Going into ACC play each of the players has to master something. Here is what has to happen for Syracuse to keep up with its ACC opponents.
Trevor Cooney was the talk when the calendar flipped to 2014 last season.
Cooney was lighting up venues in non-conference play when he averaged just over 14 points per game. Then ACC play came, and that sharp-shooting was suddenly missing from his arsenal. This year, Rakeem Christmas is the man who has come out of nowhere to shock Orange Nation.
Cooney didn’t begin to really struggle until it mattered most. Once Syracuse ended its streak of 25 straight wins with a loss to BC at home, that prompted all of the struggles, and Cooney was the one who suffered. In the final seven games of the regular season, including the ACC tournament, Cooney averaged 7.0 points per game. When Syracuse really struggled, so did Cooney. He needs to not only continue to hit threes (11-of-22, 50 percent in his last five games) and be an overall player. When his shot is not falling, he has to be the defensive player who can pick off passes and breakaway to the basket.
Prior to this season, he consistently seemed to be lost, like he did not know how to be a part of Jim Boeheim’s system. He had to be more of a scorer in the paint, and that is exactly what he has done this year. Since Syracuse has been such a poor shooting team thus far, passing the ball in to Christmas has worked for the most part. The hook shot in the paint is his go-to. He has to limit his fouls, which he has clearly worked on recently. In his last 71 minutes on the floor, he has only committed two fouls.
This is the tough one. Joseph was not expected to be the point guard this year because it was believed that perhaps Tyler Ennis would return for his sophomore season. He is not going to play Ennis minutes. He will be the starter, but he is going to share time with Michael Gbinije. The minutes already show it. His turnovers are costly and with a team that already lacks experience, Joseph’s time on the court does not exactly help the Orange.
Gbinije does not have upperclassman experience. However, he can shoot and drive to the basket. Syracuse needs to find ways to score as often as possible, and Gbinije is the man who can provide that. He is a spark off the bench for Boeheim, and his ability to play different positions makes him a favorite to do some damage at any time.
Orange Nation has to be wondering what happened to the guy who put up 19 points against Kennesaw State. Nobody really has an answer. Johnson looked like someone who could start or come off the bench and provide the Orange with some valuable minutes in tough situations. He still is, but he will have to focus more on being a playmaker than actually trying to score. It has not worked lately, so using him for minutes to rest the starter is the most he can contribute right now.
Roberson does not hurt the team, but more so he just does not provide it with anything. He does not bring anything to the table other than minutes, like Johnson. He had a strong showing against Villanova, where he was 5-for-5 from the field and finished with 11 points. He needs to continue to be aggressive going to the hoop or taking a mid-range jumper. His aggressiveness is what helped him against a physical team like Villanova, and there are more physical teams to come in ACC play.
Speaking of physical play – McCullough is what we could call a slump. He has shown that he can compete at the collegiate level, so much to the point that draft experts are looking at him to be a lottery pick. That might change based on his last few games. After scoring in double digits in his first eight games, he has not done so in his last five. He has struggled from the floor, and has taken fewer shots. He has also committed more fouls. Teams are figuring him out. They know he is talented, but maybe not physically up to par with the rest of those at his position. He will need to be more of a shooter from mid-range to succeed in the ACC.
Posted: Austin Pollack