Rakeem Christmas has been steady, but he cannot decline now. The senior big man for the Orange is averaging 16 points per game. Entering this season, Christmas had not scored more than 15 points in any game of his collegiate career.
He is grabbing necessary rebounds, just under 10 per game. This is the type of play Orange Nation has waited for since he came out of high school. Why is it more important now than ever before?
He is the anchor for a team in which the majority of the players are early in their college careers. Christmas has stepped in and been the lead man, considering the youth of the rest of the players.
For his first three years, Christmas has struggled to finish effectively inside. Typically, there are two problems earlier in his career when Christmas has the ball down low.
1) He can’t finish
The more opportunities he has with the ball down low he can work on improving. Jim Boeheim noticed this after the Loyola game.
“We did a good job of looking for Rak inside. He’s got to finish better around the basket.”
Considering SU is shooting 44 percent from the field and just 23 percent from beyond the arc, sending the ball low to Christmas has been smart. He has proven to be more effective, rather than just a player who can eat up minutes. But sometimes Rak is too aggressive down low and that leads to the second problem.
2.) Foul trouble
This has continued. Christmas has been in foul trouble in each of Syracuse’s five games this season. He has had at least four fouls in each game, and had five in the loss against California.
The Orange is severely lacking depth at the big man position. Baye Keita graduated in May and DaJuan Coleman is still out with an injury. This leads Boeheim with the obvious option of Chinonso Obokoh, who is still learning the Syracuse system. Chris McCullough is the other option, but then who gets inserted at the power forward position? Christmas needs to stay out of foul trouble because the Orange does not have many other options off the bench.
“That’s something I’m trying to work on,” Christmas said after the Loyola game. “I don’t worry about it too much. I just go out there and play my game. I try to get above the ball and block shots.”
For now, Christmas is doing his job. They’ll need to continue as the competition begins stiffening in the non-conference slate.
Posted: Austin Pollack