Merry (Rakeem) Christmas Eve, Syracuse Orange fans! 11 games into the 2014-15 season, this year's version of the Syracuse men's basketball team hasn't given us much reason to feel merry -- at least not by SU standards, anyway. The Orange sit at 7-4 and, as of right now, there's no guaranteeing they'll be in the 68-team field for the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Still, there's plenty of basketball left to be played and thus plenty of time for Syracuse to right the ship. With that being said, I've put together a Syracuse-inspired Christmas wish list of things I hope to see from the Orange over the next three-plus months. Without further ado, here's what I'm wishing for:
1. Trevor Cooney to keep doing everything he's been doing recently.
I love the new Trevor Cooney. Not only because he's suddenly found his three-point stroke (he's connecting on better than 44 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in December), but also because he's reinventing himself as a scorer. Cooney's attacking the basket like never before, and he's doing it effectively. That's especially encouraging, because while he won't shoot 50 percent from three all season long (as he has in the past three games), he will always have the ability to drive. Keep it up, Tyler. Or whatever your name is.
2. Kaleb Joseph to improve and improve and improve.
As we probably should've expected him to, Kaleb Joseph has struggled through the beginning of his freshman campaign. He's already committed 40 turnovers and, for large chunks of time this season, he's looked pretty overwhelmed. But, recently at least, there have been signs that he's starting to feel more and more comfortable in his role as this team's floor general. He played what was probably his best game yet on Saturday, dishing out a season-high 10 assists at Villanova, and I expect (and hope) that he'll only get better as the season progresses. After all, it's supposed to take time with freshman point guards. They can't all be Tyler Ennis.
3. Another player to emerge as a legitimate scoring option.
As they currently stand, the Orange are capable of competing with just about anyone in the ACC. But what could make them a seriously dangerous team? If someone else were to emerge as another consistent option offensively. I'm looking at you, Ron Patterson and B.J. Johnson. Both Patterson and Johnson have had their moments this season -- Patterson in the exhibition against Carleton and Johnson in the season-opener against Kennesaw State -- but they've each struggled mightily for the better part of the past two months. The two did, however, combine for 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting against Colgate on Monday in what was hopefully a sign of what's to come. Having that expectation certainly seems like a reach at this point, but if either one of these guys becomes a regular and useful contributor, watch out.
4. Chris McCullough to use Jim Boeheim's criticism as motivation.
I don't know whether or not Jim Boeheim did the right thing in his postgame presser on Monday, when he pretty much laughed off the idea that Chris McCullough is a potential 2015 NBA lottery pick.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim on Chris McCullough: 'I have a better chance of winning the lottery' http://t.co/U3CULQ57kt— syracuse.com (@syracusedotcom) December 23, 2014
I'm also not here to debate whether he should have or shouldn't have made those comments. But I do know this: Boeheim wants the best for McCullough. I have to believe that he made those comments because he thinks that, somehow, they'll help the freshman big man. And, if we're being honest, Boeheim does have a pretty good track record with this stuff. He didn't think Ennis was ready for the NBA after last season, and he said so. So far, the most playing time Ennis has seen professionally has been in the D-League. On the contrary, Boeheim had no issue with guys like Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, and Dion Waiters leaving when they left. And, for the most part, those guys have had successful NBA careers.
I just hope McCullough takes Boeheim's words as harsh but constructive criticism, rather than allowing them to deflate him. McCullough is far too talented to be playing as poorly as he's played in these past three games, two of which were against Louisiana Tech and Colgate. He's more than capable of being this team's best player, so long as he doesn't allow the NBA talk to get to his head and instead focuses on being the Chris McCullough that was so dominant through the first eight games this season. If he does that, he'll be fine. (Admittedly, that might be a pretty big "if.")
5. This new fluid offense we're seeing to continue to be a thing.
So, remember that team that shot just 39 percent from the field and 14 percent from three en route to scoring a mere 57 points in a home loss to St. John's? Or the team that shot 36 percent and scored only 59 points in a loss to Cal? Or how about the team that went 0-of-14 from beyond the arc in a game against Holy Cross last month? Yeah, I'm not sure what happened to that Syracuse team, but I hope it doesn't ever come back.
In their two most recent games, the Orange have played with far more fluidity offensively than they had at any previous point this season. Syracuse shot 49 percent and scored 77 points at Villanova -- including 43 in the first half -- before shooting 47 percent from the field and 50 percent (!) from three in its win over Colgate. The Orange are moving the ball and getting open but high-percentage shots, something that wasn't happening much before. And it's beautiful to watch. So, please, let's make sure this continues.