There were many questions at the start of the season for Syracuse basketball. Could Kaleb Joseph follow in the footsteps of Tyler Ennis and control the top of the key? Would fellow freshman Chris McCullough live up to his high potential and become a star in his first year? How about Trevor Cooney’s issues with consistency? Some of these questions have been answered while others will still take some time.
However one question has been answered 12 games into the season. Who will be Syracuse’s most important player and potentially the go-to guy down the stretch? Michael Gbinije is proving to be.
The redshirt junior has the talent to lead this team. He can play at almost any position and has shown time and time again that he can control the game when the pressure is on. He can drive to the lane in traffic and make shots behind the arc. Gbinije recently showed that against Long Beach State, scoring a career-high 24 points, while hitting 10 of 13 shots, 4 of which were three-pointers.
Now it has not been smooth sailing for Gbinije this season. Jim Boeheim was critical of the Richmond native early in the season and has been hard on him after he struggled in November. However Gbinije has turned it around, putting up double-digit point totals in 5 of the last 6 games.
The Duke transfer is also one of the only true ball handlers for the Orange. Although Joseph leads the point and Cooney has made tremendous strides handling the ball, Gbinije is the only ball handler who can be a consistent threat to score the ball from the top of the key and in the paint. Ball handling will come into play when Syracuse sees more press defenses in the ACC, such as the Pitino Press against Louisville.
His versatility can also be beneficial to his teammates, especially a young Joseph. There will be times against ACC teams when Joseph is going to make mistakes, whether turning the ball over or taking an ill-advised shot. Gbinije gives Boeheim a huge safety net at the top of the key in the event that Joseph gets flustered in a big moment.
All this sounds a bit familiar. In fact, many of Gbinije’s traits are the same that Dion Waiters had when he shined for the Orange three years ago. Waiters was arguably the best player Syracuse had during the 2011-2012 season, using his versatility to do the same thing that Gbinije has shown in the first half of the season.
We are not saying that Gbinije has the same floor presence that Dion Waiters had at SU. However, the skills and potential are there for Gbinije to rise to that occasion.
Posted: Zephan Mayell