Rakeem Christmas’s career night and prowess in the center will allow Syracuse some flexibility down the stretch.
The Syracuse Orange are now 25-0 after its most recent thrilling win against the North Carolina State Wolfpack, though Syracuse has had its share of speed bumps along the way, especially at the center position.
To start the year, Syracuse had three centers on its roster: Baye Moussa Keita, Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman. Coleman had season-ending knee surgery and Keita is nursing a sore right knee. To put it another way, Jim Boeheim had 15 fouls to work with to start the year, and for the past two games has only had five in the middle of the zone.
This was a problem in the Orange’s contest against Pittsburgh, in which Christmas had three fouls shortly into the second half. Boeheim had to play Jerami Grant at the center position, and his lack of experience showed instantly.
In the game, Christmas played a total of 35 minutes and did not foul out. He had seven points, five rebounds and three blocks protecting the rim.
His most important effort, however, came this past weekend against the Wolfpack. Christmas led the Orange with 14 points, 12 rebounds and an incredible seven blocks. His presence deterred the NC State shooters from driving to the lane time and time again.
The Orange shot only 35.2 percent from the field, and without Christmas’ 4-of-7 effort, Syracuse would have hit less than a third of its shots. Christmas was also a perfect 6-of-6 from the line, four of which were key to keeping Syracuse in the game down the stretch.
What Christmas proved, however, is that this Syracuse team has numerous role players that can step up in any situation. Christmas’ 14-point game is well above his 5.9 per game average, and his 12 rebounds are far above his 4.7 per game average. It was his first double-double of the season.
Although Christmas’ stats have not improved drastically from last year to this one, the timeliness of his plays, his 68 percent field-goal percentage and 73 percent free-throw percentage have contributed to the offensive efficiency of the team greatly.
Keita is due back on Wednesday when the Orange takes on Boston College. It gives Boeheim more flexibility with his forwards and allows Grant to play more aggressively, in turn. Although Christmas may not put up the same offensive numbers with his minutes being shared, his aggressiveness can certainly increase.
So, yes, while Tyler Ennis may not have had his most explosive and most clutch night on Saturday, but Christmas proved that his point guard would not need to make headlines every game because the 2013-2014 Syracuse Orange team is deep and filled with unsung heroes.
Posted by: Jason Weingold