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TNIAAM Syracuse Basketball Roundtable: Christmas Week Edition

Another week full of questions -- we try to provide some answers before the short holiday break.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Syracuse basketball roundtable! I... I don't know what to think anymore. And there's a shot you don't either. While we may have been concerned going into the Orange's game against Louisiana Tech, we're in full-blown disaster mode after. Or at least we, as a fan base, are (and can you blame us anymore?).

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:

Trevor Cooney: Sure seems like he's "back," doesn't it?

Kevin Wall:I think it's more the case that he's realizing that he has to be more than just a shooter this year. This team needs him driving and creating offense for himself and others. He'll still have tough shooting nights, but he should be taking 10+ shots per game.

Ben Burrows: He’s definitely looking a lot better than he did at the beginning of the season. I’ll hold off on a definitive answer, though, as there is still a larger sample of him being mediocre than really good. I will also note, though, that he does look better with his form. He’s exploding straight up from his gather after kind of fading early in the season. He’s getting his feet set, shoulders square to the rim and his release is doing the rest.

Michael Burke: Absolutely. He’s finally found his stroke from beyond the arc (he’s 11-of-22 from deep in the past three games), and maybe even more importantly than that, he’s scoring in other ways, too. He’s knocked down a handful of shots from the mid-range and he’s been more and more effective driving to the basket, indicating that he’ll be just fine even when his shots aren’t falling.

Jeremy Ryan: Yes, but we've seen this before, haven't we? I'm pretty sure Cooney was "back" after the Notre Dame game last year. Or was it the Cornell game? His recent play has been great, no doubt. He is taking the ball to the rim more aggressively, his defense has been superb, and he is heating up from deep. But talent and skill were never a question, at least in my mind. Can he do it game after game, especially when ACC defenses will have him scouted? I hope so.

Matt McClusky: I'm always fascinated by the concept of someone or something being back. Syracuse football always comes to mind when discussing the concept of "being back." And I think, like SU football, we'll need to see more from Trevor Cooney than a couple of decent games to declare he's back. If he clanks ten threes against Long Beach State, will he still be back? But, bigger picture, I am liking his control on the court. Cooney is doing more than just taking (and making) jumpers. He's running the show at points, he's being a fourth-year junior, one that this team desperately needs. Give me time to determine what "back" is here, but I think Jim Boeheim will take whatever Cooney is doing.

Jared Smith: It looks like he is finally getting it. Don't know if Boeheim just finally asked him to start being more of an emotional leader or the guy that needs to get things in gear, whatever it is, it seems to be working and I like it.

Sean Keeley: I’d like to think Cooney’s reversing last season by starting ice cold and slowly turning into a can’t-miss sharpshooter come February. Sounds good in theory.

John Cassillo:Yes and no. He seems to be "back" mentally, now we just need to see if that sticks. The rest should work itself out for the shooter, since I've been sold on him needing to get his head on straight since his shooting became an actual slump mid-way through ACC play last year.

Has Chris McCullough succumbed to the NBA Draft hype?

KW: No, but he might be wondering why his coach feels the need to spend so much time trashing his game. He's a lottery player as long as he's healthy and I expect that he'll get back on track soon.

BB: No, he’s just getting exposed by some better teams/players. He has struggled in the zone at times since the first game and that shows up. On offense he isn’t aggressive enough attacking the rim. Yes, he made that one 3 in like the first game and he has decent form for a big. However, he’s been terrible from the free throw line and teams are letting him take those long jumpers for good reason. He has incredible potential but still has to evolve as a player.

MB: I don’t think so. It’s definitely plausible to think that all of that lottery talk could get to his head, but I think this has more to do with him simply cooling off after that red-hot start. He’s slumping, but he’s too talented not to pick it back up in the near future.

JR: McCullough has succumbed to being a freshman. He is making freshman mistakes - committing bad fouls, getting out of position on defense, taking dubious shots, etc. He's the most talented player to come through Syracuse in years, but it may take him some time to work out the kinks. Look how long it took Christmas to figure it out, and he was a McDonald's All-American. Some guys just take a little longer than others. That doesn't mean they won't live up to the 'hype'.

