Syracuse Basketball: What Each Projected Starter Brings to the Table in 2014-15
It's easy to write off the Syracuse basketball team after it lost three starters and three of its top four scorers. But the returning players are on scholarship as well, and they should be able to keep the team competitive by the time March rolls around.
So what exactly does each potential starter bring to the table? Well, we should start by sorting out the starting lineup.
Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas will likely reprise their starting roles. Since incoming freshman Kaleb Joseph is the only true point guard on the roster, he will probably start at the 1. Michael Gbinije could challenge Joseph, but Jim Boeheim could prefer to use Gbinije's versatility off the bench.
DaJuan Coleman is making progress, but he can't be counted on to be ready by the beginning of the season. Because of that, freshman Chris McCullough should start at forward with Tyler Roberson rounding out the starting five unless Boeheim decides to start Gbinije.
With that out of the way, let's look deeper at what each player will bring to next year's Syracuse team.
Kaleb Joseph-Athleticism and Attitude
It doesn't take long to see that Kaleb Joseph is a fantastic athlete.
At 6'3", Joseph isn't on the same level as Michael Carter-Williams in terms of size and length. But what he lacks in height Joseph more than makes up for with his ability to get up and finish strong at the rim.
Joseph "is speed and quickness and potential," said Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins, per Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com. Joseph has the ability to be a dangerous transition player as long as he does his best to limit poor decisions. In the half court, Joseph should be able to use that quickness and dribbling ability to break down his defender and get into the paint, either creating opportunities for himself or opening up teammates.
The other factor Joseph will bring to the table can't be seen in many highlight tapes. He takes every game seriously and always demands the best from his teammates. He discussed the way he approaches games with Carlson.
I (can be) an a-hole. I don't like to lose at all. The kids on the team, a lot don't like coming to play pick-up sometimes because if they're on my team and we lose, I'm pissed. I'm not pointing the finger and saying you should have done this or that but it's an awkward tension. I don't like to lose.
While coaches and fans are surely hoping that kind of attitude doesn't cause a rift between players, that kind of competitive fire is something this Orange team currently lacks. The leaders of the team (Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas) aren't outwardly vocal or emotional, and from the sounds of it, Joseph certainly isn't shy about expressing himself.
As long as Joseph doesn't get into it with any teammates or opponents, his competitive spirit and desire to win no matter what are good traits for a point guard to have.
Trevor Cooney-Leadership, Shooting and Defense
As a redshirt junior, Trevor Cooney is one of the more experienced players on the Orange roster. With that experience comes the responsibility of being one of the team leaders on and off the court.
With another freshman point guard on the way, Cooney will have to be there to mentor Joseph and the rest of the younger players and help them transition to the college game.
And if the coaches have their way, Cooney will be a consistent shooting threat in 2014-15. The way Cooney's shooting percentage took a nosedive halfway through the season has been well-documented to this point, so we won't get into it again.
Without any other established outside threats, Cooney can't afford to have another up-and-down season. With another summer spent refining his mechanics, Cooney should be able to light it up from deep more frequently in 2014-15.
Finally, Cooney will be one of the leaders of the Syracuse defense. Cooney was second only to Tyler Ennis in the ACC in steals in 2013-14, and there's no reason to expect any different next year. Creating turnovers will be another key factor for the Orange, as it will help them create easy scoring opportunities.
Tyler Roberson-Help on the Glass
It's hard to predict the type of season Tyler Roberson will have.
As a freshman, Roberson played in just 20 games and averaged 2.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in 8.1 minutes a game. Now that C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are gone, Roberson will have a bigger role as a forward on this year's team.
And Roberson has been hard at work this summer. He was on the USA East Coast team in the Tallinn Cup in Estonia and Finland. Per Donna Ditota at Syracuse.com, Roberson averaged 11.8 points and 10.3 rebounds a game during the four-game trip. Roberson also pulled down 10 or more rebounds in two games.
Via Ditota, Boeheim called the trip "important" for both Roberson and B.J. Johnson "because they have to be guys who are main options." If Roberson ends up starting, that certainly qualifies as a main option.
Will Roberson average 10 rebounds a game against better competition this season? Probably not. But he will no longer be a wide-eyed freshman adjusting to the college game. Having a greater comfort level and more experience from playing overseas should help Roberson be a factor on the glass.
Besides, as Boeheim told Ditota, "That's what he does. He can run and rebound and score around the basket."
Chris McCullough-A Mountain of Potential
We've already heard, per Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com, about how Jim Boeheim thinks Chris McCullough is one of his most talented recruits since Carmelo Anthony.
Based on Boeheim's comments and extensive YouTube research, it's clear McCullough has the potential to be a special player for the Orange. Whether he is the next collegiate one-and-done remains to be seen, but McCullough has the unique skill set that can make him a standout college player.
At 6'10" with a wingspan that could be as along as 7'2", according to Ditota, McCullough has the size to play forward or center for the Orange. Considering his inexperience in the zone, McCullough likely won't see much time in the middle unless it is an emergency.
However, McCullough is highly athletic and has surprising handles for a big man. Ditota said McCullough has the "twin abilities to sink shots from the perimeter and get to the rim." If McCullough can hit jumpers and use his athletic ability to score effectively inside, he will be a matchup nightmare for just about anybody he faces.
Boeheim was quick to temper expectations for McCullough, saying "you just never know" when it comes to freshmen. But if McCullough is as advertised, he can be one of the better players to come through Syracuse in a while and have an impact on both ends of the floor.
Rakeem Christmas-Defensive Experience
Perhaps more than in previous years, Syracuse will have to lean on its defense to keep it in games.
As of yet, there are few established scoring threats on the Orange roster, so the 2-3 zone will have to be on point in order to give the team a chance to win. The anchor of the zone is the center, and Syracuse has an experienced one in Rakeem Christmas.
Christmas, a senior who has already earned his degree, has been a starter since his freshman year. Per Mike Waters of Syracuse.com, Christmas has started 109 of a possible 111 games in his three years on campus. He split time between center and forward, but after DaJuan Coleman went down with an injury, Christmas saw more time at center.
With uncertainty still surrounding Coleman's health, Christmas is the only experienced center on the Orange roster. Aside from him, the team only has redshirt freshman Chinonso Obokoh and (possibly) McCullough. Because of that, expect Christmas to see most of the minutes at center in 2014-15.
While his offensive numbers have never jumped off the page, Christmas has always been a solid defender. He blocked 1.9 shots and pulled down 5.1 rebounds per game in his junior season. That was in just 23.6 minutes a game. Considering he is likely to see a jump in minutes, his numbers should improve as well.
Christmas' coach also has high expectations for him. Per Waters, Boeheim said he thinks Christmas can be the ACC's Most Improved Player next year. If Christmas can stay out of foul trouble (and thus on the floor), he can certainly have an impressive final season in orange.