Welcome to the Syracuse basketball roundtable! Maybe you don't want to talk about the Orange's loss to Michigan. Or maybe you do? No, it wasn't the easiest thing to witness, but instead of wallowing in what was a tough defeat, we're choosing to move on -- by discussing it one final time.
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:
Go ahead, admit that you're worried. We won't judge...
Brian Tahmosh: Oh I'm worried. Not worried like the season is totally over yet - there really is still a ton of time for this team to improve and go on a big run - but worried that missing the tournament is now a real possibility. I said all along I could deal with early losses because this team would beat up enough average to above average teams to make the dance, but now I have serious doubts. And if they don't get any marquee non conference wins, it means they'll have to upset one of the top ACC teams to get a resume builder. All is not lost, but it's not trending in the right direction.
Ben Burrows: I’m worried for this season, as this team clearly just isn’t that good right now. I’m excited for the team long term, but it’s truly amazing how poorly this team shoots. And I’m especially concerned as shooting is a teachable skill. It’s not like athleticism that you either have or you don’t.
Michael Burke: Yep, I’m worried -- worried about the point guard, worried about the fact that Syracuse fell apart down the the stretch on Saturday night, worried about the shooting, and worried because the Orange have just one quality win to this point.
Matt McClusky: Worried for the now? Yes. Long term? No. But there is no question things are looking dicey for this team right now. Kaleb Joseph's struggling to the point where Jim Boeheim would rather sit him down in important situations. Trevor Cooney is actually playing decent and at times an asset, but he still can't buy a bucket. And while we all bemoan Boeheim's use of reserves, this Orange squad seems to actually be four starters and ZERO bench. Again, this should all rectify itself by next season, but it'll be a long wait from now until then.
Dan Lyons: Yeah, I think it's fair to get a bit worried at this point. We're starting to build enough of a sample size where judgments are no longer rash, and the identity of the team doesn't appear to be something to get overly excited about at this point. The most optimistic thing that I can say is that because this team is so young, it should only get better. Hopefully that process happens in January and not August.
Jared Smith: The only thing I am worried about is Syracuse basketball never being able to make a shot outside 18-feet ever again.Seriously, this has been an ongoing problem for awhile now. Syracuse will win a few games that should help its NCAA Tournament resume, but if it doesn't get its stuff together it will lose to the Clemsons of the college basketball world and that will doom some NCAA chances.
Sean Keeley: Yeaaaaah, kinda worried now. I mean, I still think there is room for improvement and we're so conditioned to seeing Syracuse teams start really good and then fall off that it's hard to think that's a possibility, but, it is.
John Cassillo: Oh, I am VERY worried right now. With an inability to score points -- at least for players not named Rakeem Christmas or Chris McCullough -- how many teams on SU's schedule CAN'T beat us? Hopefully things fix themselves, but the further we get, the less I'm sure of that turn-around.
What happens next with Kaleb Joseph? Obviously things aren't going as planned there.
BT: I think they ride him out to the end, wherever that leads them. No one else on this team is a point guard, and even if it means you win one or even two more games in the short term, it doesn't pay off in the long run because this team won't do anything without a point guard when the games mean more. They will live or die with Joseph, and right now they're dying, but without him they're certain to die as well.
BB: I think he sits more, but I don’t agree with that. He has definitely struggled, but let’s be real honest with ourselves here: the offense is a dumpster fire and no one other than Christmas — his only job is to receive the ball on the block then turn and shoot — has any idea what’s going on most of the time. We’ve seen Gbinije make some terrible decisions while Johnson and Roberson look completely confused at times. McCullough has also left his guards out in the cold by literally running the wrong direction a few times. Joseph has struggled, but we are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we expect him to lead the country in assist/turnover ratio.
MB: I think he’ll get better with time. We’ve seen how good he can be at his best, but unfortunately we’ve seen a lot more of his worst in the past couple weeks. He’s this team’s point guard, and Boeheim’s going to have to ride him. With time, I tend to think he’ll get more comfortable in the offense
MM: He'll continue to start and play, if only because there isn't much choice for Boeheim. But I still believe the frosh will figure things out sooner than later. Besides, SU fans should love the thought of a returning starting point guard!
