Syracuse Basketball: Orange Most Likely to Make All-ACC Team
As of now, the Syracuse basketball team is devoid of very much star power.
Jim Boeheim lost three of the top four players from a rotation that struggled to go seven deep, so unproven players will have to step up to fill the shoes of the departed stars.
But players get better with time and opportunities. Syracuse has a couple of talented incoming freshmen, and there are several upperclassmen ready to become leaders of the team.
The Orange probably won't have anyone challenging for ACC Player of the Year, but Boeheim does have talented players who can be among the best in the conference. Let's look at the Orange players who are the surest bets to get on the All-ACC team at the end of the season.
We'll order the players based on how likely they are to get on the team as well as what level (first, second or third team) they could realistically get to. At the end of each slide, we'll give each player's ceiling, or the highest level they could reach with an outstanding season.
It's going to be difficult for Rakeem Christmas to get All-ACC consideration, but it's possible if he lives up to Jim Boeheim's expectations.
Boeheim thinks Christmas can be the ACC's most improved player, which would surely get him a spot on the All-ACC team. But Christmas will be shouldering a much greater load in his final year with the Orange, and it remains to be seen how he will handle the new role.
Christmas doesn't need to be the team's leading scorer, but if he gets around 10 points a game and can stay on the floor and lock down defensively, he has the potential to be a solid starting center for the Orange. And if DaJuan Coleman gets healthy, it will just make Christmas' job easier.
Christmas also has a lot of competition in the ACC. Louisville's Montrezl Harrell will almost surely be on the first or second team, and Duke has ESPN's No. 1 recruit in center Jahlil Okafor.
Christmas would basically have to have an out-of-body experience to beat out the other talented ACC forwards. But if he embraces his leadership role as a senior and elevates his game like Boeheim expects, Christmas can make a case for All-ACC.
Ceiling: honorable mention; third team with a breakout year
Michael Gbinije would have to significantly raise his game, but it isn't out of the question for him to get on the All-ACC squad.
After only playing 14.6 minutes a game in 2013-14, Gbinije will most likely get closer to 30 this year. Whether it be off the bench (the most plausible) or as a starter, Gbinije will be one of the main options to replace the departed stars from last year's team.
Gbinije's versatility and defensive ability are what will get him looks for the All-ACC team. His role isn't defined yet, but Gbinije could reasonably end up being the starting point guard, starting forward or sixth man. He's spent the past two years learning the 1 behind Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis, so he will get more time there since freshman Kaleb Joseph is the only other point guard on the team.
And on defense, Gbinije can play either guard or forward spot. At 6'7", he can create problems for opposing guards, which helped him get 0.7 steals a game last year. That rate per minute is on par with Ennis and Trevor Cooney, who were Nos. 1 and 2 in steals in the ACC last season.
Assuming Gbinije will get a significant boost in playing time, those steals numbers should also trend upward. If he plays multiple positions throughout the year and is a pest defensively, Gbinije could find himself as a reserve on the All-ACC team.
Ceiling: third team
Kaleb Joseph has the athleticism and ball-handling ability to raise an eyebrow or two this season. However, after the season Tyler Ennis had as a freshman, expectations may be high for Joseph.
Assuming Joseph ends up starting, he could follow in Ennis' footsteps, albeit with a different style of play. While Ennis was a methodical player and protected the ball like it was nuclear launch codes, Joseph plays more freely and dominates with his athleticism and passing ability.
If Joseph comes in and helps the offense run smoothly, he can challenge for an All-ACC spot. He will have to make good decisions with the ball, especially in transition, or he could see reduced playing time, which would hurt his cause.
Joseph also has stiff competition from other guards in the ACC.
Marcus Paige is still at North Carolina, and he was named an All-ACC first-teamer by the coaches and media last year. London Perrantes of Virginia also had an impressive freshman year last year, and in 2014-15, he could elevate his game in an expanded role. Joseph will also be competing will fellow freshman Tyus Jones, who is the No. 4-ranked prospect by ESPN. Jones, a McDonald's All-American, is headed to Duke.
Joseph will have his work cut out for him, but he can get on the All-ACC team if he has few freshman growing pains.
Ceiling: third team; second with an Ennis-ian season
If Trevor Cooney finds a consistent three-point stroke this year, he can hang with almost any other ACC guard for an All-ACC spot.
If Cooney's shot is falling, that will naturally push his scoring average up, which is surely attractive to the voters. It will also make it easier for him to get baskets off the dribble using head fakes because defenders will be flying out to challenge the three-point shots.
Despite cooling off as last season went on, Cooney was still a disruptive defender at the top of the 2-3 zone. Cooney picked up 1.9 steals a game in 2013-14, which was second in the conference to his teammate, Tyler Ennis.
But it starts and ends with the long ball for Cooney. Torching the nets is the easiest way to get attention, and the Orange will need Cooney to do just that in order to keep the offense afloat.
Ceiling: second team; first with an unconscious shooting year
When Jim Boeheim was recruiting Chris McCullough, McCullough told Donna Ditota of The Post-Standard, Boeheim said the 6'10" forward was "one of the best he's recruited since Melo."
No, not Fab Melo. McCullough was talking about Carmelo Anthony, who is now a Syracuse demigod after leading the team to the program's only national title. If those expectations become reality, McCullough has no ceiling when it comes to All-ACC accolades.
In a separate visit with McCullough, Ditota said he has a "fluid, seamless shooting stroke" and can step out and hit it from 15 feet. If he can combine that at the collegiate level with his elite athleticism and ability to take opponents off the dribble, he could be borderline unguardable one-on-one.
Of course, McCullough is just a freshman, so there could be a learning curve. It's always harder for big men to transition to the college game since they aren't used to playing against other players their size. But McCullough has the skills to be a special player, which is why Ditota is already talking about his one-and-done possibilities.
Based on talent alone, McCullough should be able to at least make the All-ACC third team. But the potential is there for him to achieve even more.
Ceiling: first team