Syracuse Basketball: Orange's Biggest Question Marks in 2014-15
When considering this year's Syracuse basketball team, there are more questions than answers.
Jim Boeheim has to replace three starters, and two of those spots will likely be filled by freshmen. Aside from the returning starters, the rest of the lineup will be composed of players who played at most 15 minutes a game last year.
Boeheim is a Hall of Fame coach, and he will need every ounce of what got him there to make this team a contender in the ACC. Let's take a look at what Boeheim has to work with and examine the four biggest question marks for this year's Orange team. When sorting out the rankings, we considered how much the given question can affect the team and how important each is to the team's success.
Even though he wasn't the most vocal player, C.J. Fair was undoubtedly the leader of last year's Orange team. Fair went out and played his game, and every other player fell in line.
Now Fair is gone, and what's left is a group of players who aren't used to being in the spotlight. But a team still needs a leader on the floor, so someone (or two) will have to step up for Syracuse this year.
The most obvious candidates to take over are Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney. Both players are in the same recruiting class, but Cooney is considered a junior because he redshirted during his freshman year. However, the two of them can combine to be the faces of this team.
Cooney is a bit more of a floor leader; he's in the Aaron Craft model of players who are pests to the other team (and their fans) but more often than not make plays to help their team. Christmas can be more of a calming influence who quarterbacks the defense and keeps everyone under control.
Aside from those two players, Michael Gbinije is another experienced option who could lead the way, especially while playing with bench players. Either way, Jim Boeheim needs his older players to set the example for the more inexperienced players.
3. DaJuan Coleman's Health
When DaJuan Coleman played at the beginning of last season, he seemed to be coming into his own on offense and was a relentless offensive rebounder (one every 5.4 minutes, per Mike Waters of Syracuse.com).
Then Coleman went down with his second knee injury in as many seasons and missed the rest of the year. He's working on rehab, but when last we checked, he was targeting August for when he could start jogging again, per Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com.
If he just started jogging this month, it's hard to imagine he will be ready for game action in November.
The Orange could use Coleman, though. Without him, Rakeem Christmas is the only experienced center on the roster. Chris McCullough will likely play mostly forward, and Chinonso Obokoh redshirted last year. Other than that, the cupboard is bare.
Of course, Christmas could have a great senior season and turn into the player Jim Boeheim thinks he will be. But he will still need help for the times he gets into foul trouble or is otherwise struggling. Orange fans are hoping Coleman can provide that help sooner rather than later.
2. Point Guard
Another year, another new starting point guard for the Orange.
This year, freshman Kaleb Joseph is the most likely candidate to handle the ball for the Orange. Besides Joseph, Syracuse has Michael Gbinije, who has been interning at point guard for the past two years. After two years of lessons from Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis, Gbinije should be able to be a fine backup to Joseph.
Joseph needs to eat up the bulk of the minutes at the 1. Unlike Gbinije, Joseph is a natural point guard. His ball-handling skills pair with impressive athleticism to create the potential for a dangerous transition and off-the-dribble player.
But Joseph plays with a loose style that could lead to some bad decisions and turnovers. Every offensive possession will be important for the Orange, so Joseph can't afford to give away too many. He said himself he's not Tyler Ennis (h/t Syracuse.com's Chris Carlson), and it's likely he won't protect the ball as well as Ennis did.
As the most recent UConn team proves, guard play is important in college basketball. With another youngster running the show, it remains to be seen what the Orange have at point guard.
As you know, the Orange lost three of their top four scorers from last year's team. Now, the major question for this year's team is who will pick up the slack?
Aside from Trevor Cooney, no returning player averaged more than six points a game in 2013-14 (Rakeem Christmas was fifth on the squad at 5.8 PPG). Players who aren't used to having much of an offensive role will all of a sudden be some of the team's main options.
Players like Michael Gbinije and Tyler Roberson will have to step up. And we don't yet know what to expect from the two incoming freshmen. They both will likely be starters, so they will have plenty of opportunity to score by virtue of being on the floor more often.
But if some of these players struggle to adjust to larger roles, it could get ugly on offense early on. That is, of course, unless Cooney goes all J.J. Redick. But either way, the Orange will need more than one player to fill it up if the team is going to go anywhere in March.