With the Big East schedule looming and only a few games left to fine-tune the problem areas, now is a good time to evaluate what has happened up to this point.
Just as the Syracuse students are graded in their classrooms, so shall the team players be graded on their performances. While this year's team doesn't show many weaknesses, there is always room for improvement.
Being top-ranked in the country is all well and good, but it doesn't mean anything if the players rest on their reputations and don't work every day to get better.
Some players need help, while others deserve a pat on the back.
Let's take a look at each player's performance thus far.
Kris Joseph has enjoyed a fine season, but it could and should be better.
For the second consecutive year, Joseph has been named to both the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list and the Naismith Trophy preseason watch list.
He leads the team in scoring with 14.4 points per game and is the leading rebounder with six per game.
Against Manhattan, he became the 55th Syracuse player to score 1,000 points in his career.
In a normal season at Syracuse, Joseph would have a much higher scoring average, but there is so much depth on the team that there doesn’t seem to be enough balls to go around.
But Joseph, who is known for his lightning-quick first step, has no problem creating his own shot. This is evident as he also leads the Orange in shot attempts.
Joseph has allowed Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche to take on some of the leadership role on the team. This creates a team that has a different look each time it steps on the court.
Syracuse will be better served when Joseph establishes himself as the team’s leader on the court.
Even as Joseph leads the team in scoring, there are times when he disappears on offense. This team has star power, but it will only go as far as Kris Joseph takes it.
Dion Waiters was unhappy with his role at Syracuse after last season.
After some soul-searching and a little motivation from Coach Boeheim, Waiters emerged from last year as a new man.
The sophomore guard could start on almost any team in America, but just because he doesn’t start, don’t believe he’s on the back-burner.
Waiters is third on the team in minutes played and is second in scoring.
His spark off the bench is one of the biggest keys to the success of the Orange this year.
He shoots over 50 percent from the field and is a decent free-throw shooter and passer. What sets him apart and makes him the most valuable sixth-man in the nation is his proclivity for thievery.
On a team that leads the nation in steals, Waiters has established himself as the prince of pilfering for the Orange. Waiters has bought in to Jim Boeheim’s plan for him on offense and defense, and the dividends are paying off big.
Waiters can do a little of everything well continues to improve each game.
Syracuse couldn’t be happier.
This year has been a tale of two Brandons for Jim Boeheim.
Some games, Triche will look like the best player on the court, and in others (such as the one-point effort against NC State) Orange fans are left to wonder what Triche’s role on the team will be.
Triche is a veteran and a leader on the court, but his lapses in the offense need to be fewer and farther between.
Syracuse has enough talent to overcome any one player having an off night, but Triche seems all too comfortable, at times being a spectator rather than a participant.
Lapses in scoring aside, Triche is still a tremendous defender, and his length at the top of the zone is an invaluable asset to the Orange. He is the team's best free-throw shooter and as an off-guard needs to drive the lane and get to the charity stripe as often as possible.
All Triche needs to do is improve his decision-making with the ball and get a little more involved in the offense.
Scoop Jardine has taken on the role of team leader.
He has done a good job of setting up the Orange offense by distributing the ball and getting as many players involved in the flow of the game as possible.
He almost single-handedly willed Syracuse to victory against Florida with his big-shot ability and seems to embrace his position as a team leader.
He is second on the team in steals and shoots from the field at a high clip.
That’s the good.
The bad is that among Orange players who have played significant minutes, Jardine is tied with Fab Melo as the team’s worst free-throw shooter. On a team perennially known for its problems at the free-throw line, this has to improve.
He has been relegated to the bench at times for Dion Waiters, but this isn’t a statement on Jardine as much as it is a compliment to Waiters.
That being said, Coach Boeheim has exercised a quick leash on Scoop when he gets sloppy with the ball, which happens a little more than the coach would like.
Scoop Jardine will never be Jason Kidd, but he has a great court sense and his nearly 2:1 assist/turnover ratio will most certainly improve with time as the Orange work out the kinks.
Jardine’s problems are minimal and can be fixed on the practice floor.
