Syracuse Basketball: Rakeem Christmas in Line for Leap to Stardom

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIIApril 4, 2013

Mar 30, 2013; Washington, D.C., USA; Syracuse Orange forward Rakeem Christmas (25) hugs the mascot after defeating the Marquette Golden Eagles to win the finals of the East regional of the 2013 NCAA Tournament at the Verizon Center. Syracuse Orange won 55-39. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2013 NCAA tournament enters the legendary stage of the Final Four, the anticipation for star performances has grown to a season high. This comes with good reason, as we've witnessed countless players make the leap to college stardom and NBA prospect via standout performances.

One of the players in line for such an outing is Syracuse big man Rakeem Christmas.

As Syracuse's enforcer, Christmas is far from the most decorated player on the Orange's roster. With that said, interior defense is becoming a valuable commodity at the NBA level.

In an era when small ball is at a premium, Christmas fits the bill of this generation's NBA rim protector.

The body and ability are both there.

Christmas is 6'9" and 222 pounds with a 7'2" wingspan. The sophomore interior player has the build of an NBA player and, upon filling out, should be able to bang down low at the next level.

The question is simple—what must Christmas do to make the leap into NBA consideration?


2-3 Rim Protector

Thus far in the 2013 NCAA tournament, the Syracuse Orange are holding opponents to 45.8 points per game. In that time, Rakeem Christmas is averaging 1.3 blocks in 15.8 minutes per contest.

Christmas will need to stay on the floor, avoid foul trouble and continue blocking shots if he wants to see his draft stock rise.

It's fair to assume that Christmas is at least one year away from being a first-round draft choice. With that said, scouts and general managers will need to see him step up as the enforcer of the 2-3 zone.

In a defense that does not always translate to the NBA, Christmas must find a way to impose his individual will.

Matched up against the Michigan Wolverines, Christmas will have the opportunity to make plays. Trey Burke is an elite point guard who thrives in the drive-and-dish, while Glenn Robinson III is a dominant slasher.

In other words, Michigan will be looking to make plays at the rim.

For that reason, it's imperative that Christmas alters shots and understands how to play the passing lanes. With Burke being such a crafty playmaker, the zone perimeter will be broken rather often.

If Christmas is able to step up against a crop of NBA prospects, his own stock would skyrocket.


Battling Mitch McGary

Thus far in the 2013 NCAA tournament, Michigan Wolverines center Mitch McGary is averaging 17.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game. In that time, McGary has proved to be an elite energy player due to his motor and physicality.

It just so happens that Rakeem Christmas will be matched up on him more times than not in the 2-3 zone.

As Syracuse's rim protector, Christmas will spend a majority of his time down low. Since McGary makes his living down low, it will be up to Syracuse's sophomore defensive leader to step up as an on-ball defender.

More importantly, Christmas will need to crash the boards with timing and tenacity.

Christmas is averaging 3.5 rebounds in 15.8 minutes during the NCAA tournament. With his playing time likely to increase to offset McGary's production, those rebounding numbers will need to follow.

The question is simple—can Christmas stay out of foul trouble? If he does, this could be the game that launches his name into draft stardom.

There's nothing like a dominant Final Four performance.