In Saturday’s loss to Duke the Orange had very little to play for except pride. And despite losing to perennial powerhouse Duke, SU gave its fans a little sneak preview of just how good the team can be next season.
The biggest reason for this was Rakeem Christmas’ overall ineffectiveness against player of the year candidate Jahlil Okafor and Duke’s interior defense. Christmas finished with just 11 points on 5-of-17 shooting. In addition, Rak was in foul trouble for much of the game, finishing the game with four fouls.
Next season, when the Orange is without Christmas, fans can come to expect offense from the players that really contributed today. The Orange was led by Michael Gbinije, who poured in a game-high 27 points, and Tyler Roberson, who had a career-high 19 points. Silent G shot 10-of-14 while Roberson had a double-double with 19 points and ten rebounds.
Next season without Christmas, the scoring burden will fall heavily on Gbinije, Cooney, Roberson, and the incoming freshman class. Without a go-to guy in the middle of the lineup, the Orange will be able to balance the scoring throughout the lineup.
Gbinije was able to shoulder the load for the Orange, hitting huge buckets in the first half to propel the team to a halftime lead that it couldn’t hold onto in the second half. Roberson, on the other hand, worked hard in the paint and showed confidence in his offensive game that he hasn’t displayed yet this season. He also had four offensive rebounds.
Orange fans should walk away from this game feeling confident about the team’s future. Instead of feeling sorry about the postseason ban, fans need to realize that the team wasn’t making the big dance anyways this season. Entering next year though, the team should be just fine without Christmas. SU has a legitimate scoring threat in Gbinije, and plenty of semi-veteran leadership in Roberson, Cooney, Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph.
While the team may struggle to defend in the zone next season with so much inexperience, SU may be able to win its games with sheer scoring. Gbinije’s game is rounding into form right before his most important season, and the current players are maturing in a way that many thought was impossible after the start to the season.
Posted: Jason Weingold