Keys for Syracuse against Cal in NCAA basketball

Rakeem Christmas leads Syracuse against Cal

Head coach Jim Boeheim couldn’t have asked for a much better gift for his 70th birthday after Syracuse defeated Hampton, 65-47, on Sunday to extend their perfect record to 2-0. The Orange can make it three wins in a row when they face California in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden later tonight.

To date, NCAA Championship lines have Syracuse amongst the favorites and that is in large part thanks to the ever-improving play of Rakeem Christmas. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound center is averaging 18.0 points and 12.5 rebounds through the team’s first two games as he has taken up the mantle as the go-to-guy for SU this season.

Still, there are plenty of things for the Orange to improve on heading into their clash with the Golden Bears. One of those things that they need to work on is their perimeter shooting. Given that Christmas attracts much attention from opposing defenses, SU’s outside gunners have been given enough space to do some damage.

Unfortunately, they have yet to take advantage as they have shot just 9 of 33 from beyond the arc this season for an atrocious 27.2 percent clip. With California expected to clamp down on the Syracuse bigs, the onus is on the Orange backcourt to start hitting their deep bombs tonight.

Another thing that SU needs to address is their lack of backcourt scoring. In their game against Hampton, guards Kaleb Joseph and Trevor Cooney combined for just 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field as the entire Syracuse backcourt accounted for just 23 percent of the Orange’s total output.

Joseph, in particular, has struggled mightily to start the season averaging just 4.5 points through SU’s first two games. With Syracuse’s top three scorers from last season (combined 40.7 PPG) now all gone, it is vital for Joseph to contribute immediately on the offensive end. He can do that by pushing the pace more. Last year, the Orange attempted only 17.6 percent of their field goals in transition.

Finally, Syracuse needs to tighten up their 2-3 zone defense. Although they were able to force Hampton to commit 15 turnovers, the Pirates were able to keep the game close in the first half by regularly attacking the baseline to get easy baskets. They can ill afford to do that against a California side that is averaging 92.0 points per game, good for 20th in the NCAA this season.

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