Fifth-year senior leader Michael Gbinije has been everything that the Orange has needed this season and more. Originally transferring from Duke, the wing player that entered SU has completely transformed himself. The unheralded leader and primary ball handler on the roster, Gbinije almost single-handedly carried the Orange to the NCAA Tournament. Now, with a final four date with UNC looming, the Orange needs more from its veteran leader.
Gbinije has a special ability to feel the game. Against Virginia, he understood that Malachi Richardson was taking over the second half and was able to take a backseat to the freshman’s scoring outburst. He has a way of making himself seem invisible on the floor when he’s not scoring – or even when he is scoring. This certainly isn’t a bad thing, but it means that he understands the flow of the game extremely well. When the Cavalier defense was zoned in on him, Gbinije tallied a personal-tournament-high six assists.
Aside from a ridiculously efficient 23-point performance against Middle Tennessee, Gbinije’s tournament output has been mediocre through four games. In scoring 20 points against Gonzaga, the fifth-year had to take a season-high 23 shots. Coupled with a 3-of-11 shooting output in the opening round against Dayton and a 4-for-13 performance in the Elite Eight, Gbinije’s shooting numbers have been lackluster.
Gbinije is perfectly capable of taking over a game and he needs to regain his efficient form against the Tar Heels on Saturday night. In the two regular-season meetings between these two conference foes, Gbinije combined for 9-of-29 shooting, or just 31 percent. To beat an athletic, long team like UNC, the Orange is going to need contributions from up-and-down the lineup. This means efficient scoring from Gbinije and Richardson, responsible rebounding from Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon, and great interior defense from Dajuan Coleman. Only with contributions from across the board will the Orange have a chance of making the National Final.
One of the reasons for Gbinije’s decreased production across the board has been the emergence of role players, clearly. Lydon is arguably playing his best basketball since Atlantis and Trevor Cooney has even found some consistency on the court. Roberson is averaging a double-double in the tournament so far, so the only thing really missing from the formula is Gbinije’s scoring output. This isn’t to say that he hasn’t been unnaturally clutch so far, as he always seems ready to hit a needed layup, mid-range jumper, or even transition bucket. But on a possession-by-possession basis, Gbinije needs to involve himself more in the offense to beat a deep, tall, and athletic team like UNC.
What is needed from Gbinije on Saturday night? If he can put forth a line similar to the one he produced against Florida State at the start of March (8-for-13, 21 points, 5 assists) and SU continues to get balanced contributions from everyone, it’ll be hard to lose to the Tar Heels.