Syracuse Basketball: Why C.J. Fair Is the Orange's Most Indispensable Player

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Syracuse Basketball: Why C.J. Fair Is the Orange's Most Indispensable Player
USA TODAY Sports

No. 7 Syracuse managed to get the most out of a subpar offensive performance Wednesday night against the Providence Friars at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.

Syracuse (15-1, 3-0 Big East) outlasted the Friars (8-7, 0-3) 72-66 in a game that saw the Orange overcome a nine-point deficit to win a hard-fought road game.

Any road win in the Big East is a good one, but two special events happened Wednesday. Syracuse won the game with incredible free-throw shooting, going 17-of-18 from the charity stripe, and junior C.J. Fair established himself as Syracuse’s most reliable player.

The free throws are an anomaly, with Syracuse’s free-throw shooting being well documented, but Fair has been the model of consistency the entire season.

Fair’s 9-of-10 free throws against Providence were the difference maker as Syracuse made 10 straight free throws down the stretch, including six in a row for Fair in the final 1:21 of the game.

For Fair, this isn’t out of the ordinary, as he is easily Syracuse’s best free-throw shooter, going 52-of-65 for a very respectable 80 percent. What was on display tonight is that there aren’t many flaws to Fair’s game.

Michael Carter-Williams is an electrifying passer, but he still tends to get sloppy and turns the ball over almost four times a game.

He is the nation’s leading assist man, but in close games, the Orange cannot afford to give up the ball when Carter-Williams tries to force himself through the lane when an open man is not available.

Carter-Williams will also be better served when he learns to create more quality shots for himself, which he surely will with time.

Brandon Triche is the team's senior leader and has the ability to take over games for Syracuse on offense and defense and, as he did against Rutgers, can light it up from three from time to time.

But as he has done the past few years, sometimes Triche disappears on the court or too easily settles for a three-pointer when the Orange would be better served with dribble-drive penetration.

James Southerland is one of the best bench players in the country and could start on most teams in Division I. Heck, he could start for Syracuse with DaJuan Coleman being a ceremonial starter more than an effective big man.

But Southerland, who has an eagle eye from three, has moments where he can go ice cold, such as Wednesday against Providence, when he shot 1-of-8 from three.

But Fair stands out as the all-everything player for coach Jim Boeheim.

Syracuse followed up its abysmal 4-of-17 three-point shooting afternoon against South Florida last Sunday with an even worse 3-of-21 against Providence. So, where did coach Boeheim turn to when the threes didn’t fall again and again and again?

He went to the inside games of Rakeem Christmas, who impressed with 6-of-8 shooting and Fair, who went 7-of-13 for 23 points and also added 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Fair has always been a very athletic forward, but with his added muscle mass and increased playing time, he’s becoming a feared offensive force who is finally scratching the surface of his potential.

Fair’s ability to create his own shot and dunk from almost anywhere in the paint makes him very difficult to defend; and oh by the way, just to keep defenders honest, his 40 percent from the three-point line leads the Orange.

Fair has quick hands on defense, is the team’s leading rebounder with over seven rebounds per game, and is the one player on the Syracuse roster who can take the ball to the rim with ease and aggression, but can convert his free throws when he takes punishment underneath.

While Triche, Carter-Williams and Southerland have shown moments where they can be reliable; C.J. Fair is Mr. Reliable.

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