds, and looked every bit the potential lottery pick even if Boeheim thinks it should be easy for a guy his size to do what he did.

Stay After School

Michael Gbinije: "Silent G" his been just plain silent for most of this season. After Jim Boeheim publicly called him out after the Loyola win, Gbinije responded with a lifeless 4 point effort on Friday – with two of those points coming on a garbage time dunk. His shooting has been abysmal this year – 33% from the floor, 15% from three, and 44% from the line. He has also turned the ball over 6 times with only 6 assists for the season, and his defense hasn’t been what we might expect from someone with his size, athleticism, and experience. SU needs Gbinije and his versatility with team depth such a major concern. Let’s hope he gets out of his funk and starts to play like we know he is capable.

Three-Point Shooting: The Orange were a noxious 0-14 from three, and every SU guard was an equal-opportunity offender. Cooney: 0-4. Johnson: 0-3. Gbinije: 0-3. Joseph: 0-1. Patterson: 0-1. White: 0-1. Sanderson: 0-1. That’s a huge problem, in more ways than just basic scoring. If SU’s guards can’t hit threes, then opponents don’t have to respect them. If opponents don’t have to respect them, then they don’t have to guard them. If opponents don’t have to guard them, they can pack the paint and clog things up for Christmas and McCullough. If SU’s bigs can’t get clean looks in the post, then SU’s offense is in deep trouble. Spacing and shooting are the keys to modern basketball. Right now the Orange don’t have a whole lot of either.

Final Grade: B-

SU’s bigs are carrying the team right now. That is a radical departure from years past, when it was the backcourt that pulled most of the weight. The aforementioned outside shooting woes are a big part of the change, and if the team’s halfcourt offense bogs down they’re really going to have to get out and run in order to create easy offensive opportunities.

Notes:

Tyler Roberson sat out his second consecutive game with a strained abdominal muscle. Boeheim said after the game that he practiced the other day for about 40 minutes, before feeling some pain and had to stop. Boeheim called the injury "nothing serious", but did not have a timetable for Roberson’s return to the lineup.

Walk-on guard Christian White made his debut for the Orange after receiving a waiver from the NCAA Thursday that allowed him to play right away. White transferred to Syracuse from Monmouth University in the offseason and was 0-1 from the floor with 3 rebounds in mop-up duty. Boeheim did not indicate what led the NCAA to waive the customary one-year redshirt season for Division I transfers.

For a more detailed commentary on the game and Boeheim’s post-game news conference, click on my Twitter feed.