We Have Liftoff: Scouting Syracuse’s Most Important Pieces as Hoops Begins

The Fizz breaks down Boeheim and the players as the team opens the season tonight.

Photo via Washington Post

The season starts tonight.

Syracuse has played exhibition basketball games since its loss to Michigan in the Final Four last season in Atlanta, but the new slate officially starts tonight with a non-conference game against Cornell.

Last season is history. This year is entirely new. Everybody plays an important role on this team, and below are the things each of the main characters are responsible for.

Jim Boeheim

As you may expect, the head coach is responsible for the entire season. Boeheim has been doing his thing for 37 seasons, and you have to think he will continue to be the legend of Syracuse basketball in his 38th. His biggest task starts with freshman point guard Tyler Ennis. He is the leader of this team on offense when it comes to getting his teammates the chance to score. He has to help his teammates learn his system, how he plays, and how he’s different from Michael Carter-Williams. This starts with Boeheim.

Tyler Ennis

The freshman point guard has a lot to work on. He’s the leader for guys who have played at the collegiate level for at least a year, and he’s much different from MCW because he’s better on offense. He’s quicker and he can shoot—starkly different from MCW, who, according to Boeheim, was perhaps one of the best defensive point guards Syracuse has ever had. Since Ennis is a freshman, all of his moves will be heavily critiqued and talk will rise about whether or not he is a capable point for a national powerhouse. He played well during the two exhibition games against Holy Family and Ryerson. In 24 minutes against Ryerson, he had seven points and five assists. He also added four steals. For Ennis, it’ll be important to see what he does well, not what he does poorly. With MCW, all of the focus was on how he couldn’t hit the big shot and he kept turning the ball over. With Ennis, he won’t play a bad game. He may not hit the big number in scoring, but he won’t have many turnovers. Look at his positives rather than his negatives.

Trevor Cooney

Coming out of the Sanford School in Delaware, people expected Cooney to be that guy off the bench who could come in and hit the big three. That was not the case last season. It must this season. If he’s going to be a starter, he has to actually be a heavy minute player. He can’t just be in there for the tip and then come out 40 seconds later. Against Ryerson, he had nine points in 21 minutes. He doesn’t need to score 20 points; he just needs to make his shot. He made three of nine from the three in Tuesday’s game and that’s not too bad—the thing that is most concerning is that he took nine three-point shots. He shouldn’t only be shooting. If he is only going to shoot, that means he’s not giving everyone else a good look at the basket.

CJ Fair

This is simple—he’s the senior on the team. He’s the ACC Preseason Player of the Year. There are very high hopes for him this season, especially because he decided to return for his senior season rather than go to the NBA. He shot 41 percent from the field on Tuesday and finished with 18 points. He will be the leader. Simply put, he just has to do what he did last season. If he could work on his deep shooting game, that would help the team recover from the loss of James Southerland. 

Rakeem Christmas

Christmas has to be big. He had the potential coming out of high school and in 2011, many may have been surprised if you told them he would still be in an Orange uniform as a junior. Things have not worked out well for him; entering his junior year, Christmas feels like he’s here because of a two-year slump. He has to be more than the guy Boeheim pulls after the tip. He needs to be more physical. No more balls going off his fingertips. No more missed dunks. No more sloppy offensive play. For this young team to play well, he needs to build up and play tightly.

DaJuan Coleman

Coming out of J-D, there were high hopes for Coleman. Last season he dealt with some injuries, but this year he looks good. It looks like he lost weight and as long as he can stay healthy, he could be huge for this season. In the game against Holy Family, he picked up a couple offensive fouls for using that shoulder move. Offensive fouls can hurt the Orange and he needs to find a way to be a little smoother with his shoulders and stay calm. Going into the season, that’s one of his biggest flaws.

Jerami Grant

Without a doubt, he has to be as good as—or better than—he was last season. He’s a sophomore off the bench and could be like a Dion Waiters, where he comes off the bench and is simply electric. He can also shoot. He had eight points against Ryerson in 19 minutes, but was 2-for-7 from the free-throw line. These are just little things that need to be worked on in order for him to be an effective all-around player. He’s going to be Boeheim’s first guy off the bench and if there are any injuries to Cooney, Fair, Coleman or Christmas, expect to see Grant on the court.

Michael Gbinije

He needs time. Don’t expect him to be amazing and play lights-out off the bench this season. He just came from Duke and sat out the entire season last year. It’s been a very long time since he played competitive basketball and it can take a long time to get back into the intensity of the game. He didn’t play so well against Holy Family and against Ryerson, he had five points in 20 minutes and turned the ball over three times. He will have to learn how to use his hands better to avoid fouls and turnovers.

