C.J. Fair cuts down the net on the way to the Final Four
The Syracuse men’s basketball team will enter its first season in the ACC with high expectations with the return of C.J. Fair and high hopes of incoming point guard Tyler Ennis.
Returning players include Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney, DaJuan Coleman, Jerami Grant and a host of other players who remain hungry after Syracuse’s losing effort in the Final Four against Michigan.
At first glance, however, this team lacks the star power of previous teams, including last season’s team which had Fair, Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche all named to the final All-Big East team.
There was also James Southerland, who didn’t get postseason honors, but was a presence around the perimeter.
All have departed, save for Fair, which leaves Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim looking to his bench and incoming players to continue the winning tradition to which the stalwart coach has dedicated his entire adult life.
While Syracuse will be without most of its stars from last season, it can still prosper in the ACC. The Orange has great size and length along the baseline, a stellar point guard to return Syracuse to its natural point guard roots and a stifling 2-3 zone defense.
The Orange also still has C.J. Fair, who led the team in scoring, rebounding and even three-point percentage. Fair will likely carry the majority of the scoring load, but second honors is anyone’s guess.
Upstart Jerami Grant was an able, and sometimes exciting, fill in for Southerland while he worked out his academic issues, and if Christmas can bring more aggression to his game, he could be a force in the paint.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at which Orange players have the potential for All-ACC honors for the 2013-14 season.
Jerami Grant and Rakeem Christmas both have the potential to be third or even second teamers, but honorable mention would be a very good season for each player.
Grant has a nice mid-range touch and has an athletic ranginess that, combined with a nose for the ball, allows him to grab awkward rebounds and balls that seem out of reach. Coach Boeheim will look to Grant to take a big step forward this season, and nothing he’s done so far indicated he’s not up for the challenge.
Christmas is another story.
Christmas is a dichotomy of rebounder who can score down low and player who gets yanked early.
The big sophomore would have games where he would just rebound and not shoot or, worse yet, go through periods where he didn’t seem to care if he was on the court, which could be why he was frequently on a short leash.
His leash, however was not as short as Fab Melo’s during his freshman year, and Christmas was an effective rebounder for most of the season and only fouled out of three games, all of which were Orange victories.
Christmas, at 6’9” and 242 lbs, will likely go one of two ways.
He will become more aggressive with added minutes and control the paint for the Orange, or he will spend the season sitting next to Boeheim on the bench.
I believe the former is more likely than the latter.
Tyler Ennis’ strengths are many, but with a guard-heavy ACC, he might have trouble breaking into one of the all-conference teams, making the all-rookie team more likely.
Ennis’ game out of St. Benedict’s (N.J.) is tailor made for Syracuse. He runs great out of transition, a must for the top of the 2-3 zone, he can dribble-drive and can pull up from outside.
His ball handling is excellent and he has good defensive skills and while his 6’2” frame is about four inches shorter than Michael Carter-Williams, he should be less prone to turning the ball over.
Ennis will be the team’s primary ball handler as it has no other true point guard, which will give him all the practice and on-the-job training he will need to be a success.
Expect great things from this young man.
While his dunking ability is worth getting excited over, C.J. Fair's mid-range jumper is about as automatic as it gets in college basketball.
The crafty lefty can create his own shot, and when he gets the ball at the elbow near the foul line, it’s lights out. He rarely makes a bad play and controls his aggression as the game dictates, meaning that when his team has needed a key rebound or run-stopping basket, Fair has taken it upon himself to lead the team with his actions.
Now, without Carter-Williams, Triche and Southerland around, it is his team to guide wherever he decides to take it.
Fair is a true all-around talent with no visible weaknesses in his game. Look for Fair to also be on the short list for All-America and Wooden honors.