Syracuse Basketball: 2013-14 Progress Report for Orange Starters
After an inconceivable finish in Pittsburgh, the Syracuse basketball team remains undefeated.
Only six players saw the floor for Syracuse, and Tyler Ennis hit a G-Mac-ian buzzer-beater to help the Orange (24-0, 11-0) escape the Oakland Zoo with a 58-56 victory. The win set the school record for consecutive wins and was Syracuse's first at the Petersen Events Center since 2004.
With injuries to DaJuan Coleman and Baye Moussa Keita, Jim Boeheim's starters are shouldering an even bigger load. So far, they have been up to the challenge.
Each starter has had a hand in keeping the Orange unblemished. They are going to continue to be leaned upon heavily as Keita deals with his knee injury. With that in mind, let's take a look at a progress report for each of the Orange starters.
Key Stats: 11.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.7 APG, 2.2 SPG, 1.4 TOPG
What else can you even say about this kid? Whatever play needs to be made, he makes it. He can get clutch baskets like he did against Pitt in the Carrier Dome. He can get his teammates the ball for easy baskets like he did in overtime against Duke. And yeah, he can even hit a cold-blooded 35-footer to steal an improbable win.
He's not even finished with his first collegiate season, and he already has an impressive highlight reel.
And if it's a close game down the stretch? Forget it. This tweet from ESPN Stats and Info shows that in crunch time, Ennis is as cool as the other side of the pillow.
If Ennis ran for mayor of Syracuse, he'd win in a landslide. He's also furthering his case as the nation's top freshman. Syracuse simply would not be undefeated and No. 1 in the country without Ennis' steady hand. With him at the helm, Syracuse has the confidence it can get it done in close games.
Key Stats: 14 PPG, 2.2 SPG, 43.6 3P%, 87.2 FT%
Trevor Cooney is turning into the type of player fans of his team love and fans of the opposition love to hate.
Cooney is capable of shooting the lights out every time he steps onto the floor. He's had eight games this season where he has made at least five threes. His 33-point explosion against Notre Dame single-handedly carried the Orange offense, and his nine threes tied a school record.
But Cooney isn't all about the offense. He is a pest at the top of the 2-3 zone, and his 2.2 steals per game tie him with Ennis to lead the ACC. He consistently displays his toughness by fighting over countless screens and always hitting the floor for loose balls.
While the defensive hustle is certainly appreciated, Cooney's main job is to stretch the floor. He is the kindling for the Orange scoring attack. If he provides the spark, the whole offense can catch fire.
Key Stats: 16.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 70.1 FT%, countless clutch baskets
Every team needs a go-to player, and Syracuse has one of the best in C.J. Fair.
Fair has shown time and time again why he was named the preseason Player of the Year in the ACC. In Syracuse's most recent outing against Pitt, Fair hit a three-pointer and a step-back jumper on back-to-back possessions in the last two minutes to get Syracuse within one. Those buckets were just the latest in a long line of big-time shots Fair has hit to help his team win.
Fair has failed to score in double figures only twice this year, and he always seems to deliver in the biggest spots.
We've talked before about Fair's struggles with turnovers this year, but he can't be faulted too much anymore. No player is perfect, and the good far and away outweighs the bad with Fair. His experience and composure in the clutch can't be overstated.
Key Stats: 12.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, one "wow" play per game
In his time in a Syracuse uniform, Jerami Grant has exceeded expectations at every turn.
When James Southerland was sidelined with eligibility issues last year, all Grant (a freshman at the time) did was average almost 10 points a game.
At the beginning of this season, Grant was in the Dion Waiters role as the team's sixth man. When DaJuan Coleman went out, Grant slid seamlessly into a starting spot and started making at least one play a game that left your jaw on the floor.
Grant's length and athleticism always allowed him to be a versatile defender on the wing. Now with Baye Keita nursing a sore knee, Grant is ready to play center should Rakeem Christmas need a break.
Grant's jump shot is continuing to improve, which will make him even more difficult to guard. He is a terror near the rim, and he has a knack for ducking in and scoring close to the basket with defenders hanging all over him.
He has also been improving at the free-throw line throughout the season, and in ACC play, he has made 74 percent of his freebies. With his ability to get to the rim and crash the offensive glass, continued success at the charity stripe is paramount for Grant and the Orange.
Key Stats: 5.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 68.0 FG%
Since conference play has started, Christmas has been the silent backbone of this team. He may not get much of the attention, but lately he has contributed in a big way to some big wins.
He got important baskets late against Miami at home. He played his best game in a Syracuse uniform against Duke. He grabbed a key rebound late at home against Pittsburgh. And he is the anchor of an excellent defense that is surrendering only 55.2 points per game to conference opponents.
And in the most recent game against Pitt, Christmas gave Coach Boeheim 35 much-needed minutes. With Keita in street clothes, the onus was on Christmas to stay out of foul trouble to avoid extended stretches with Grant at center. And those 35 minutes? They were the most Christmas has played all season.
Christmas is also an underrated passer out of the post. The big man had two assists in three out of the last four games. Incidentally, all of them were to Cooney, and four out of the six resulted in three-pointers. Syracuse needs Christmas to continue playing at a high level as we bear down on the Big Dance.