Baye Keita

As a senior, he will get his time to play. He was great in the Big East and NCAA tournaments, and he needs to keep that play up. He made his free throws, which is unheard of for a big man (think of Shaq). Orange Nation can’t look for impressive offense from Keita. He needs to use his height for defense. If he helps his team on defense, he’s doing his job, and that’s all he needs to do.

Tyler Roberson, Ron Patterson, B.J. Johnson

All three of these guys are in the same situation. They’re freshmen on the roster and will get their chance to play this season. They have a goal to come off the bench when called upon and to give the starters a chance to rest. Johnson struggled in the game against Ryerson. He picked up three fouls in just seven minutes on the court. All three will grow more comfortable as the season progresses.

Posted by: Austin Pollack

21 Comments on this Post

  1. And so begins the usual shift of attention from football to basketball.

  2. Andrew,

    We’ll still have football stories going up. Since the basketball season starts tonight, we have to give Boeheim’s crew a little love.


  3. @Andrew;

    I would like to offer some news that might change you feeling sad that some of us are talking basketball on this website already.

    1st—I guess that you’ve already heard about the men’s cross country team taking Syracuse’s first ACC Championship. Bringing the first ACC Championship trophy home was totally amazing.

    2nd— The womens field hocky team ranked #2 beat #11 Boston College 3-1 in the ACC Tournament on Thursday moving them to the Quarter Finals against #3 North Carolina on Friday. The winner of that game will play the winner of the #4 Duke vs #1 Maryland game on Sunday for the ACC Championship.

    Side note to this years ACC Tournament is three of the 4 teams Syracuse,North Carolina and Maryland played in last years NCAA Final Four. That my friend is not only amazing but priceless. Syracuse could be bringing home it’s second ACC trophy on Sunday.

    I hope this information helps to change your feelings on the overlap of certain sports seasons.

  4. I am not upset about basketball by any stretch.

    I am a Syracuse basketball fanatic, I just realize that barring MAJOR success from the football program.. basketball is king.

  5. OrangeCrush27

    Very nice Ron

  6. @OrangeCrush27;

    Thank you,I forgot to add the Syracuse Womens Ice Hockey Team(4-4)travels to Penn State and plays the Lady Lions for their first league game of the season. I hope they win too. mens Basketball season starts tonight against Cornell,football tomorrow against Maryland

    With all of these teams in action this weekend it’s great to be an member of the orangenation.


  7. Give him hell RON!! CFB is # 1 in college sports. If the NFL wasn’t there it would be # 1 sport in all of the USA!! God I just watched the UCONN/MD CBB game and it was a one point game, but met nothing at all. Watched the Oregon/Stanford game and it meant alot even if it was the 2nd game of the year it would of meant more than any early CBB game. I’ll watch SUBB when the time comes, but SUFB right now and other NCAA DIV 1 FB games mean something which makes all important games important-lol!! Over jealous NCAA BB fans refuse to see that!!

    You know when your program is effective when you can find them on regular TV-easily. SU is no where in that mode. It sucks!! ESPN3 is no method to view a game seriously!!

    Do not forget the kids of PSABUSEDU!! The NCAA did!!

  8. @OrangeCrush27;

    The Syracuse Womens Field Hockey Team lost to North Carolina yesterday 1-0 and won’t advance to the ACC Championship game against Maryland on Sunday. Looking on the bright side,Syracuse put a bid in and if selected will hold the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament here in the dome. That too would be fantastic.

    If you all thought the basketball game was thrilling,my advice to you is to think again. They looked flat,no defense at all and if it weren’t for Trevor Cooney keeping us in the game Syracuse would have lost by 10/20 points. If they’re going to win the ACC they’re going to have to play a hell of a lot better than that.

    Terry is correct,today we play a very crucial game against Maryland at Maryland. It’s a game that Syracuse needs desperately in hopes of going bowling for the second year in a row. Get my point here? IT’S A MUST WIN GAME FOR THE ORANGEMEN. If your not traveling to the game today I sure hope your watching it on tv later this afternoon.

    GO CUSE kick some butt.

  9. @Terry;

    I watched the Stanford/Oregon game too. what was amazing was the statement made by the commentators telling everone that Stanford’s win was more important than FSU’s win over Clemson and that Stanford should be the #2 ranked team in the land. Give me a frigging break,their nothing but complete fools.

    Oregon didn’t look half as good against Stanford as Clemson did against FSU.

