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3 Things to Watch for in Syracuse Basketball’s Opening Weekend

Cooney, Christmas must have a big weekend for Orange to advance.

It’s safe to say Syracuse basketball will come out of this weekend undefeated.

Kennesaw State boasted a 6-25 record last year, and an on-the-rise Hampton team still isn’t at a skill level that will make Coach Boeheim lose any sleep. These are your classic tune-up games, and they couldn’t come at a better time for a Syracuse team that (at least through two exhibition games) is in need of some fine tuning.

While the scoreboard will likely be lopsided, there is still plenty of intrigue in how the Orange will look in these games. Here are the things that need to be seen out of the Orange this weekend in order for this team to be ready for the road ahead:

Cooney Hitting 3’s:

While this weekend’s match-ups may not make Boeheim lose sleep at night, Trevor Cooney’s stat line will. Cooney went a combined 2-of-13 from behind the arc (4–of-19 overall) in the exhibitions; numbers that will stick in the mind of any coach when it refers to your team’s “best” shooter.

Last year, the Orange were able to get by despite Cooney’s inconsistency, but this isn’t last year. Cooney is the only double-figure scorer returning to the lineup, and he’ll be leaned on to produce more so than ever before.

Nobody’s asking that Cooney shoot the lights out of the Carrier Dome, but it’d be nice to see him at least put the dimmers on.

Christmas Running the Show Down Low:

Rakeem Christmas has been set up very nicely for a breakout year. With C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant gone and DaJuan Coleman still nursing a knee injury, Christmas is the uncontested leader of the Syracuse front court.

He’s looked the part off the court; more comfortable in front of the home town fans than all of his teammates combined as he “shmoneyed” his way to center court at the team’s “Orange Madness” on October 17.

On the court hasn’t been half bad either. Christmas scored 13 points in the second half alone to lead the Orange to a comeback win over Carleton, and he added another 12 points to go with 5 blocks in the win over Adrian.

Averaging only 4.5 PPG for his career, Christmas has generally been known for his defense, and there’s always been another big man on the roster to score the points. Christmas is another player who will need to do more offensively for the Orange this season, and so far he’s stepped up.

Freshmen Fitting In:

First impressions aren’t everything in college basketball, but they count for something.

Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough will play in their first official college basketball games tonight, and they have reputations to uphold.

McCullough will look to be the second half of a dynamic duo with the aforementioned Christmas. The two shared minutes in the exhibitions, and McCullough will continue to see these kinds of minutes as a five-star recruit and starter should.

Joseph has bigger shoes to fill. Running the offense as a freshman point guard is a tall task in itself, and Tyler Ennis isn’t what you’d call the easiest act to follow. Syracuse fans are used to star players bringing the ball up the court, and Joseph hopes to continue that tradition.

As a whole, Syracuse should use this weekend’s games to find an identity for themselves. Cooney needs to reestablish himself as the marksman of the team, Christmas needs to step into the spotlight, and the freshmen should look to better identify where they fit in on the court. Inexperience is prevalent on this year’s squad, and the sooner each player establishes his role the better.

Posted:  Nathan Dickinson

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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