Syracuse is riding an eight-game winning streak that includes back-to-back wins over ranked opponents. Despite being ranked third in the nation, there are adjustments that still need to be made. There are a few players on the Orange bench who need to be utilized on a more consistent basis in order to continue the success.
Head coach Jim Boeheim has a good mix of experienced upperclassmen and talented underclassmen who all work well together and make the Orange one of the top teams in the nation.
The Orange had been playing with a nine-man rotation all season, ensuring that everyone would be fresh come tournament time. Currently, five players are averaging over 20 minutes a game, and senior James Southerland leads the bench with 26.3 minutes a game.
Unfortunately, Southerland is currently unavailable to do an eligibility issue. In his absence, it is important that underused players step up and produce when needed.
The following three players need to see more time on the court moving forward.
Coming out of high school, Trevor Cooney was a 4-star recruit with a high ceiling. According to his ESPN Recruiting Nation scouting report, "he is one of the elite shooters in the country." Cooney was given a redshirt for the 2011-12 season, so he is now in the middle of his first season with the Orange.
On the year, he is averaging 4.9 points and playing 13.4 minutes a game. Though his average of minutes isn't bad for a first-year player, his use has been inconsistent as of late. Over the past six games, Cooney has seen his minutes range from two to 18.
His best came of year so far came on December 8 against Monmouth, where he played 20 minutes and scored 15 points with four assists.
What hurts him this season is the fact that Syracuse has one of the best backcourt combinations in the country with senior Brandon Triche and sophomore star Michael Carter-Williams. Cooney is a nice complement at guard and can provide solid minutes when called upon. Being able to bring a player of his skill off the bench is a big advantage, especially come tournament time.
Head coach Jim Boeheim needs to find ways to get Cooney involved in the game on a more consistent basis. He can get hot from three-point land and change the flow of a game.
If the last three games are any indication, freshman forward Jerami Grant won't be considered "underused" any more. After seeing sporadic minutes, ranging from two to 21 all season, Grant has quickly seen his use rise.
Syracuse has played three games since James Southerland was suspended for an academic issue. Grant has served as his replacement, playing 29 minutes on January 12 against Villanova, 35 minutes on January 19 at Louisville and 28 minutes on January 21 against Cincinnati.
The 4-star recruit was ranked 37th overall in the 2012 class by ESPN.
Since taking over for Southerland, Grant has scored 28 points in three games and chipped in 17 rebounds, proving that he deserves to be on the court as often as possible.
Jim Boehim stated recently that Southerland's academic issue could be resolved and that the senior could be allowed to rejoin the team this season. With Grant's recent emergence, Boeheim will have a good problem on his hand: too much talent and not enough minutes.
Grant needs to continue to get at least 25 minutes a game.
Junior center Baye Keita has improved every year he has been a member of the Orange. The 6'10" big man is a presence under the basket when he is on the court. This season he is averaging career highs in points (3.8) and rebounds (4.1).
Keita is not going to do much on the offensive end, but his he is valuable when it comes to defense. His height makes him a solid shot-blocker and gives him an advantage on the glass. He has recorded seven multi-block games so far this season.
The big man is currently getting 14.3 minutes, but has played less than 10 in two of the last four games.
He can hurt Syracuse offensively, especially from the foul line, shooting just 48 percent. However, having a big man who can block shots and rebound is extremely valuable and something that Boeheim needs to take advantage of.