  10. Guys,

    I love hoops. All the basketball games are important bc you want a top 2 seed. It’s even more important /w the 1st 2rounds in buffalo and the sweet 16 an elite 8 at MSG. Love football but the BCS is dumb. Sure every game is huge but have you guys forgot that the team has lost a handful of games already? The games just don’t mean much for SU right now. Yea they are trying to get bowl eligible but it’s going to be for some crummy bowl in dec. Sorry I can’t hide my excitement lol. Also no way stanford jumps FSU. They lost to an unranked Utah team. They need few of the 1 undefeated teams in front of them to loose if they have chance.

    I agree 1st half was ruff last night but they cleaned things up in the second half an dominanted. A lot of new but talented faces just going to take a few games to gel. They will be fine an right there /w Duke at the end of the year.

  11. @OrangeCrush27;

    follow up to the Womens Ice Hockey Game against Penn State on Saturday beating them 2-1 and improving their record to(5-4-0, 1-0-0 CHA).

    Syracuse will play Penn State again on Sunday,lets hope they win again tomorrow.

    Womens Field Hockey Team went 1-1 with North Carolina in the ACC Tournament,Mens Basketball Team beat Cornell,Football Team beat Maryland on saturday and the Womens Ice Hockey Team beat Penn State on Saturday. Amazing and just plain PRICELESS.

    Like I said earlier,this weekend was great to be a member of the Orangenation.

  12. @Terry;

    The exposure that Syracuse is getting on national television should help with the recruiting. If we play a respectable game against FSU,return home for the last two games against Pittsburgh and Boston College in front of 45/48k people for each game that should also bring in some good recruits.

    Hind sight is a wonderful thing. I believe if we would have had different personnel in the Northwestern and Penn State games we could be(7-2 3-2 ACC)right now heading into our last 3 games of the season.

    The bright side for the Orangemen this season is showing us all that the pundits/talking heads at ESPN who had Syracuse finishing last in the Atlantic Division really don’t know what their talking about. What about the guy who printed in an issue of Athlon Sports Magizine “Syracuse wouldn’t win another ACC game for the rest of the year”?

  13. Carlton CBB games now mean little in a 30 game season. You can still make the dance losing to a lesser team(s). Thank god its not that way in CFB and we all know that!! EVERY GAME COUNTS IN CFB!! In CFB a week one game means the world to a program. CFB’s popularity shows that and the fans show that by their love of the game.

    Ron-Great win and on TV to. But HUNT still is killing SU. NO and I mean NO TDs since Tulane. That is below average QB play let alone good QB play. I took the grandkids to my club for wings and to watch the game. HUNT just does not have it and even my grandkids see that. The club crowd went nuts when HCSS let HUNT pass at the end of the game instead of running some clock out. But I’ll give HCSS credit. HCSS saw a chance for HUNT’s confidence to build thinking MD would think run. Well you saw a couple of JV HS passes in HUNT’s effort that went badly. I know as well as others that HCSS ain’t going to knock his players, but with the next 3 games coming you are not going to win with 75% running. FSU enough said!! BC just had a RB get nearly 300yrs!! Yes BC is no Alabama, but that ain’t bad and a better running game that SU’s. And Pitt beat ND a better team than SU. Running it nearly alone will not beat one of these teams. Airing it out will and thats they way SU has to do it to win and go bowling(please no Snow Bowl)!! HUNT ain’t the man. After all there is no Wagner(getting beat by EVERYONE) and Tulane in the next 3 games!! Also, I guess HCSS is not a coach to fire off on his players after poor judgement on penalties! Way to many. He should try it!! Nothing else so far has worked!!

    The Elmira Express(9-0) of Elmira will play CBA in the states quarter finals next weekend in Binghamton. Well the Express a neighborhood school will play CBA the best recruited and paid HS around Upstate NY!! There is just something about high school guys with the same neighborhood DNA playing against a team where their DNA might come from the surrounding Syracuse area!! It ain’t right but it is what it is. Next Saturday SU goes against FSU and has its hands full. Next weekend Elmira goes against CBA( kinda like Ron/Russ’s favorite NJ Catholic powers) and will play against the odds. It to doesn’t look good for Elmira, but they will show and we’ll see what happens. I’ll know Me and the kids will be there rooting for the real HSFB team ELMIRA EXPRESS and not the best built HSFB $$$$ can buy!! Go CUSE and GO EXPRESS!!

  14. @Terry;

    CBA wouldn’t stand a chance against the likes of a Don Bosco Team or a Bergen Catholic School. Your comparing apples to Oranges here. I wish Elmira Express good luck and hope that they beat CBA on Saturday.

