Coming off a 2-5 stretch to end the year, it is important for the Orange to get on track in the first round of the tournament with a rout of Western Michigan. Here’s how SU can get the blowout it needs.
1. Trevor Cooney needs to regain his non-conference/early ACC play
For the first half of the season, Cooney was the lights out shooter that many hoped and expected him to be coming into this season. But then he went cold and disappeared from games, with the notable exception of the win against Notre Dame. And he didn’t improve in the ACC Tournament, in fact, Cooney arguably shot worse in the loss to NC State than he did in his recent cold spell. In the game Cooney was just 1-6 including 0-2 on the mess of a final possession where he airballed one three and hit another off the top of the backboard. The Orange has had a problem scoring in this cold spell, and if Cooney can shoot it better, the Orange might be able to turn it around.
Yes, this should be a game that the Orange wins easy, which is why health becomes even more important. Jerami Grant looked a lot better against NC State than he had the past few games he played. Grant’s health is vital to the success of the Orange in the NCAA tournaments. Cooney also got injured in the ACC Tournament, twisting an ankle midway through the first half. The Orange’s lack of depth, in the front court specifically, has been exposed the last few weeks as DaJuan Coleman, Baye Keita, and Grant have each gone down with injuries at different times. This game is important for the Orange to get out to a big lead so these players can get work in and show they are healthy while also getting some rest.
3. Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas
Baye hasn’t been completely healthy in a while and it has shown. He is not making the plays that he typically makes, failing to secure the ball after rebounds, and committing fouls on defense. Christmas on the other hand committed far too many fouls early in the NC State game. Christmas needs to be much more disciplined especially with Baye playing at less than 100% as he has been recently. Playing against a Western Michigan who has just one player taller than 6-8, senior Shayne Whittington, the bigs for the Orange have a chance to have a huge impact on this second round matchup.
The Carrier Dome and the First Niagara Center, where the Orange plays this weekend, are just a two and a half hour car ride away. It’ll be a home away from home for Syracuse. The building should be rocking with fans covered in Orange. The Orange needs to take advantage of this and ride it to the Sweet 16 next weekend. As big an advantage Buffalo should be for SU, imagine if it could be heading to MSG next weekend as well. Opportunity lost.
5. Tyler Ennis
Why? Because this season, Tyler Ennis is almost always the key to how well this year’s Orange plays. Just a month and a half ago, many were wondering if Ennis played himself into one-and-done range. While that is still very much a possibility, and some mock drafts have Ennis going in the top 10 of this year’s NBA draft, the talk has cooled considerably with the Orange’s struggling play. Even though the team has struggled, Ennis has remained pretty consistent. He was never much of a scorer, but he got his 7-15 points a game and always took care of the ball. In the loss to NC State, Ennis scored 21 points, handed out seven assists, picked up four steals, and was one of the only Orane to show a sign of life in the second half. Even though CJ Fair is the senior leader and probably the best player on the team, the Ennis is the most important and really guides the team the most.
Posted: Seth Goldberg