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

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

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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