MM: No, Chris McCullough is dealing with the bumps and bruises and the ups and downs of being a raw rookie. He is learning as he goes, and he's playing 35-plus minutes a game! Carmelo Anthony he is not, but give McCullough time.

JS: I just think he is playing like a big man freshman. All these guy struggle. I think that's more it than him being a head case now.

SK: I don’t think that has anything to do with anything on the court. Even if he’s paying attention to that stuff, surely he knows that by playing well he’ll increase his stock even more. I think it’s a mixture of teams knowing what’s coming now and clamping down on him and the inevitable slump that’s going to come with being a young big man. He should sort it out soon enough.

JC: I'm sure draft hype is on his mind, though that's not the only reason for his recent drop-off. Still, let's avoid just chalking it up to "he's a freshman." Plenty of freshmen produce at elite levels around the country, and do so all season. So McCullough has some work to do. Now let's just hope the increasingly lazy "Boeheim's undermining his players with negative comments" articles don't start pouring out.

Recent (even) distribution of minutes has seemed to benefit all parties. Could we actually end up seeing a Boeheim team go eight- or nine-deep on the depth chart in conference play?

KW: Wishful thinking, but doubtful to happen. I think SU needs to play 8 guys to avoid fatigue late in games, but we know Boeheim feels that isn't an issue. There should be no reason why Patterson doesn't get a brief run in each half, at least to create havoc on defense.

BB: Should he? Yes. Will he? Child, quit playin’. I haven’t been a member of this community for very long and I even know at this point that Jimmy ain’t going eight or nine deep. He’s going with six or seven guys and that group will play until they either suck and get benched or die on the court.

MB: As of right now, I’m still skeptical of that. To me, there are only six guys who have earned big minutes: Kaleb Joseph, Mccullough, Trevor Cooney, Rakeem Christmas, Michael Gbinije, and Tyler Roberson. Using an eight or nine-man rotation would mean giving significant minutes to Ron Patterson and B.J. Johnson, and I’m still not sold on either of those guys. They both showed up against Colgate, but -- and I hate to be the pessimist -- that WAS Colgate. Neither of them have played well at all against the stiffer competition, so I need to see a little more before I’m willing to say Boeheim should go to an eight-man rotation.

JR: History says no. I mean, there's always a chance, but there's only a slightly worse chance that Boeheim will switch to man-to-man defense.

MM: No. No dice. I think foul trouble has really dictated the distribution of minutes than anything else. Ultimately, the core four plus Tyler Roberson will see the majority of minutes -- just as always.

JS: No way. Boeheim play only about 6 guys during the Nova game and I think that's going to be it. He will need to play his best guys if they want to get into the NCAA tournament.

SK: No. We’ve seen this happen before where a larger rotation seems plausible but look to the Villanova boxscore. Eight players saw time, one of which (Obokoh) was really only because of foul trouble. Boeheim’s going seven come ACC play.

JC: I bring this up often because I'm always hoping for it. I don't like running this team into the ground -- especially this early in the year, and especially when there's no group of guys we should be 100-percent sold on. That said, Boeheim's unlikely to budge and hopes these guys round into form. I do too.

Why isn't Chino Obokoh getting more burn? The guy can obviously rebound.

KW: Too much talent in front of him right now. If this team could press, he could have played in the rim protector role, but like the 8-man rotation, I think that's only going to be in desperate situations.

BB: Could say this about a few guys. It’s hard to pin down in limited minutes. I imagine it is either he’s so poor on offense that they can’t have him out there with a limited offense already or he is still struggling to learn the zone.

MB: Yeah, I’d like to see him get more minutes, especially in these Colgate/Long Beach State/Cornell games. Another productive big man would do wonders in conference play, especially because Christmas can’t seem to avoid foul trouble. Why not find out now if Obokoh can be that guy?

