Syracuse Basketball: Biggest Question for Players in Projected 2014-15 Lineup
Here's a question to ponder for next year's Syracuse basketball team: Who will be the team's leading scorer?
You could make the case for a number of different players. If Trevor Cooney shoots consistently, he is the favorite. Kaleb Joseph, Tyler Roberson and perhaps even Rakeem Christmas also could be in the mix.
Who will get points for the Orange is just one of the many questions facing next year's Syracuse squad. Coach Jim Boeheim will have to work in a lot of new faces, and most of them won't have much experience at the college level.
So let's take a look at the biggest questions for the major players in Syracuse's projected rotation. Considering DaJuan Coleman's injury is still a question mark, we'll leave him out for now, as his health is the biggest question for him.
We'll also leave out incoming freshmen Joseph and Chris McCullough. They haven't even set foot on campus yet, so their adjustment to the college game is the biggest thing to monitor. With them out of the way, let's put some other components of Boeheim's rotation under the microscope.
Ron Patterson barely saw the floor last year. But considering how thin the Orange are in the backcourt, he likely will see it more in 2014-15.
Will he be able to score?
Patterson's role on next year's team seems like it will be Trevor Cooney's relief. Michael Gbinije will be playing a number of positions, so if he is unavailable to spell Cooney, Boeheim will look to Patterson.
At 6'2" and 200 pounds, Patterson has the size to be a disruptive defender at the top of the zone. The focus will be on his offense. Whenever he entered a game, he was looking to get shots up, and he made six of the 19 three-pointers he attempted.
If he shows early in the season he can make threes reliably, his role could increase drastically. Scoring will be at a premium, so fans will take whatever they can get from Patterson.
Like you even need to be told.
For Trevor Cooney, it begins and ends with three-point shooting. He's the only established shooting threat on the roster, but after the way he ended the season, Cooney is anything but established.
Of course, if other players are able to hit from the outside, it will lessen Cooney's burden. But until that happens, it will again be Cooney who has to carry the load from the outside. He showed he is capable when he shot 50 percent from three in nonconference play. Now he just needs to be consistent for the entire season.
A secondary question for Cooney is how he embraces an increased leadership role. As a redshirt junior, Cooney is one of the most experienced players on the roster. He will have to be one of the vocal leaders on the floor, along with Rakeem Christmas.
For Tyler Roberson, we need to know if he will be more comfortable on the floor this year.
Depending on how the lineup shakes out (read: if Coleman is healthy), Roberson could find himself in the starting five. Boeheim likes to have a game-changer come off the bench, and this year, that could be Michael Gbinije. Either way, Roberson will see a significant boost in minutes.
Roberson started one game last year (against Georgia Tech) and got some less-than-stellar reviews from Boeheim. Boeheim told Syracuse.com's Donna Ditota that Roberson didn't play more because "he isn't ready. He doesn't know the defense. He doesn't know the offense."
With a year under his belt and a summer ahead of him to improve, Roberson will be able to learn the offense and the defense. He'll have to, because he'll be needed to help fill the void left by C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant.
If Roberson makes a jump, he can be a major contributor for the Orange next year. The minutes are there for the taking.
Michael Gbinije is going to be a man of many masks for the Orange next year.
He'll likely still function as the backup point guard, so the smart money is on him coming off the bench again next year. He's also one of the more experienced players at forward, so he will see time on the back line of the zone as well.
So the question begs: Will he be able to flourish in a number of different roles?
Sometimes, Boeheim is going to need Gbinije to come in and dictate the offense when Joseph is struggling. Other times, Gbinije will have to step in for Roberson or McCullough either due to foul trouble or subpar play. He'll probably be leaned on as much as anyone, so we need to know if he is up to it.
Where Syracuse will find its points is the major question mark heading into next season. Gbinije is going to be responsible for finding those points both when handling the ball and playing forward. He'll also carry a lot of defensive responsibility. If he increases his steal numbers from a year ago (comparable on a per-minute basis to Cooney and Tyler Ennis), it can lead to easy points in transition.
Is he ready to be The Man in the middle?
After earning his degree in only three years—which is a remarkable accomplishment, especially for a Division I athlete—Christmas will return as a grad student in his last year of eligibility. Not only does he now have his degree, but he has the support of his head coach.
Boeheim is expecting great things for the big man this year. Boeheim had a pretty bold prediction concerning Christmas.
"He continues to work hard on the court. He's gotten better and he'll continue to get better," Boeheim said, per Mike Waters of Syracuse.com. "I think he'll be the most improved player in the conference next year."
You know what? It's not out of the question. Christmas displayed his work ethic by graduating in three years, so if he keeps working as hard on the court, he can become a major player for Syracuse. The Orange will certainly need him.
Coleman's status is still up in the air, and the only other option behind Christmas is redshirt freshman (or sophomore?) Chinonso Obokoh. Therefore, Boeheim will lean on Christmas to play through tough stretches and foul trouble. If Christmas is up to the task, he can become one of the Orange's most important players.