Syracuse Basketball: Predicting Orange's Most Improved Players in 2014-15
The Syracuse basketball team was pretty predictable in 2013-14.
The offense was going to run through C.J. Fair, with Trevor Cooney (sometimes) handling the outside shooting, Tyler Ennis creating and Jerami Grant jumping over everyone.
Now Fair, Ennis and Grant are gone, so other players will have to step their games up to keep the Orange on the winning track. There will be plenty of previously occupied minutes to go around, and whoever improves his play most will get those minutes.
The only question is, which players will do so? Who will take the biggest step forward in 2014-15? Let's look at which Orange players will improve their game most. We'll go in order by size of improvement, saving the most improved player for last.
Jim Boeheim is going to use a committee to fill the Pittsburgh Panther-killing shoes of Tyler Ennis, and Ron Patterson will be part of the committee.
If for no other reason, Patterson will see the floor more often because the Orange are thin in the backcourt. Besides Trevor Cooney, there will only be Michael Gbinije and Kaleb Joseph as available guards. Gbinije will sometimes be needed in the frontcourt as well, so that is when Patterson will get his chance.
Patterson made the most of his limited minutes during his freshman season. He showed aggressiveness on defense, coming up with four steals in 54 minutes. That may not seem like much, but it's a better rate than those of Ennis and Cooney.
Patterson has the athleticism and quickness to be a disruptor of opposing point guards, so expect those steal numbers to spike in 2014-15 as Patterson plays more minutes.
Patterson also came out gunning when he got into games last year. He attempted 19 threes on the season, sinking six of them. If Patterson can hit from deep with relative consistency next year, he will be able to take some pressure off Cooney.
Now that Patterson has some experience at the college level, he will become a contributor for the Orange during his sophomore year.
Like Ron Patterson, Tyler Roberson is a player looking to increase his playing time in his sophomore season.
Roberson should have a fire burning under him after Jim Boeheim's comments on Roberson's performance in the loss to Georgia Tech. After the loss, Boeheim said, "He cannot help us right now," and Roberson didn't see the floor again except for during garbage time of Syracuse's NCAA tournament win over Western Michigan.
Now, Roberson will be vying for a starting forward spot vacated by C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant. Unless DaJuan Coleman makes a speedy recovery, Roberson will likely get one of those starting gigs.
And Roberson was the No. 1 player in the state of New Jersey coming out of high school, per ESPN, so it's not like he's a slouch. Now that Fair is gone, it's uncertain whom Boeheim will feature in the offense. Roberson has the opportunity to get some of the spotlight.
With the chance for more minutes and the motivation from his coach, Roberson can become a key cog in the Orange rotation.
Since Michael Gbinije should see a tremendous increase in minutes, it's hard to see his game not improving.
Gbinije only saw the floor for 14.6 minutes each game last year, so it was hard for him to get into a groove and make a significant impact on games. It's hardly Gbinije's fault; he was stuck behind C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis in the rotation, and all three of those players could be on NBA rosters next year.
Now, Boeheim is going to need Gbinije to step up and play big minutes at both the guard and forward spots. The Orange will be relying on green players at both positions in sophomore Tyler Roberson and incoming freshmen Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough. Therefore, Gbinije will be looked to any time a steadying hand is needed.
I expect Gbinije to come off the bench in 2014-15, but he will still get almost 30 minutes of action since he can essentially play four positions. His steal rate on a per-minute basis was on par with those of Ennis and Trevor Cooney, who were first and second, respectively, in the ACC in steals.
Gbinije also hit 15 of his 43 three-point attempts, good for a respectable 34.9 percent clip. Gbinije's increased role should help him improve on those numbers and have a much bigger impact next year.
Jim Boeheim is already on board with this one.
When Boeheim was discussing Rakeem Christmas' graduation (in three years!) with Mike Waters of The Post-Standard, Boeheim said he expected Christmas' game to go to another level. In fact, Boeheim predicted Christmas would be the most improved player in the ACC.
Those are lofty expectations for the 6'9" senior center who averaged 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds a game during his junior season. However, Christmas improved his field-goal percentage to 61.3 percent, up from 53 percent during his sophomore year.
Christmas also made strides at the foul line, knocking down 72.6 percent of his freebies in 2013-14.
Without an established go-to scorer, Boeheim will probably look to Christmas more often on the offensive end. There were a few sightings of what Christmas could do offensively during his junior year, as Christmas had a handful of double-figure-scoring games. Considering Christmas' experience and hardworking attitude, it's easy to see why he could turn into a team leader for the Orange.