DL: He continues to start at point guard for every game this season, barring injury. He's struggling, but not so much more than every other young player on this team, his struggles are just magnified because of the players that came before him at the point. Tyler Ennis continues to look better and better, doesn't he?
JS: Jim Boeheim plays through the growing pains. Look, he's a freshman point guard and this is what happens. He is going to have good games and really bad games.I will say, the point I got worried about Joseph was when he said playing at MSG was eye-opening for him. THAT concerns me because there's going to be bigger games during the season than against Cal or Iowa at MSG and he needs to be better.
SK: My guess is that he'll still play but its going to be more of a rotation than Boeheim was hoping to do. And, you know, it's not the worst thing long-term for Joseph to not have the weight of this team on his shoulders. Let Gbinije step into the veteran role and pick up some slack that Kaleb can't. Joseph will be better for it next year (maybe that's the theme of this entire season).
JC: Assume that he'll keep starting, but his minutes may go down -- especially if he struggles in the next couple games. Joseph's a work in progress, and there's no easy solution. He's also the key to us getting better on offense. So pray for improvement.
What was most startling to you about those final eight minutes or so of the St. John's game?
BT: That Syracuse clearly looked like the inferior team. You can live with losses like Seton Hall a few years ago where they made like 108-consecutive threes (approximate). Or even to Michigan in a hard fought game on the road where the little white guy hits a 40-foot three for the win. Weird things happen in basketball. But this wasn't a fluky win for St. John's. They took over the game down the stretch and made the Orange look like the mid-major team, in the Carrier Dome, no less.
BB: It wasn’t just the last eight minutes, but I’m still completely shocked by how poorly SU is shooting. How is it even possible that DI athletes shoot this poorly from 3? And you can’t complain about quality of shots at this point either. This team has better spacing than last year’s and guys like Cooney, Patterson and Johnson are getting quality looks and aren’t making them.
MB: The three consecutive turnovers immediately after Syracuse took a 55-52 lead. You can’t have that, and it’s a sign of this team’s inexperience. The best teams know how to close games, and obviously this group isn’t there yet.
MM: The zone crumbling. Phil Greene IV was wide open for two dagger three-pointers. He was so free because A) the rotation was clearly off and B) Chris McCullough doesn't seem to know the Mark Jackson rule: Hand down, man down. SU has struggled to score, but late-game gaffes on defense are pretty damn rare.
DL: When McCullough went to the line after the scrum broke out, SU really had the perfect opportunity to put the Johnnies away. Last year's team played a ton of close games very similar to that, and when it received those kinds of opportunities, they thrived (until the late season swoon, of course). This year's team doesn't have that killer instinct, that clutch gene, that "will to win," pick your favorite overused sports platitude. Hopefully it finds it, because the defense is decent enough that the team is going to be in a lot of slugfests just like that this year.
JS: A complete team collapse. The defense was shoddy, allowing wide-open 3s; there were, again, bad turnovers in clutch moments; and it seems nobody can make a big shot. That's concerning.
SK: I think just the sheer number of mistakes that one team could make in one go. I'm a Syracuse fan so I've seen my share of soul-crushing runs, but, that felt like it was up there on the "Nothing Can Or Will Go Right" scale.
JC: How similar it all felt to the Michigan game was bad. But more than that, it was just scary to see the defensive breakdowns. This team's defense is solid, but in no way is it up to last year's standards. That's clear in a loss like we saw on Saturday.
How many MORE non-conference games could you see the Orange dropping?
BT: God, hopefully not more than one. Especially when you consider they haven't even lost 4 non-conference games since 1981-82 - Boeheim's worst season as head coach - or when you realize they've NEVER lost 5 non-conference games since the forming of the Big East. If they lose more than just the Villanova game, it's going to be time to full-on panic.