JR: It seems that Tyler Roberson has earned that playing time, at least lately. We all know Boeheim plays a tight rotation, and the fivesome of Cooney (35 minutes per game), Joseph (33), McCullough (32), Christmas (29), and Gbinije (28) are taking the lion's share of the available run. So if Roberson is playing an average of 22 minutes each night, and it appears that he is out of position at small forward, then who would you want to sit?

MM: Well, I don't think Obokoh can really get more time. I mean, Rakeem Christmas needs to be on the floor. McCullough, even when struggling, is too talented to sit for too long. We do this every year with either one or two newbies: "Why isn't _______ playing more?!" Rarely has Boeheim whiffed on these situations. So, I'll trust in Boeheim and continue to think McCullough and Christmas give the Orange the best chance.

JS: Dunno. I'll just concede to Boeheim on this one.

SK: Nothing new for Boeheim and young big men. For whatever reason, he just doesn’t trust them. That said, we’re obviously going to need to lean on him with the acceptance that DaJuan Coleman isn’t walking through that door and Rakeem Christmas is going to be prone to fouling out.

JC: I expect to see more of Obokoh if only because getting some rest for Christmas and McCullough every game should at least be a A priority, even if it's not THE priority. He's young, but he's athletic and can rebound, so why not get him some additional time in these non-conference games? Could only stand to benefit the team.

Honest answer: Was Syracuse screwed by the refs on Saturday?

KW: The way Nova plays defense under Jay Wright they shouldn't enjoy that large of a free throw advantage. It's frustrating that some college refs allow teams to reach and hack because they don't want to slow the game down.

BB: First, I’ll say that I was really upset with the officiating and I thought that was one of the worst crews I’ve seen in a while. However, rarely will you get it out of me that the refs were to blame. They helped, but SU did enough to hurt itself that I’m pinning this one on the team. At some point you have to realize you aren't getting certain types of calls and work around it. It sucks. But it’s a reality that every single basketball team has to deal with.

MB: Even as I’ve had a few days to calm down, I haven’t wavered: the Orange were absolutely screwed by the refs. I’ve written about it a few times already, and everyone saw the game, so I won’t go into great detail. But yes, Syracuse was robbed.

JR: Maybe a little. The McCullough 'crowdsurfing' call was a tough one. I don't know how you can call a foul when one guy jumps up for a rebound and the other guy is boxing out and gets underneath him. It probably should have been a no-call, but it looked really ugly so the refs must have felt a need to call *something*. The rest of the game was a mess, though. It reminded me of some of those terrible Big East rock fights we had to suffer through over the last decade. It's nice not to have to put up with that very often anymore.

MM: Yes. Zero question. Those officials completely undercut Syracuse's efforts throughout the game, especially at the end. Now, that's not why the Orange lost. Actually, the officials aren't the ONLY reason why the Orange lost. There were plenty of options to choose from. But there is no way those officials should feel good about their efforts from that game last Saturday. (Chris McCullough gets a foul for JUMPING! How do three trained professionals not know what an over-the-back foul is?!)

JS: No. There was some questionable calls for sure but none of us would be talking about it if SU could just close out a 5 point lead with 17 seconds to go. Oh, 20 freakin turnovers too.

SK: No. I mean, yes, the refs were very obviously favoring the home team. It’s not so much the fouls they called on Syracuse but the fouls they didn’t call on Villanova that got me. That said, Syracuse still should have won the game and very well could have. I’ll bitch and moan about refs as much as anyone else but at the end of the day, if you don’t like the calls you’re getting, make more shots and then it won’t matter.

JC: Syracuse was screwed royally on several missed calls, especially toward the end of regulation, when we were getting mugged on the sideline. The refs were obviously favoring the Wildcats, while penalizing the Orange for breathing the wrong way. So while that's all true, we can't let it distract from the big issue with this SU team either: they just can't play smart basketball down the stretch. We've seen it in several games now, and it rang true again on Saturday. They need to improve quickly in these late situations.