What are Syracuse basketball’s biggest issues so far?

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Chris McCullough and Syracuse have struggled

If one man’s trash is truly another man’s treasure, Scott Shafer certainly must be perplexed as to the consternation about Jim Boeheim’s 5-3 start to the season. With five wins through eight games, the football team would need a lone victory in its remaining four contests to secure bowl eligibility. Yeah, let’s not go there. I digress.

The fact that the basketball team has sputtered out of the gate is forefront on the minds of Orange Nation. Other than a 66-63 squeaker against Iowa at Madison Square Garden, the four wins have come at the expense of less than stellar competition. The three losses include a 14-point drubbing at the hands of Cal, a 68-65 setback at Michigan and a 12-point home loss to St. John’s. It should be noted that Michigan has lost two straight since beating SU to something called N.J.I.T. and Eastern Michigan (you go, Rob Murphy!). So in other words, ouch.

The Orange suffered heavy personnel losses after last season in the form of seniors CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita along with NBA picks Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant. That accounts for part of the problem as inexperienced players seek to carve out new roles. Other difficulties remain that will sink the season if not righted sooner than later.

O is MIA

Syracuse’s offense struggled to score last season. Despite finishing second in league play to Virginia, the Orange’s offense ranked tenth out of 15 teams at 68.2 PPG. Through eight games this year, it ranks thirteenth at 67.9 PPG, ahead of only Georgia Tech and Boston College.

» Related: What are SU’s biggest issues so far?

Three is the loneliest number

Another consistent problem from last season that’s carried over to this year is three-point shooting. Trevor Cooney is Syracuse’s only long-range shooting threat that other teams cover like white on rice. And when he struggles from beyond the arc, Syracuse struggles to score. In the Orange’s final ten games from last year, Cooney connected on only 23 percent of his triples. The Orange went 4-6 in those games. In Syracuse’s past 18 games (10 last year and eight this year), Cooney is a tad better at 25 percent. That creeps up to 28 percent this season. The problem is he rarely gets open looks thanks to a lack of production from his teammates. Of Kaleb Joseph, Michael Gbinije, B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson, only Joseph leads that quartet at a mere 23 percent.

Freshmen giveth and freshmen taketh

Joseph and fellow freshman Chris McCullough were expected to shoulder a portion of the offense heading into the season. Both players earned starting positions with Joseph attempting to replace last year’s wonder frosh Ennis. Few first-year players can be expected to play with the poise and savvy exhibited by Ennis. Joseph has performed admirably averaging 5.3 APG while McCullough has played well notching 14.4 PPG while grabbing 8.8 RPG. But each has had some bumps in the road. During the closing seconds at Michigan, both players committed costly turnovers denying the Orange a chance to obtain a key out of conference road win. Both will continue to get better as the year progresses. The reality is they’ll have to with ACC play on the near horizon.

‘Sons of Boeheim

Some much anticipated offensive reinforcements were predicted to be provided by Johnson, Patterson and Tyler Roberson. In fairness to Roberson, he’s missed three games with a strained abdominal muscle. Despite playing in every game, Patterson only averages ten minutes per contest and has yet to provide an offensive spark. Johnson has been a bit of an enigma. He lit up Kennesaw St. to open the year with 19 points but hasn’t cracked double digits since. He’s only logged a combined 10 minutes in the last two games as well. But, he’s third on the team with a solid 5.6 RPG.

Besides McCullough averaging a near double-double, there’s been another bright spot this season. And how fitting given the time of year.

Christmas arrived early

Rakeem Christmas, that is. Much like Jolly St. Nick does every December, Christmas has brought it all year to the tune of 16.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 2.5 BPG. Not too shabby considering his scoring average last season was just 5.8 PPG. One notable weakness in his game has been the ability to avoid foul trouble. He fouled out of the Cal loss and finished with four fouls in four other games. Christmas will need to be smarter on the defensive end in league play if sophomore Chinonso Obokoh doesn’t earn playing time to back him up on defense. Christmas has certainly arrived early. Here’s hoping for an extended stay through the month of March.

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About Steve Auger

Steve Auger is a freelance writer whose work has covered a variety of topics including sports, pets, parenting, healthy living, local government and human interest stories. His work has been published on Care.com, Tom’s of Maine, Purina’s Petcentric.com and the Westford Patch. Steve’s been a diehard Syracuse sports fan for over 25 years. To this day, the words “Smart takes the shot” still make him cringe. Follow him on Twitter @Corner_Cube.
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