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Previewing Syracuse vs. St. John's Basketball: TNIAAM Roundtable

We discuss a few of the burning questions surrounding the Orange.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse travels to New York City on Sunday to meet up with St. John's at Madison Square Garden. Before that, the TNIAAM crew got together to discuss the Orange.

Syracuse has really struggled with rebounding, especially in terms of giving up offensive boards. This always tends to be an issue that comes with playing zone, but the problems feel amplified this season. How concerned are you?

James Szuba: This is without question Syracuse's biggest weakness. If Syracuse can't rebound it puts added pressure to perform better in other areas. (i.e. - shooting, forcing turnovers, etc.) It is concerning because we don't have a dominant rebounder and Roberson seems to float.

Andrew Pregler: I'm really concerned because in years past, this problem has usually been handled by Syracuse driving to the basket and eliminating rebound opportunities, OR by the Orange having one guy who was really, really, really better than everyone else and could carry the Orange for a run. Neither of those things are really true this year, as the Orange are going to launch from deep this year.

Kevin Wall: It's a major concern. Shooting will be up and down, but as we saw in the Wisconsin game, you can't afford to give good teams multiple opportunities. Since there are no reinforcements coming in at mid-season, it's up to all five players on the court to make a better effort at getting on the defensive glass.

John Cassillo: It's been more of a concern this year because the team is taking more threes. Those go in at a lesser rate, meaning more rebound opportunities. We also typically have one capable center to take the lion's share of rebounds, even if the rest of the team has trouble on the boards. This year's group doesn't have a primary rebounder and that makes things fatal (or close to it) when shots don't fall. Consider me concerned.

Dan Lyons: It is definitely bigger this year, at least from what I've perceived. The zone hurts rebounding, but with the little depth that we have inside, with a center recovering from multiple bad injuries and an undersized freshman forward backing him up and playing out of position, the rebounding situation is definitely dire so far.

Michael Burke: It's definitely one of Syracuse's biggest weaknesses. But I don't think it's anything the Orange should necessarily try to fix, because I don't think they can. They're not going to be a good rebounding team, so they might as well just accept that and play to their strengths.

They're obviously two very different players, but are you at all beginning to look at Michael Gbinije the same way you looked at Rakeem Christmas last season, just in terms of their consistent production?

JS: In terms of being a leader, yes. He is the alpha male of this team as Rak was last season.

AP: In terms of consistent production, yes. Very much so. Silent G has shown that he can very much go out there and finish an average game with 17 points and his ability to both shoot and drive is important. What remains to be seen is in a close game when everyone and their mother knows he's getting the ball, the ability to still finish or at least put the Orange in a place to come back successfully.

KW: Yes. I think we expected him to be the best player on the team, but he's taken a big step forward in terms of his overall production. His shooting has been a very pleasant surprise.

JC: Gbinije came in knowing he'd have to be a bit of a team leader, and I'm impressed how well he's answered the bell. He's like Rak in his consistency. Now we have to hope they don't share the unfortunate label of being "great Syracuse players on teams that struggled."

DL: It's an interesting comparison. Last year we heard that Rak looked amazing heading in, but I'm sure we were all a bit skeptical. Obviously, he exceeded any and all expectations. With G, we've seen flashes, so I'm a bit less surprised, but his consistency has definitely been impressive. If he continues to put up these numbers—and I think he can and should get some All-ACC and All-American love.

MB: It has a very similar feeling for me. (OK, yes, I come up with these questions). It's to a point that when I look at the box score and see Gbinije scored 18, 19, 20 points, I'm not surprised. It's just kind of what I expect. That's how good he's been, and that's not even to mention that he's been equally excellent on defense.

Dajuan Coleman's seen the court a bit more the past two games. Have you liked what you've seen?

JS: I love Dajuan's passion and energy. You can feel him when he plays. I'd like to see him play more minutes but he has to earn it through defense and rebounding.

AP: I mean, he's better than in his first games so yes, I like that. But I'm still not sold on his defensive ability or his ability to really adjust in the paint. I think he's still a work in progress and not one that will be able to really carry us in big ACC games.

KW: Sure. There have been more positive signs. You have to hope the next few games gives Dajuan an opportunity to gain more confidence, and be ready to give the Orange some solid minutes when ACC play begins.

JC: Admittedly, I'll take the struggles with more minutes now, in exchange for more confidence and production later in the year. That doesn't mean run him into the ground now. Just means let him get out there so he can be in effective game shape later on.

DL: I thought he looked more active at times against Georgetown, and then less so against Colgate. Go figure. I think Hop is giving him a bit more rope than Boeheim would, which is a good thing, but it still seems like we're a ways away from a breakthrough.

MB: Yeah, I think he's been better, especially offensively. He's been far more aggressive, and it's resulted in trips to the free throw line and back-to-back 10-point games. But he's still very much a work in progress, as others have alluded to.

Including Sunday's game against St. John's, only four games remain on Syracuse's non-conference schedule. Think this group is ready for ACC play? Anything in particular you'd like to see?

JS: I think these next four games offer a great opportunity to work on the team's weaknesses. Syracuse should look at these games as preparation for the ACC. We'll see where the team is at after these four games and evaluate whether or not we're ready for America's best basketball conference.

AP: I don't know. The Wisconsin and Georgetown losses are worrying, if for nothing else than they don't really look like the team we saw in the Bahamas. But I do think that the smaller lineup gives the Orange a chance to create matchup problems and win some tough games.

KW: I trust that this group is going to face similar ups and downs in ACC play, but I think we know that they aren't going to roll over against anyone. I'd like to see more dribble penetration when shots aren't falling. If SU can get back to the ball movement they displayed in the Bahamas, they are going to be a difficult team to face.

JC: I'd like to see better shooting inside the arc. That and rebounding could do wonders for the team's chances once ACC play starts. There are plenty of teams that play to one or more of this Syracuse squad's weaknesses once conference play arrives. The Orange can address a lot of this, too, just by getting a better handle on what Trevor Cooney's doing and getting a little bit more out of Coleman.

DL: I think the inconsistency we've seen is just what this team is at this point. If Syracuse hits ~35-percent of its threes, it'll have a good chance to win. If the Orange goes cold, and SU needs to score around the hoop, that will apparently be a problem, based on the pieces we have. Barring a breakout by DaJuan or Chino finding the basketball that holds all of the powers from Space Jam, this team will live and die by the three, and will probably beat some good teams and lose to some mediocre ones in ACC play because of it.

MB: I think Syracuse is ready as it can be, yes, especially given the difficult non-conference schedule. I would like to see the Orange use more of the really small lineup -- one featuring Kaleb Joseph, Trevor Cooney, Malachi Richardson, Michael Gbinije and Tyler Lydon. I'm not sure if Syracuse would survive with it, but these next four games allow you an opportunity for trial and error experiments.