Syracuse Basketball: Way-Too-Early Grades for Orange Starters
After only four games, the Syracuse basketball team is far from a finished product. The team hasn't rolled to its 4-0 start like it has in past years. The Orange were tested by Cornell and Colgate and legitimately challenged by St. Francis.
But Jim Boeheim's boys have nonetheless passed each test. Let's put our teacher hats on and grade each starter's performance thus far. Besides just their statistical output, we will judge the players on how they have put up said stats and their quality of play overall.
The true freshman point guard has had a lot on his plate through his first four games. For the most part, Ennis has been up to the challenge. The game against St. Francis notwithstanding, Ennis has looked comfortable being the trigger man for the Orange offense. He has impressive handles and has shown some nifty behind-the-back crossover dribbles.
In 28.3 minutes per game, Ennis is averaging 7.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals with only 1.5 turnovers. He has made four of his 10 three-point attempts, but all of the connections came in the game against Colgate. They were timely makes, though, as C.J. Fair was only 2-of-6 from deep and Trevor Cooney was 1-of-5, with the team as a whole managing to shoot only 36.8 percent from the floor on the night.
The pressure man-to-man defense St. Francis played seemed to bother Ennis, as he shot only 1-of-8 and coughed it up twice. As the season progresses, Ennis will need to learn how to better deal with pressure while still making the half-court offense efficient.
Trevor Cooney is the main three-point shooting option for the Orange. This much we know. But he has also proved to be a solid defender, averaging three steals per game at the top of the zone. Those three steals a night are tops on the team, and his 12.8 points are second only to Fair.
Cooney has the green light from behind the arc and has attempted 22 threes so far this year. He has knocked down 10, or 45.5 percent, of them. He has also shot well from inside the arc, finishing seven of his 15 two-point attempts. Most of those have come on aggressive drives to the bucket or dunks in transition.
The three-point numbers are slightly misleading, as Cooney nailed seven in one game against Cornell. However, every one was needed, as Cooney helped the Orange erase a double-digit deficit. Outside of the Cornell game, Cooney is just 3-of-14 from downtown, so his grade will suffer a bit. But so far, he has embraced his expanded role.
To nobody's surprise, C.J. Fair leads the Orange in scoring at 18 a game. But what is surprising is Fair also leads the team in turnovers, giving it away 4.5 times a night. No other player on the team averages even two turnovers per game.
Fair's rebounding numbers are also down a bit. After grabbing seven boards a game last season, Fair only averages 5.5 so far this year.
To say Fair struggled against St. Francis would be an understatement. The senior shot only 2-of-13 and turned it over three times. While he did attempt the most field goals on the team, Fair didn't try to take over the game as the Orange were trailing for most of the second half. In that second half, Fair had only three shot attempts. As the leader of the team, Fair must be more assertive when his team needs buckets.
Of course, it is unreasonable to expect Fair to be on his game every night. Even LeBron James has an off game. But for the Orange to play into March and April, Fair needs to clean up his turnover issues and assert himself as the leader of the team.
So far this season, Rakeem Christmas has been plagued by the same issues that held him back in the past. Sometimes, Christmas asserts himself athletically (12 and four against Cornell), while other times he seems to sleepwalk through games (no points, three rebounds against St. Francis).
At 20.5 minutes a game, Christmas is on the floor almost exactly as much as he was last year. He still finds himself on the bench in favor of Baye Keita far too often. If he starts to be aggressive consistently, there will be no group of forwards that can match up with him, Fair and Jerami Grant when they are on the floor together.
If he continues to play the way he has, though, he will keep finding himself watching next to Boeheim as Grant and Keita take his minutes.
It can be said with near certainty that if it weren't for DaJuan Coleman, the Orange would be 3-1 and wondering how St. Francis completely shut them down. However, Coleman was a beast against the Terriers and tied his career high with 14 points in just 18 minutes. He scored those 14 without missing one of his five shots or four free throws.
Coleman also threw up a 10 and 10 on 50 percent shooting against Fordham in just 19 minutes.
So the question begs: If Coleman is so efficient, why isn't he playing more?
Donna Ditota of syracuse.com said Boeheim called Coleman the team's best offensive rebounder, but also the worst defender of the three centers. In a zone, the center is the anchor and most important position on defense.
After the St. Francis game, Boeheim said, "He scored four points in a row and they scored four points in a row. We can't have that. He's got to get better down there."
As a sophomore who missed time due to a knee injury last year, Coleman is still learning the nuances of the zone. His deficiencies on defense hold him back a bit, but his offensive game so far has been impressive.