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Syracuse Basketball Preview: The Orange Are Michael Gbinije's Team Now

He's Syracuse's best player.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The thought of this year's Syracuse team without Michael Gbinije is, for SU fans, a frightening one. And it's easy to forget that he at least considered leaving.

Without him, the Orange would be hopeless this season. Last year, he played at times as if he was their best player, but he was generally the Robin to Rakeem Christmas' Batman. That won't be the case this season, though. With Christmas now in the NBA, this is Gbinije's team and he's its best player, even as he adjusts to a new position.

At his best, Gbinije is good enough to be one of college basketball's best players this season. There's very little that he doesn't do well.

During Atlantic Coast Conference play last season, Gbinije averaged 14.8 points per game, second-best on the team behind Christmas. Gbinije also had an effective field goal percentage of 53.6 percent in ACC play, good enough for the best mark on the team. He's a scorer and he's an especially good 3-point shooter; he shot 39.2 percent from 3 last season and 42.2 percent during ACC play.

Gbinije also led Syracuse in assists per game during ACC play with 4.0, and that was while playing most of his minutes at small forward. This season, he's likely to spend a lot more time at point guard, where he's expected to start.

Last season, Gbinije spent some time at point guard but always looked more comfortable and played better at forward. But SU head coach Jim Boeheim seemed to indicate at the team's annual media day on Oct. 16 that having a full offseason and preseason will help Gbinije better adjust.

"That's a hard transition to make," he said. "I think, this year, it's easy for him."

It will be interesting, however, to see if Boeheim uses Gbinije at the top of the 2-3 zone. Typically, that's where the point guard plays on defense. But in 2015-16, Gbinije played primarily as one of the low outside defenders and Boeheim might not want to fix what isn't broke. Gbinije was a very good defender last season; he led Syracuse in steals per game and accounted for 2.0 defensive win shares. That was second-best on the team, behind Christmas.

Again, if you're looking for holes in Gbinije's game, you won't find them. He's a very complete player. Because of that, Syracuse is going to rely on him a lot this season. It won't be to the degree that last year's team was forced to rely on Christmas, as Gbinije has a considerable amount of help, but there's no doubting that he's the alpha dog.

Admittedly, not everyone seems to recognize it yet. He was left off The Big Lead's list of college basketball's top 50 players, just as he was left off CBS Sports' list of the country's top 101 players.

Don't tell that to Boeheim, though. He recently told Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports that Gbinije is good enough to play in the NBA.

"He's really good," Boeheim said. "He can shoot. He's strong. He puts it on the floor and he's really gotten better."

There are so many unknowns for Syracuse as we enter the 2015-16 season, namely DaJuan Coleman's health and how productive the freshmen will be. But it'll also be intriguing to see what kind of strides Gbinije has made. Because if he's even better than he was a season ago, that could be enough for Syracuse to make a deep postseason run.