Roster analysis — 2014-15 Syracuse basketball preview

Syracuse forward Rakeem Christmas shoots

Rakeem Christmas takes over a leadership role on this year’s team

Rakeem Christmas is the leader of the team, having started 109 of 111 games in his three years on campus. The center averaged 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season and is expected to improve on those numbers, especially with no established reserve behind him. In two conference games with no safety net of a true backup behind him last season, Christmas averaged 10.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5 blocked shots in 35 minutes per game, so there is reason to hope Christmas can improve his production and stay out of foul trouble. Flanking the
senior on the baseline will be a pair of raw players.

Tyler Roberson played the most of any of SU’s current sophomores last season, logging 162 minutes overall and 73 in ACC action. Roberson is a strong rebounder and should help out on the glass while developing his offense. The other forward spot will be manned by Chris McCullough, a true freshman. Raw but undeniably talented, McCullough has more of an all-around game than Roberson.

The backcourt will have a familiar theme, as Trevor Cooney will start next to a true freshman for a second consecutive season. Cooney is the best true shooter on the Orange, and SU needs him to be more reliable after he shot 16.2 percent (6-of-37) from three-point range in the team’s six losses last season against a 41.4 percent mark (84-of-203) in their 28 victories.

» Related: Syracuse basketball preview, season overview

Taking over for Ennis as this year’s freshman point guard for SU is Kaleb Joseph, but the class designation of the two players is about where their similarities end. While Ennis was calm and collected, employing a more controlled style, Joseph is more athletic, looking to push the tempo in transition when opportunities present themselves. The true freshman acquitted himself nicely in his Orange debut, leading the team with 19 points in their exhibition debut against Carleton, who has won 10 of the last 12 Canadian national titles.

Leading the Orange bench will be Michael Gbinije, who will return to the jack-of-all-trades role he had last season. Most comfortable as a small forward, Gbinije played that spot, as well as both guard positions for SU last year. After averaging almost 15 minutes per game last year, Gbinije will be looked on for a greater contribution, especially if he can consistently hit the three-pointer. Speaking of three-pointers, a pair of sophomore perimeter players will look to show off their shooting skills in their second season. B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson, a pair of shooting guards with different skills, will compete for minutes behind Cooney. Johnson is more of a true shooter while Patterson is a streaky shooter who also doubles as a ball of energy.

The frontcourt bench is a short one. Chinoso Obokoh, who sat out his freshman season as a redshirt, is penciled in as the backup center. Sitting out allowed Obokoh to concentrate on adding weight to his frame, particularly to his upper body. DaJuan Coleman is also on the bench after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Coleman is still diligently rehabbing from surgery and, while he has made significant steps in the run-up to the season in addition to slimming down his frame, is still some distance to returning to game action. Anything Coleman can provide this season should be looked on as a bonus.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
Schedule overview, analysis — 2014-15 Syracuse basketball preview
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