1. Syracuse is figuring out how to win close games.
Last month, the Orange were busy losing three times in a four game stretch by an average margin of fewer than seven points. Even worse than that, Syracuse held leads in the game's final five minutes in each of those losses, which came against Michigan, St. John's, and Villanova.
Fast forward a few weeks and the Orange have started ACC play with two road wins by a total of three points. After an uncomfortably close win at Virginia Tech on Sunday, Syracuse again managed a win by the skin of its teeth last night, thanks in large part to Rakeem Christmas, who not only scored a game-high 18 points but also knocked down the tying and game-winning free throws in the final minute.
In neither yesterday's win nor Sunday's win were the Orange at their best, but it says something about this team -- perhaps that its maturing -- that it has managed two close wins, both on the road, to begin conference play.
2. Is rebounding an issue?
It certainly was last night, when Georgia Tech outrebounded Syracuse 43-33, grabbing 19 rebounds in the process. SU's big men were outdone on the glass all night, namely by Charles Mitchell, who had 11 rebounds, and Demarco Cox, who had six offensive rebounds -- or just two fewer than the combined number of rebounds pulled down by Chris McCullough and Tyler Roberson.
The Orange held the Yellow Jackets to just 26.3 percent shooting last night and have been playing stout defense as of late, but that will matter less and less if Jim Boeheim's group gifts its opponents as many second chance opportunities as it gifted Georgia Tech. It starts with Christmas, the center, but it's also important that both McCullough and Roberson become more consistent rebounders.
3. Kaleb Joseph: better.
In 25 minutes, Kaleb Joseph had five assists to only one turnover and, for the most part, played with a good command of the offense. In a game in which points were so difficult to come by, Joseph created several easy buckets for Syracuse, which made it that much more head-scratching that he sat out down the stretch. Nonetheless, the progress with Joseph is there. In the past five games, he has an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 3-to-1, which would rank fourth among all ACC players this season.
4. Trevor Cooney is in a funk; Chris McCullough is REALLY in a funk.
Trevor Cooney's shooting hand was red-hot for most of December, but he's cooled off pretty considerably over the past week. He went just 3-of-10 on Wednesday and is now 13-of-43 in Syracuse's last three games, good for a 30.2 percent mark. But in an even bigger funk than Cooney is McCullough, who went 1-of-7 last night and who has scored seven points or fewer in seven consecutive games after scoring in double figures in each of the first eight games.
Cooney's slump is far less concerning, mainly because (a) Cooney, like all shooters, has ups-and-downs and (b) even as the misses have piled up, he's still been playing with the same rhythm that he's played with for the past month or so. McCullough, on the other hand, looks nothing like the player who was, by many accounts, Syracuse's best player through the first few weeks of the season. Inconsistency is to be expected with almost all freshmen, but this certainly seems like something more.
5. Michael Gbinije continues to roll offensively.
Michael Gbinije scored 14 points on Wednesday, going 6-of-11 from the field and 2-of-2 from beyond the arc. He also grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds and turned the ball over just once in 36 minutes.
Somewhat quietly, Gbinije has been Syracuse's most consistent offensive option since the Villanova loss, save for Rakeem. Silent G has now scored in double figures in five of the last six games and is shooting just under 57 percent in the same stretch, including an absurd 63 percent from three. Those numbers might be partially deceiving, but it also might be time for Gbinije to be getting even more shots.