BB: Three, maybe? Villanova is automatic at this point so that’s easy. Louisiana Tech is a decent team and I wouldn’t overlook a Long Beach State team that is playing a very, very strong non-conference schedule. SU is one of the weaker Power 5 teams Long Beach plays.
MB: I could see them losing two more games, first to Louisiana Tech and then at Villanova. But I think they’ll only lose the Nova game.
MM: Did you know Louisiana Tech has won seven of its first eight games, with the lone loss coming to Temple (82-75)? The Dogs haven't beaten anyone of note, but I think this game will likely be closer than it would be in years gone by. The next potenti...likely loss will be in about a week and a half at Villanova. The Wildcats are experienced, talented and legit.
DL: I'm definitely not sleeping on a good Louisiana Tech team, but I think SU will find a way against the Bulldogs. Villanova is another story. The Wildcats have fantastic guard play as always, led by Dylan Ennis, and that appears to make them a really bad match-up for SU. I don't have a lot of confidence with that one coming up.
JS: Louisiana Tech could be a tough one, but they might win a bad conference. Villanova will be chalked up as a loss right now, so I could see another loss but this team might be alright heading into conference play.
SK: I don't think anyone expects to beat Villanova, so that's one. I could totally see Louisiana Tech stealing one in the Dome, they're good enough to do it. And depending on what they do before then and now, you have to keep an eye on Long Beach State, who is going to be pretty battle-tested by that time.
JC: Villanova seems like a clear L. But as others have mentioned, Louisiana Tech and Long Beach State are both teams that can run, and if Syracuse can't clamp down on defense early, those could both end up getting out of hand. That sucks to hear, but well... we picked the wrong year for a challenging non-conference slate.
Could Rakeem Christmas still get significant Player of the Year consideration on a middling SU squad?
BT: No. Oh, you were serious? Look, he's third in the ACC in scoring and fourth in rebounding, but I expect both of those numbers to go down. Christmas is going to get doubled all the time in conference play. He's proven he's not a great passer out of the post, and the Orange players have proven they can't make teams pay for sagging off the shooters to help underneath. The ACC coaches are smarter than I am, so I'm pretty sure they've seen that too.
BB: If he keeps this up through the conference schedule against some big pro prospects, yes. If he drops his game at all, no. He is playing really well right now, but unfortunately he loses points on an individual award for a poor team because people use poor logic and many of those people have.
MB: Could he? I don’t know. Should he? Yeah. His improvement on the offensive end has been spectacular. Boeheim called it.
MM: Not in a loaded ACC, but Rak should garner First Team ACC honors assuming he keeps up the pace he's on right now. Actually, Rak should get First or Second Team while Chris McCullough could sneak into one of those teams, too. He's a lock for the rookie team, for sure. That's interesting given how Syracuse will be fighting for a bubble NCAA spot.
DL: Probably not. Jahlil Okafor already seems to be locking that up, while some more veteran guys like Marcus Paige and Malcolm Brogdon are hanging around as well. If Christmas wants consideration, SU probably needs to be in the top 4-6 teams, and he needs to absolutely dominate in conference play. Either way, I do hope he doesn't get overlooked for All-ACC teams, even if Okafor beats him out for player of the year. He has been really spectacular despite all of the other issues that Syracuse has had.
JS: Nope. But, he is making a great case for All-ACC honors, and maybe, All-American honors.
SK: ACC Player of the Year consideration, maybe. He doesn't have the stats or highlights to justify winning it, I don't think, but he could certainly play his way into the conversation, especially if this team gets into the NCAAs on his back. Ultimately, gonna be hard to beat out great players on teams like Duke, UNC and Louisville who will be in the polls all year long.
JC: Christmas is currently eighth on Ken Pomeroy's POY list, and sixth among major conference players. That's pretty solid, and he has the schedule to vault him to the top of the list, too. I doubt he ends up a finalist, but semi-finalist for various POY awards is reasonable.