    I think J.R. Zazzara decommitted from Syracuse and committed to Buffalo not because they offered him a chance to play both lacrosse and football,but because he saw that Syracuse brought in the #2 ranked class for the 2014 lacrosse season and probably come to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to be playing much at all. I wish him all the luck in the world playing at buffalo.

    The womens Ice Hockey swept a pair of games from Penn State this weekend putting them at (6-4 2-0 CHA) good enough for 1st place. The womens Basketball Team beat Washington State on sunday to open their season. Good job to both squads,way to go ladies.

    Your right Terry,Terrell Hunt didn’t look good at all on Saturday. Vegas has Syracuse as 38.5 point underdogs against FSU. The last three games of the season are going to be tough to win for Syracuse. BC beat VATech,Pittsburgh beat ND and we all know what FSU did to Wake Forest.

    I’m hoping that they have enough left in them to pull out a win over one of the three teams Terry.

    I watched the ND/Pittsburgh game and I didn’t notice Ishaq Williams playing at all, did you?

  15. Ron this team really has surprised me and others. Its just the QB position that is holding back this team!! I watched the Pitt/ND game and didn’t notice Williams either.

    Yeah but CBA is truly not a neighborhood HSFB team. They recruit and really there is nothing you can do about it. Other than tell them to play their “own” kind!! Like Canisis in Buffalo or BA near Albany. I doubt it the pickings would not be as easy!! Elmira chances are very limited against CBA this weekend and most know that. But they will play the game and come out with their sling-shot to clobber the giant CBA!! Once in great awhile the area like Elmira gets a good HS team and the Express is that this year. All their players come from the north/south of the city, not miles away!! I feel the rules are stacked against neighborhood teams like Elmira and are totally favorable towards the Catholic leauge like programs!! Its a shame!! But life goes on and hope god has a plan for the Express. After all this team is spiecal!! GO EXPRESS!!

  16. Ron, Terry,

    I believe that Williams played. He had to slide down and play /w his hand in the dirt due to all the in jury’s. I think this was in the 1st half bc I don’t remember seeing him in 2nd. Wouldn’t be surprised bc of the 8-10 ppl already out in the front 7. Also did u guys notice the playing time Jarron Jones got? I know u guys like pointing this stuff out lol. One last thing is that ACC crew that called the game as well as the replay booth crew should be suspend for the rest of the season. Practically gave Pitt 14 points and kicked out ND’s stud Tuitt for a hit that clearly wasn’t helmet to helmet to helmet.

  17. @Carlton;

    Thanks for straightening Terry and I out on the Williams thing. I was happy that Pitt won the game. Jusy wondering how Kelly is feeling right about now,after going to the national championship game last year and having all of that talent on his team and losing to teams like Pittsburgh.

    One word describes it all EMBARRASSING!!!!!!

  18. @Carlton;

    With you being in the south and having watched way more ACC games than the rest of us,I find it funny that you would mention the referees. I’ve noticed all of the phantom calls against the Orangemen this season and have made the statement that they shouldn’t be allowed to referee college games and force them to retire. I guess Terry that I’m not the only one noticing the poor job that they’re doing.

    Thanks again Carlton. One question,for future reference,how far is FSU from the Tamba Bay airport?

  19. I though if Shafer was to get his 6th win and become bowl elibible,would be in line to recieve the ACC Coach of the Year award.

    The only two names being mentioned for that honor is David Cutcliffe and Jimbo Fisher.

  20. Ron,

    You would want to fly into Jacksonville if you are looking for a large airport to fly into. Tally airport is really really small. Jax is about 2.5 hours from tally. Tampa is like 4.5 to 5 depending on traffic. I guess it also depends on how much you have to stop and how fast u drive as well. I only fly out of tally bc /w gas plus having to keep my car for few days in a parking lot just ends up not saving me any $$. I like the small airport though. No hassle getting dropped off an getting through security. Every flight pretty much goes to the ATL. I’ve seen some cool ppl Roy Jones jr and Mark Richt to name a couple. When I come home for Xmas though I’m flying into Charlotte for my connecting flight.

    Words can’t describe how bad the refs where in that game. ACC officials aren’t great that’s for sure. It’s been a frustrating year for sure for ND. A lot of in jury’s have piled up in the front 7. Then Tommy Rees has another persona called “Tommy Turnover”. He’s so up an down and in the games that ND has lost this season he has turned the ball over more then once. In that Pitt game he threw into double coverage in the endzone /w game tied in the 3rd. Stuff like that hurts. He also can’t truly run BK’s offense bc he’s not mobile. Loosening Golsten really killed ND to start the yr. Think they will finish the season 8-4 an go bowling. They would have just gotten whipped in a BCS bowl this yr anyway.

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