Jim Boeheim sat down with ESPN’s Andy Katz late last week to discuss a broad variety of topics. Among the things discussed was the key to Syracuse’s upcoming basketball season. Boeheim answered with Rakeem Christmas. The head coach said:
“I think he’s getting better all the time. Obviously, we have another freshman point guard who we think is very good. We’ve got a lot of pieces. Trevor Cooney. Michael Gbinije. Guys who have been there. It would have been easier if one or two guys had come back, but that’s college basketball. You have to be prepared for that.”
Christmas will most definitely be an x-factor in the upcoming season, and his class standing only has a little bit to do with that. He will be a senior on a team with little veteran presence. The Orange graduated two seniors last season (CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita) and will only have one left for this year. Christmas not only has to anchor the zone next season, but also has to be the veteran presence on a team filled with underclassmen.
Christmas was a highly-touted 5-star recruit from Philadelphia who was part of a three-man recruiting class for 2011. However, his collegiate career never really took off. In his freshman year, he started a majority of the Orange’s games but played limited minutes often coming out at the first substitution. Christmas averaged only 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in 11.5 minutes.
His minutes doubled in his second year, but the stats only saw a slight bump. The center averaged 5.1 points and 4.6 rebounds playing alongside Keita. Freshman DaJuan Coleman ate minutes at center in his freshman year that season, but he has had an injury-riddled Syracuse career since.
Christmas certainly improved entering his junior season. His field-goal percentage drastically improved to .613 in significant playing time.
The big problem will be the depth at center this season, however. While Christmas is a defensive machine, when he is pulled away from the basket, he gets into foul trouble. And Syracuse can’t afford foul trouble right now. In the middle of the zone, the only other Syracuse options are Coleman and redshirt freshman Chinoso Obokoh. Coleman’s recovery from knee surgery is a mystery and Obokoh is yet to play a minute in the zone.
Christmas will have to find a way to continue to put up defensive numbers on the glass and provide blocks, but he needs to stay out of foul trouble – especially if Coleman isn’t healthy enough to go.
There will not be many points to go around in 2014-2015 just like last season. Syracuse really has no “true scorer” on the roster, unless somebody steps up (like Chris McCullough, Kaleb Joseph or Tyler Roberson). So, like last year, defensive efficiency will be the name of the game for Boeheim, and he needs his senior leader to step up in the middle of the zone.
Posted by: Jason Weingold