As I anticipated, Syracuse men’s basketball took care of business on Sunday, November 16, 2014 as they disposed of Hampton 65-47 at the Carrier Dome.
This game was a bit closer than the first, but there were quite a few bright spots that make me even more excited for Thursday’s matchup with California. Rakeem Christmas had another monster game for the Orange and is showing fantastic improvement on the offensive end. Following his 21 point nine rebound performance against Kennesaw State, Christmas posted a double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, both of which were team highs. It will be interesting to see how he plays against better competition (with all due respect to their first two opponents). It seems that he is handling his bigger role on the team well, and I see him as possibly the most important piece this season.
Chris McCullough looked solid again, as he scored 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting. He found himself in a bit of foul trouble, but was still able to play 27 minutes. Kaleb Joseph only took four shots and dished out five assists, but did have three turnovers. Tyler Roberson has been a very valuable role player in his limited minutes, as he added seven points in just 16 minutes of play.
Off the bench, BJ Johnson and Michael Gbinije, who made his season debut after sitting out the first game, scored eight and nine points respectively. Gbinije has proved that he can be a spark off the bench for the Orange and Johnson has shown me some serious upside in his new role for Coach Jim Boeheim.
Trevor Cooney hasn’t really impressed me in the first two games but it’s early. In the first game, Cooney tallied 12 points in a team high 33 minutes of play. Cooney played the most minutes for the Orange again Sunday, but only scored eight points on 3-of-9 shooting (2-of-7 from beyond the arc). Before, I thought that Cooney was going to have to be the bigtime player for the Orange to be successful, but with the evolution of Christmas, and the talent of McCullough and Joseph, it takes some pressure off of Cooney. In order for the Orange to win big games, especially down the stretch in conference play, Cooney is going to need to be a legitimate scoring threat and will need to knock down his threes if he isn’t getting to the basket. If he can stretch out defenses, it gives McCullough and Christmas more space down low to operate and with the way Joseph has been getting into the lane off the dribble, the threes on the drive and kick are going to be an important part of the offense this year for ‘Cuse.
The California Golden Bears are also 2-0 to start the year and are led by junior guard Tyrone Wallace. The Golden Bears just beat Kennesaw State on Sunday 91-59, and wrapped the game up early as they lead at halftime 41-15. Defense will be the focus for the Orange when the take the floor at Madison Square Garden Thursday, as Cal comes into the game having scored over 90 in their first two contests. As the top rebounding team in the nation thus far, the Orange will look to control the glass and limit Cal’s offense.