The Syracuse basketball team is again off to a strong start, winning its first eight games and taking home the Maui Invitational championship. Normally, the early-season schedule for the Orange includes veritable punching bags. But this year, the Orange have already notched wins over Minnesota, California, Baylor and Indiana. The tougher slate ranks the Orange's strength of schedule eighth nationally.
The impressive start against talented competition has the Orange ranked in the Top Five in both the AP and USA Today coaches polls.
Jim Boeheim has stuck with the same starting five all season. After the first month of the season, let's take a look at the stock of each starter. Who has surpassed expectations? Who could stand to improve a little bit more? Read on to find out.
Tyler Ennis is a true freshman. But you'd never really notice based on his play.
From day one, Ennis has been the trigger man of the Orange offense. Trying to replace a lottery pick is never easy, but so far, Ennis has impressed.
In 32.5 minutes per game, Ennis is the Orange's fourth-leading scorer, netting 12.4 points per contest. He also adds 3.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and three steals. However, perhaps his most impressive stat so far is his turnover rate. Ennis only gives it away 1.1 times a night.
Ennis' performance in Hawaii earned him the nod as the ACC Rookie of the Week. He scored a career-best 28 against Cal, and for the whole tournament, he dished 18 assists and committed only two turnovers. Did I mention Ennis is a freshman?
The guy just plays the game like a seasoned veteran. You never feel nervous when the ball is in his hands, and he always seems to make the right decision. He also has displayed an ability to drive the ball and finish with either hand. If Ennis keeps up this level of play, the Orange offense is in good hands.
Stock: Through the roof
It's safe to say Trevor Cooney has settled into his role on this team.
Last year, it was hard for Cooney to get into a groove as he played limited minutes behind Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche. This year, Cooney averages about 30 minutes per game and is the Orange's deadliest weapon from long range.
As a team, the Orange have made 43 three-pointers. Cooney has knocked down 26 of them. If you break out the adding machine, you'll find that that's 60 percent of the team's total three-point offense. Sixty percent! And he's also knocking them down at a 47.3 percent clip.
But Cooney's impact goes beyond shooting from deep. He is constantly moving on offense, forcing defenders to chase him all over the floor. This helps create space on the offensive end as defenders try to cheat to where he might go. And on defense, Cooney averages 2.6 steals, which is second only to Ennis on the squad.
But Cooney's strength is clearly stretching the defense. He has made three times as many threes as anyone else on the Orange. If he continues to scorch the nets, it will create space for the rest of the team to score inside.
To no one's surprise, C.J. Fair again paces the Orange in scoring. Fair scores 17.6 per night, and his 5.6 rebounds are second only to Jerami Grant's six.
His shooting (45.3 percent) and turnovers (3.8/g) leave a bit to be desired, but he is still getting used to being The Man for this team. He played like The Man in the Maui Invitational final, making big shot after big shot late in the game to keep Baylor at arm's length. Naturally, he was named the tournament's MVP.
Short of the Baylor game, Fair hasn't really taken over a game and shown that he deserved to be named the preseason Player of the Year in the ACC. But then again, that's just C.J. Fair. He has always just quietly gone about his business while the spotlight shines on others.
But now, the spotlight is squarely on Fair. He's not playing poorly by any means, but his game still needs to take a step up if he's going to lead this team deep into March.
Stock: Holding steady
Man, is it difficult to figure out Rakeem Christmas.
He has the physical gifts to put up more than 4.9 points and four rebounds per game. But his numbers this year look eerily similar to last year's, whereas Jerami Grant's have made a noticeable jump. So it's no surprise that Christmas sometimes loses minutes to Grant.
Christmas is still solid on the defensive end (averaging almost two combined blocks and steals in his limited minutes), but he is sometimes invisible on offense. With Fair, Ennis, Cooney and Grant establishing themselves as scoring threats, Christmas could reap the benefits of the lack of defensive attention on him.
A simple hard cut after setting a screen for Ennis could result in a lob at the rim. We know Christmas can finish alley-oops. Making defenses have to account for him on a nightly basis would make this team scary on offense.
But so far, Christmas has looked just as he did in the past.
Stock: On the Decline
By now, we know DaJuan Coleman's defensive struggles keep him from seeing more playing time. Jim Boeheim said as much after Coleman's game-saving performance in limited time against St. Francis.
But there is one area where Coleman is nearly unmatched: offensive rebounding. Coleman is relentless on the offensive glass, and he ranks 10th in the nation in offensive rebound percentage. He pulls down over 20 percent of the available offensive rebounds when he's on the floor.
Here's what Coleman said about his play underneath, per Syracuse.com
If I do get the ball down low, I definitely want to score. But if I don't, I still have the opportunity to get the offensive rebound and score that way. That's my main focus.
With more experience, Coleman can fix his defensive deficiencies. The zone can be taught. What can't be taught is a nose for the ball on the offensive boards, which can lead to easy baskets. As Coleman gets more comfortable defensively, he will play more, and he will give the Orange a physical presence inside.