Syracuse Basketball: The 5 Most Impressive Orange in 2013-14 Regular Season
The Syracuse basketball team is hurting. Losers of four out of five, the Orange (26-4, 13-4 ACC) are watching themselves slide further away from the top line in the NCAA tournament bracket.
The latest loss, at home to Georgia Tech, was especially painful. It was Senior Day for C.J. Fair and Baye Keita, and it was an opportunity to get a much-needed easy win over an underachieving team.
But it was anything but an easy game. Jerami Grant sat out, and the Orange missed his activity inside and his ability to score.
But Syracuse has bigger fish to fry in the postseason, so it's better to make sure Grant is 100 percent for the stretch run.
If you told Syracuse fans at the beginning of the season the team would be 26-4 while starting a freshman point guard and a shooting guard who barely played last year, they would have been ecstatic. But as the season progressed and this team showed how good it could be, the record now seems a little disappointing.
But these players have still been turning in impressive performances all season, despite the recent struggles. Let's have a look at the five most impressive Orange players from the regular season. We'll dig deeper than just statistical output and look at how players responded to adversity and how they fit in to their roles.
5: DaJuan Coleman
I know, I know. The guy hasn't played meaningful minutes since December. But hear me out.
This spot almost went to Trevor Cooney, but I just couldn't give it to a guy who is supposed to be a three-point specialist but has barely been able to throw it in the ocean in conference play.
The first thing Coleman did was start, which gave Jim Boeheim more depth and allowed Jerami Grant to come off the bench and change games. The next thing he did was park himself under the basket and gobble up offensive rebounds. He still averages more offensive boards on a per-minute basis (.18) than Grant (.08), Baye Keita (.14), Rakeem Christmas (.09) and C.J. Fair (.04).
It's pretty safe to say Coleman could have had an impact on some of the close games Syracuse has played of late.
What was maybe most impressive though was how Coleman handled himself when he wasn't playing. Before he was ruled out for the season, Coleman's status was taken on a game-by-game basis. Therefore he was still on the bench with his teammates.
He was the Orange's best cheerleader. He didn't sit there moping because he couldn't get in the game. He was on his feet cheering on his teammates and imploring the home crowd to make more noise. When the Orange got down early against Villanova, it was Coleman leading the cheering section as Syracuse stormed back. He did the same when the Orange went down to the wire against Miami.
It was good to see Coleman engaged even when he couldn't play. Big men always take more time to develop, so look for Coleman to be a force when he returns next season.
4: Michael Gbinije
Like Baye Keita, Michael Gbinije's importance to the team is not reflected in the box score.
All he's done all year is serve as the backup point guard and backup shooting guard. When injuries to Keita and Grant came about, Gbinije also took on a role as the backup forward.
He's Mr. Versatility; the team's Swiss Army knife.
He's provided hustle on defense. He's made some timely three-pointers (15-of-38 on the year) and he's done all of this after transferring from Duke and patiently sitting out a year. Never once has he lobbied for more playing time or appeared dissatisfied with his role.
Great teams need role players. Gbinije has as much range as any Oscar-worthy actor. He can play just about any role that is given to him.
3: Jerami Grant
The human highlight reel.
Jerami Grant started making his impression before they even rolled the ball out. Last year, Grant was a wiry freshman who might have disappeared had he turned sideways.
He showed up on campus this year as the physical beast you see above.
Then he started making plays that took your breath away. He must really get along with the rim, because they always see eye-to-eye.
He's the team's leading rebounder, grabbing 6.7 boards a game. A nagging back issue has caused him to miss the last game and the second halves of the previous two. In that span, Grant has been sorely missed. Syracuse was in control at Maryland, but let a double-digit lead slip away in the second half before barely holding on.
Then the Orange got embarrassed at Virginia, giving up 48 second-half points and being outrebounded by 10 in the game. When Georgia Tech, one of the ACC cellar-dwellers, came to town, Grant sat out. Tech handed Syracuse another disappointing loss, and the Orange struggled to find that third scoring option behind C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis.
It would have been Grant. When he's got the spring in his step, Grant is an athletic mismatch for just about any defender. The Orange need him healthy if they plan to make any noise in the tournament.
2: C.J. Fair
C.J. Fair did everything he could to make his last performance in the Carrier Dome memorable. He scored 28 points, which tied a career high, and grabbed eight rebounds in yet another 40-minute outing. But it wasn't enough to get the Orange past Georgia Tech.
It was an unfortunate way to send off one of the greats. Fair has come up big time and time again for his team. You know by now about all the big shots he has hit this year.
What is most impressive about Fair this year is how he has continued to show up night in and night out. He knew he was going to shoulder the majority of the offensive burden, and he did so better than anyone could have expected. Sure, there were tough shooting nights, but he only missed double figures twice.
And in the game that inexplicably exceeded the hype, Fair took it to another level. He netted 28 points on 12-of-20 shooting in the overtime classic against Duke and made tough shot after tough shot to help the Orange keep up with Duke's three-point barrage.
His team has been struggling, but without Fair the Orange wouldn't even be close to where they are. There is still time to right the ship, and Fair is a capable captain.
1: Tyler Ennis
Ennis the Menace. Tyler the Creator. Ice Man.
Whatever you want to call him, Syracuse fans will never forget that shot he hit against Pittsburgh.
It never gets old, so let's watch it again, shall we?
Surely that is the moment that stands out most for Ennis' season. But he was turning heads long before his heroics at the Pete. There was the 28-point performance in Maui. The 21 against St. John's that included a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line. And his 20 points at Maryland were invaluable to stopping a losing streak.
He's become the second scorer on a team that all of a sudden has few scoring options.
And what about his over 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio that is ninth in the country? And all of this is by a freshman who had to replace an NBA lottery pick and Rookie of the Year candidate. Impressive to say the least.
Nothing rattles the kid. He probably wouldn't break a sweat even if he had to perform open-heart surgery. If his time on campus ends up being just a one-year flash in the pan, it will still have been memorable. But Jim Boeheim is closer to Ennis than anyone. And he thinks the kid could be back.
Either way, no stage has been too big for Ennis, so there's no reason to think the NCAA tournament will be any different.