Syracuse Basketball: Each Projected Starter's Most Concerning Flaw
The 2014-15 Syracuse basketball team will be far from perfect.
Head coach Jim Boeheim will have to replace three of his top four scorers, and he will be starting his fourth different point guard in four years. If the young players are able to make improvements, the team has the potential to be dangerous by March. But there will be no 25-0 start this year.
What improvements do Boeheim's big guns need to make to turn the team into a contender? Before we get to that, we need to sort out who will be the featured players. Just who will end up starting?
If I had to venture a guess, I'd say it will end up being Kaleb Joseph, Trevor Cooney, Tyler Roberson, Chris McCullough and Rakeem Christmas. Michael Gbinije will likely be used as a sixth man because of his versatility.
If DaJuan Coleman makes a quicker-than-expected recovery, he could challenge for a starting spot as well. Until we find out when he could return, he isn't a viable option. So now that we have the starters sorted out, let's look at the area each player should focus most on improving heading into next season.
Kaleb Joseph: Ball Security
Kaleb Joseph will likely be the second freshman in a row to start at point guard for Syracuse.
Tyler Ennis, Joseph's predecessor, had an uncanny ability to protect the ball, which helped him become a top-20 pick in the NBA draft. How well Joseph takes care of the ball remains to be seen, but it's hard to imagine he, or anyone else, will do as well as Ennis.
Ennis and Joseph play with different styles. Ennis is a methodical player, prodding the defense and waiting for the right play to present itself. Joseph, however, seems to look to force the action to try to create plays. This freewheeling style could lead to Joseph earning his fair share of stink-eyes from Jim Boeheim.
Joseph also has a more demonstrative on-court demeanor, and he tries to make the flashy play every now and then. Sometimes that isn't always the best basketball play, though, which can get Joseph in trouble.
Luckily, Boeheim has Michael Gbinije on the bench to take Joseph's place if the freshman gets a little too out of control. But Joseph has the talent and athleticism to be a matchup problem for opposing guards. If he can limit his mistakes, he should be able to keep the Orange offense from sputtering.
Trevor Cooney: Lack of Scoring Versatility
We know that Trevor Cooney butters his bread with the three-point shot. If he is feeling it, Cooney can swing a game by himself. Just ask Notre Dame.
But some nights, Cooney's shot won't be falling. There were plenty of those nights in the second half of the 2013-14 season. Other times, teams will be focusing on not letting him get an open look from the perimeter.
When this happens, Cooney needs to find other ways to score. Of the 9.8 shots per game he attempted last season, 7.1 of them were threes. If his long-range game was off, Cooney was essentially a non-factor.
If Cooney can put together more of an off-the-dribble game this summer, it will give him more options when his shots aren't falling. Cooney is going to be one of the main offensive options in 2014-15, so he can't have a one-dimensional game.
He should also look to take the ball to the rim more often. After all, he has a 41-inch max vertical leap, so he should be able to get up and at least get a good look at the rim. If Cooney is able to score with a wider array of moves, he will have no problem being the team's primary offensive threat.
Tyler Roberson: Comfort Level on Defense
A forward in Syracuse's 2-3 zone has a lot of responsibilities. He has to cover the perimeter from the corner to the elbow and be sure to limit open three-point attempts. But if the ball swings and moves inside, he has to get back to protect the rim, all while being spry enough to get back to the perimeter if the opposition has Spurs-ian ball movement.
Mastering the defensive rotations will be the biggest key for Tyler Roberson, who in his sophomore year will shoulder an exponentially bigger burden than last year. Roberson is expected to start over Michael Gbinije, whom Boeheim will likely use as the sixth man.
After being buried on the bench for much of the season, Roberson got his first start against Georgia Tech on March 4 in place of an injured Jerami Grant. The Orange lost that game, and via Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com, Boeheim said afterward that Roberson "cannot help us right now."
Boeheim went on to say that Roberson was having trouble with the defense, and a few times during the game, Roberson indeed looked lost and gave up open shots.
For the Syracuse defense to stay in top form, Roberson will have to make strides on that end. If Roberson spends the summer concentrating on his defense, he will be able to stay on the floor longer when the snow returns to Central New York.
Chris McCullough: Inexperience
It's hard to fault Chris McCullough here. He could end up being the best player on the team.
McCullough told The Juice Online that while Boeheim was recruiting him, the coach said he saw him as a one-and-done player. Boeheim also said McCullough has "unlimited potential," as reported by Donna Ditota.
What could hold McCullough back, at least at first, is the adjustment to the college game. He'll be up against better competition, and he will have to learn the defense pretty quickly. His raw talent alone, though, should get him a starting role.
McCullough will have to make the best of the nonconference schedule because there will be stiff competition once the ACC season gets underway. McCullough will be going up against Montrezl Harrell of Louisville and a loaded Duke front line consisting of Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee and Jahlil Okafor, who is ESPN's No. 1-ranked incoming freshman.
Once McCullough gets his feet wet in the college game, it may prove to be difficult to find any major faults in his game at all.
Rakeem Christmas: Lack of Experience in Leadership Role
As the elder statesman for the Orange this year, Rakeem Christmas will be expected to set the example for the rest of the team.
While playing with players such as Fab Melo, C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph, Christmas was never a focal point of the Syracuse offense. Those players (except for maybe Melo) also doubled as the team leaders, so Christmas has plenty of time spent learning how to lead a team.
The Orange are suddenly mostly inexperienced, so Christmas will have to lead the way along with Trevor Cooney.
Over the years, Christmas' intensity level has fluctuated from game to game. Just last season, Christmas had stat lines like 14 points and 12 rebounds in 35 minutes against NC State. Then there were games like the one against Maryland in February, where Christmas posted zero points and one rebound with four fouls in 12 minutes.
Next year, Syracuse needs Christmas to stay closer to the NC State neighborhood. Baye Moussa Keita is no longer around to bail Christmas out, and if DaJuan Coleman is slow to return, Christmas is basically the only center Boeheim has with meaningful playing experience.