Syracuse Basketball: Predictions for Orange's Team Awards
As the Syracuse basketball team gears up for its first season in the ACC, fan excitement is growing for a team that has a heap of potential.
The Orange have two more exhibition games to play after a four-game tour through Canada earlier in the summer, and then the season tips off for real on November 8 against Cornell.
With mere weeks until they jump it up, let's put our prediction pants on and hand out some team awards.
Most Valuable Player: C.J. Fair
Even though we went against the grain with our prediction for the team's most impactful returner, it is impossible to name anyone other than C.J. Fair as this team's most valuable player. The smooth-shooting southpaw was last year's leading scorer and rebounder (14.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG). He also paced the squad in minutes played with almost 35 per contest.
This year, Fair will be the unquestioned leader on the floor and in the locker room. If the team needs a bucket in a big spot, expect Jim Boeheim to call Fair's number. Fair's stats have improved in each of his seasons at Syracuse, and if that trend continues, he could make a strong case to be the Player of the Year in the ACC.
Defensive Player of the Year: Baye Moussa Keita
Just look at that intensity. Who is going to want to drive into the paint with this guy lurking underneath? This competitive spirit gives Baye Keita the slight edge over Rakeem Christmas and his more laid-back approach to the game. Keita is also the team's only senior besides Fair, so he is the most experienced man as the anchor of the 2-3 zone.
Even though Keita isn't projected to start, he played a lot of crunch time minutes in Syracuse's run to the Final Four last year. He logged 31 minutes against Indiana, 24 against California, 19 against Marquette and 17 against Michigan. His 1.2 blocks per game were second only to Christmas' 1.8, but he earned those minutes in the big dance for his defensive presence and ferocity. Look for Boeheim to turn to Keita throughout the season if he needs his defense to tighten the screws a bit.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jerami Grant
Like Dion Waiters before him, Jerami Grant is a starter who just happens to come off the bench for the Orange. Grant even wears the same jersey number that Waiters did. The numbers from Grant's freshman season don't jump off the page at you (3.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG) but his performance on the court impressed Orange Nation last year.
As a freshman, Grant was stuck behind Fair, James Southerland and Christmas in the forward rotation. When an academic issue sidelined Southerland in the middle of the season, Grant stepped in an performed admirably. In the six games Southerland was out, Grant averaged 9.8 points and 5.5 boards per game. He displayed tremendous athletic ability and a respectable shooting stroke (46.2 percent shooting on the season), and at 6'8" with a 7'2" wingspan, he was a valuable asset in the 2-3 zone that carried the team to the Final Four.
Grant has definitely earned his minutes this year, and with an increased role he will provide problems for teams trying to match up with all of Syracuse's length up front.
Most Improved Player: Rakeem Christmas
We've already covered how Rakeem Christmas is the guy that can take this team to the next level. After two years on campus, Christmas knows what he has to do to stay on the floor. This will be the year Christmas realizes his athletic edge over the competition.
Christmas went from 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game as a freshman to 5.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 20.8 minutes as a sophomore. He also led the team last year with 1.8 blocks per game. If he starts to play with more intensity on both ends, Boeheim will play him more, and his numbers should continue to increase. Christmas' ceiling is high, and if he is willing to put in the work, he can live up to his mountain of potential.
Freshman of the Year: Tyler Ennis
Tyler Ennis earns this award somewhat by default, as he is the only frosh expected to have a meaningful role on the team. However, he had a good showing in the team's Canadian expedition. Ennis started all four games on the trip and averaged 10 points per game. Of course, the opponents weren't exactly Duke or North Carolina, but it is still an impressive performance in his first collegiate action.
As the team's only true point guard, expect Ennis to get the bulk of the minutes at the position. It will be a trial by fire for the kid, but by the end of the season he, as well as the team, will be battle-tested and ready to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
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