James Southerland is another spark plug off the bench for Jim Boeheim.
He is the team’s best three-point threat and has contributed just as many points off the bench as Scoop Jardine has as a starter, while playing five fewer minutes per game.
Southerland is the most athletic player on the Syracuse roster, but as so many other Orange players have found, consistency has been hard to come by.
Southerland has lit up the nets from beyond the arc in some games, but in others, such as in the preseason NIT against Virginia Tech and Stanford, has gone missing.
Southerland fills in nicely when Kris Joseph needs a breather and is an important part of keeping legs fresh. He is also a very good defender who can block shots as well as steal the ball.
Consequently, Southerland will remain a very important part of his team’s success as long as he can find some consistency.
On a personal note, I love watching C.J. Fair play.
He’s exciting and athletic, he dunks hard and can be a very good playmaker when given the opportunity.
He has shown improvement over his freshman campaign—which wasn’t bad—and is navigating the crowded Syracuse lineup with ease.
With more playing time, Fair’s confidence is growing. Fair will be given the opportunity to blossom in this offense, which creates a ton of transition baskets due to its incredible defensive effort.
Fair is an explosive scorer when he wants to be and is the second-best rebounder on the team, which is why even as a bench player, Fair logs the second-highest amount of minutes on the court for Syracuse.
It’s only a matter of time before Fair becomes a star of the program.
Fab Melo has been one of the most pleasant surprises for Syracuse this season.
Melo spent last year on Syracuse’s bench, perpetually parked next to Jim Boeheim and usually on the receiving end of a tirade because of a stupid play or plays.
Melo 2.0 is leaner and meaner and is showing signs of becoming the much-hyped player he was projected to be.
Assistant coach Mike Hopkins is doing nicely developing Melo in the absence of Bernie Fine, who normally would develop Syracuse’s big men, but has been terminated as a result of the much-publicized molestation investigation.
Melo’s game is still raw, but he is quickly improving.
He has become a talented shot-blocker and rebounder. He has learned to use his 7'0" frame to his advantage by clogging up the middle of the Syracuse zone and has lessened his tendency to make stupid fouls exponentially.
Fab Melo has all the makings of a dominant center. He only has to want it bad enough.
Baye Moussa Keita
Baye Moussa Keita, the sophomore from Senegal, is a defensive specialist who plugs in nicely when Fab Melo needs a break.
He’s a good shot-blocker, isn’t shy around the rim and, for his size at 6-10, isn’t a liability at the free-throw line, which is a rare occurrence historically for Syracuse big men.
He rarely turns the ball over when it’s in his hands. On the year, he only has three turnovers, and out of the 18 shots he’s attempted, he’s only missed four.
That’s a win-win for Syracuse and another example of the great bench-depth they possess.
Keita, while platooning with Melo, creates a formidable defensive force in the 2-3 zone.
Once Keita puts more muscle on, he and Melo will create a dominating force on the boards and in the lane.
High school phenom Rakeem Christmas has been a work in progress.
The freshman has managed to start every game for the Orange, but his minutes do not reflect what that of a starter should be.
He is still raw, has trouble with turnovers and hasn’t developed the offensive mindset he will need to take advantage of his 6'9" frame.
To his advantage, Jim Boeheim isn’t worried about Christmas’ offense and would just like to see him crash the boards for now.
The jury is still out on Rakeem, but Boeheim seems to have faith in him, and there is little pressure on him to perform.
We’ll see how he develops as he garners more minutes throughout the season.
The season is still young for freshman Michael Carter-Williams, but against George Washington on December 10, Carter-Williams showed one of the reasons he was so highly touted coming out of high school.
Carter-Williams managed eight assists against zero turnovers in only 18 minutes of action to help the Orange cruise.
But that's only one game.
He hasn’t been a very good shooter—but he hasn’t been asked to be.
What Jim Boeheim needs from Carter-Williams is to develop his court sense, lessen the turnovers and eventually get some muscle on his lanky frame.
Carter-Williams needs to fine-tune his game, but it’s early in his career, and the sky should be the limit for the point guard of Syracuse’s future.