Looking back, moving forward: Syracuse crosses into 2014 offseason after disappointing exit from NCAA Tournament

first_imgMoving forwardChris McCullough is considered by many to be one of Syracuse’s best recruits since Carmelo Anthony. The 6-foot-9 power forward is absurdly athletic, should be lethal in the zone and is a superb shot blocker from IMG Academy. He left Brewster Academy earlier in the season due to a violation of school rules.He’s the third-ranked power forward in the country and received offers from Florida, Rutgers, Providence and St. John’s, but opted to play for SU head coach Jim Boeheim.He’ll be expected to contribute right away next season. With C.J. Fair, Baye Moussa Keita and potentially Jerami Grant gone, McCullough will be counted on to score in the frontcourt, and will likely get minutes alongside Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman.Kaleb Joseph, meanwhile, is coming off a high school championship and is the 16th-ranked point guard in the Class of 2014. Regardless of whether Tyler Ennis stays, Joseph said he’s prepared to play immediately, and plans to bring a winning mentality to the team.“Especially for point guards, how you will your team to win games is how you’re measured as a player,” Joseph said. “That’s your job, to lead your team to wins.”Joseph is somewhat of a mix between the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, according his trainer PJ Frappier and SU assistant coach Mike Hopkins. He’s quick off the dribble, is a skilled passer and sound defender and is improving his jump shot.Better every yearChristmas arguably improved more than any other Syracuse player this season.Early in the year he looked hesitant around the basket, but once he started looking for his shot, his game expanded and his repertoire grew. He flaunted an improved baby hook, some decent post moves and served as a great target for Ennis.Christmas showed the ability to dominate in the 2-3 zone, blocking nearly two shots per game and altering shots regularly. He had difficulty staying out of foul trouble, often picking up his third and fourth personals early in the second half.Next year, Christmas will likely see a spike in minutes and be more involved in the offense. He was knocked a lot in his first two years at SU, but is now starting to come around as a player.Undecided underclassmenEnnis knew the question was coming.“Have you given any thought to when you’re going to make your decision about the NBA?”“Not yet,” Ennis said without skipping a beat. “I haven’t thought about it.”Whether Ennis or Grant bolt for the NBA remains to be seen. And if both players leave, Syracuse will have two massive holes to fill.Ennis was Mr. Clutch for most of the season. He always wants the ball in the final seconds, and the Orange will need someone to assume that role if he leaves. If Ennis stays, though, he and Joseph will provide a formidable one-two punch.If Grant declares for the draft, SU will need McCullough and Michael Gbinije to provide a decent amount of offense. Grant’s athleticism will be hard to replace and Orange fans will be deprived of the rim-rattling dunks he busted out regularly this season. But if he stays for his junior year, Grant will join McCullough to form one of the better frontcourts in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Comments Looking backC.J. Fair’s decision to return put Syracuse in position for its successful start to the season, but he doesn’t have any choice now — he’s off to the NBA.Fair gave Syracuse one of the best four-year careers in program history, and leaves the Orange part of the second-winningest class in SU history after a second-team All-American campaign.This season, he took on an entirely different role than he had during his first three seasons at SU. With a revolving door of stars including Rick Jackson, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Michael Carter-Williams leading the team for the first three years of his career, Fair was a glorified role player who did the dirty work and filled up the stat sheet. But in his senior year, it was all his team.He played more minutes than anyone else in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a usage rate of 27.9 percent. When the offense stagnated, as it often did, the Orange gave the ball to him on the wing and let him go to work.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textEfficiency-wise, it made for a rocky season. He had the fourth most turnovers in the conference, but ranked seventh in the league in scoring and points produced, while also maintaining his elite defensive play and excellent rebounding.“They’re two guys that are great leaders and you learn so much from them,” SU guard Trevor Cooney said of seniors Fair and Baye Moussa Keita, who will also depart. “They’re two guys that you love hanging out with and you love to play for.”The year without shootersIt’s hard to win with just one 3-point shooter, especially when that 3-point shooter isn’t really all that reliable.The statistics tell a weird story about Cooney’s career, and that’s fitting for the guard who had a weird season. He still made more 3s than anyone else in the ACC, but also attempted more. Cooney finished third in the ACC with a 37.5 3-point percentage — not bad, except only three ACC players attempted enough 3s to qualify.He was inconsistent all season — he was shooting close to 50 percent from beyond the arc throughout nonconference play — but had his worst game at the worst time. He barely saw the floor in the second half against the No. 11-seed Flyers in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, and Syracuse failed to make a 3 for the first time in nearly 20 years.“It’s tough to lose like we did tonight when you just don’t play well,” Cooney said after the game.March is all that mattersAfter back-to-back years with extended Tournament runs, Syracuse reverted back to its old ways with an opening-weekend exit. The Orange has only reached the Elite Eight twice since winning the 2003 National Championship, and has been bounced before the Sweet 16 in three of its last eight Tournament appearances. In all of those exits, SU has been a No. 5 seed or better.“Everybody has different expectations and different, you know, goals or where they want to go,” Boeheim said at a press conference at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Friday. “It’s just the way it kind of is.”It will be impossible to forget 25-0, the win against Duke in the Carrier Dome or Tyler Ennis’ buzzer-beater against Pittsburgh, but that was all rendered meaningless in the grand scheme of the 2013–14 season. They’re great standalone moments, but now only serve as a reminder of what could have been — and all that matters for the Orange is what it can do in the NCAA Tournament. Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Published on March 26, 2014 at 1:11 amlast_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *