The Syracuse men’s basketball team struggled in its season opener against Cornell but came away with an 82-60 win on Friday night.
Thanks to the heroics of Trevor Cooney, who sent a message to his detractors with a 27-point performance, Syracuse was able to dominate the second half, but there are certainly growing pains that the new Syracuse lineup will have to overcome.
Gone are Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland, who left for the NBA, and four-year-starter Brandon Triche, who has been a staple in the Orange scheme.
Replacing both Southerland and Triche is Cooney, who has the role of Syracuse marksman. Cooney made 10 of his 12 attempts from the field, which included 7-of-8 from beyond the arc. His play saved Syracuse from embarrassment and earned him the first ACC player of the week award of the season.
Senior star forward C.J. Fair managed 19 points, but struggled with his focus and committed an uncharacteristic seven turnovers, and freshman phenom Tyler Ennis only managed one point with a 0-for-6 performance from the floor.
With opening jitters out of the way, it is now prediction time. We have gone over every possible question about this team in the offseason and have seen enough from exhibition games and the Cornell game to confidently make some prognostications.
This time around, the focus will be the starting lineup, but with only one official game under their belts, we will only make one prediction per starter.
Let’s take a look into the crystal ball at this year’s starters.
After being hyped as a sharpshooter, redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney struggled from beyond the three-point line to the tune of only 27 percent shooting.
In his first game, against an admittedly inferior opponent, Cooney made seven of his eight threes, but that's just one game, so it would be premature to believe he, or anyone, could keep up that pace.
The reason Cooney is set up for a fantastic sophomore season is the work he's put in.
He spent the summer working on his shot and his strength. He, like all sharpshooters, believes every shot will go in, and that's a good thing. You want confidence in your outside threats. The fact that must be considered is that Cooney only played 11 minutes per game last season and rarely got a chance to get into a shooting rhythm.
In the tradition of Michael Carter-Williams and Dion Waiters, the added minutes should be the difference maker for Cooney.
His close work with assistant coach Gerry McNamara, his added minutes and his willingness to shoot the ball should pay off this season.
Rakeem Christmas' sophomore campaign was a frustrating one for Orange fans.
His court time doubled to 21 minutes per game from his freshman season, yet he only managed just over five points and four rebounds per game. He blocked an impressive 73 shots, but on offense, he would often disappear on the court and rarely showed any motivation to get involved.
But that was last season.
This year, the frontcourt is crowded with Christmas, Baye Keita, DaJuan Coleman, Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair all requiring minutes. Christmas' offense would be what would keep him on the court.
His opening game he scored 12 points on 4-of-5 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the charity stripe in 27 minutes. This is a good sign, but Syracuse was without Grant, who practiced for the Cornell game but was forced to sit out the game due to a one-game suspension due to playing in a summer league.
Grant will be back for the Fordham game and Christmas may feel him breathing down his neck for playing time. Grant will get minutes. It's up to Christmas if he is the one Grant replaces.
At 6'6", it was not so rare an occasion to see Michael Carter-Williams grab eight rebounds, nor were seven assists out of the question.
Tyler Ennis is not Carter-Williams, and at 6'2" he only scored one point, but led the team in rebounds and assists in his debut game, with eight and seven respectively.
He attempted only six shots, but proved to be an asset, even when his shots weren't falling.
While, it is only one game, this is an indicator of a seasoned player. It would be easy for a hyped freshman to sulk and force the issue, but Ennis made sure to be an asset to his team by playing clean basketball, as he only had two turnovers.
Ennis obviously has the confidence of Jim Boeheim. Look for him to add scoring to his skill set quickly, and get ready for a wonderful freshman campaign.
DaJuan Coleman lost four weeks to knee injury, but made it back to the lineup in time for the NCAA tournament. At 6’9” and just under 300 pounds, Coleman figures to be a force inside.
Coleman worked on his post play during the off season and converted some baby fat to muscle. This should improve his quickness, which, combined with his lack of post moves, affected his overall efficacy.
With the lack of size in the ACC on the blocks, Syracuse presents an imposing lineup of forwards. There isn’t one player who defenses can key on, which will make Coleman’s job much easier, which is to clean up the boards and use his size to own the paint.
As long as Coleman stays healthy, there is no reason to believe, with the work he put in, that he is not ready to take the next step in his career. He averaged about five points and four rebounds per game as a freshman.
He figures to improve on those numbers greatly.
Before I get any hate mail, I believe C.J. Fair is the best player in the ACC.
For Syracuse to be a great team, pardon the cliché, it has to be a team effort.
Fair has the talent to average over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, but that is not what Syracuse needs. They need Fair to score when available, not force shots, allow the game to come to him and make sure that the rest of the team is not standing around watching him.
Ennis and Cooney have to make shots to draw out defenders and the forwards need to establish themselves to keep Fair from getting too much attention.
Fair will get his points, rebounds, steals, blocks and, if Cooney stays hot this season, expect a few assists as well. A great Syracuse team will showcase Fair as a star and a utility man. A jack-of-all-trades, if you will.
Now that I think about it, all of that adds up to an incredible season for Fair, as well.
I take it back.
C.J. Fair will be the ACC player of the Year.