Syracuse Basketball: 1 Reason Each Orange Starter Will Be a Success in 2014-15
The Syracuse basketball season needs to get here already. Is anyone else dying to see what Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough can do in an Orange uniform?
Alas, the season is still a few months away. And after losing C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis and Baye Keita, some would say it is shaping up to be a down year for the Orange in 2014-15.
But that's not necessarily the case. Jim Boeheim still has some playmakers on his team, and they can help the Orange get to the NCAA tournament once again.
The lineup will look much different than it did last year, and there could be several new faces in next year's starting lineup.
For the purposes of this article, I'm expecting the starters to be Joseph, Trevor Cooney, Tyler Roberson, Chris McCullough and Rakeem Christmas. That could change, but right now I think that is how the starting five will shake out.
So with that out of the way, let's take a look at one reason why each projected starter can have a successful season in 2014-15.
Kaleb Joseph: Athleticism
Kaleb Joseph's athletic ability should help ease his transition to the college game.
Joseph is adept at attacking off the dribble and finishing strong at the rim, which will help him both in the half court and in transition. If he is consistently abusing defenders off the dribble, then it will cause defenses to focus on him more and collapse the paint when he drives to the rim.
That extra defensive attention could allow Joseph to find open teammates either on the perimeter for a three or underneath the rim for an easy basket.
At 6'3", Joseph can be an athletic mismatch for some of the smaller guards in the ACC such as London Perrantes at Virginia, Marcus Paige at North Carolina or Tyus Jones at Duke. It will also help him on defense, as he can jump passing lanes or pick a ball-handler's pocket and create a transition opportunity.
Of course, there will be growing pains; Joseph will still be a freshman. But if he can minimize his mistakes and put pressure on defenses in transition and off the dribble, then he can have a solid year running the point for the Orange.
Trevor Cooney: Learning from the Past
After a season in which he was white-hot for the first half of the season and laying bricks for the second half, Trevor Cooney needs to score with more consistency in 2014-15.
Since Cooney is Syracuse's top returning scorer, he will first and foremost shoulder the scoring burden in the upcoming season.
One way Cooney can be more consistent is not to rely on just bombing threes to get his points. If he misses one or two, then he can use the head fake and pull up from closer after a few dribbles. Even if he makes a few in a row, he can still use that move since defenses will be flying out to challenge his shots.
Also, continued work on his mechanics and technique with assistant coach and shooting extraordinaire, Gerry McNamara, should help Cooney hit it from deep more consistently.
If Cooney stays confident and continues to work on his game and Boeheim looks for more ways to get him open (I've suggested the Warriors' elevator doors play once before), then Cooney can be a dangerous scorer for the entire season.
Tyler Roberson: Higher Comfort Level
As a freshman in 2013-14, Tyler Roberson didn't get much run as the season wore on. It wasn't entirely his fault, because he was behind C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, who were too good to take out most of the time.
But injuries caused Roberson to be thrust into a start against Georgia Tech, and he struggled mightily. Via Donna Ditota at Syracuse.com, Jim Boeheim said Roberson "doesn't know the defense. He doesn't know the offense."
After a year spent acclimating to college and a summer spent learning the offense and the defense, Roberson should be ready to step into a bigger role for the Orange. The opportunity is there to start, and because of his experience from last year, Roberson can seize that opportunity.
Because Syracuse lost both starting forwards from last year's team, Roberson will also be relied on more heavily than he was last year. An increased role will give him more confidence in himself and help him perform on the court.
Chris McCullough: Talent Combined with Determination
In an excellent feature on Chris McCullough by Donna Ditota on Syracuse.com, Ditota said Jim Boeheim told McCullough "he might be the most talented player [Boeheim] recruited since 'Melo."
That's a lofty comparison, but it speaks to just how much potential the 6'10" Bronx native has. There's also been plenty of buzz about the potential of McCullough heading to the NBA after one season, further adding to his mystique as a top-flight player.
There is no denying his length and athletic ability, though, which will immediately be assets for McCullough when he steps on to the Carrier Dome floor.
In Ditota's feature, she also described McCullough's smooth shooting touch and range out to 15 feet. If he can step out and hit a jumper as well as be a threat underneath, then McCullough can be an offensive force.
McCullough also has the drive to get to the next level. Ditota detailed McCullough's upbringing in the Bronx and discussed how his dad was a high school player in New York. Also, his uncle got recruited by Pitt, but he didn't do well enough in school to go to college.
McCullough told Ditota "I feel like I gotta make it. I need to make it. For myself. And just to take my family out the 'hood. That's my dream."
Combine his undeniable skills with his drive to be successful, and you have a potential breakout star in McCullough.
Rakeem Christmas: Senior Setting the Example
As the team's lone (non-walk-on) senior, Rakeem Christmas will be looked to as one of the team's leaders. After spending three years learning from others who came before him, Christmas will be ready to take over as the backbone of the team.
Christmas is already entering the season with high expectations. Boeheim said earlier this year he thinks Christmas will be the ACC's most improved player.
Assuming Christmas embraces his leadership role, Boeheim's prediction isn't entirely out of the question. Christmas will be the team's main option at center, and barring foul trouble, he will likely not see the bench too often.
In a small sample size, Christmas showed last year he can play well when he has no reinforcements breathing down his neck. In the two games Baye Keita missed last season, Christmas played 35 minutes in each and scored seven points against Pitt and 14 against North Carolina State.
So maybe Christmas plays more freely when he doesn't have to worry about being taken out after his first mistake. In 2014-15, he will stay on the floor unless he gets early fouls.
Knowing the team is relying on his presence in the middle, Christmas will step up and be the on-court leader the team needs.