A quick look at the 2015-16 Syracuse basketball team

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How will Syracuse replace Rakeem Christmas?

Here’s a quick look at the 2015-16 Syracuse basketball team:

WHO’S OUT: Syracuse is only sure to lose one player from the 2014-15 team, but it’s a big one. All-ACC First Team selection Rakeem Christmas is taking his team-high 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game to the NBA (hopefully). Christmas was the focal point on both sides of the ball for the Orange, and it will be interesting to see how the offense changes without a proven inside scorer. It’s been a long time since anyone improved as much as Christmas did in his four years at Syracuse, but it’s certainly validation for the job that Mike Hopkins has done since taking over big-man coaching duties from Bernie Fine.

WHO MAY BE OUT: Jim Boeheim hinted that there would be ‘tremendous changes’ this offseason, which could mean SU may lose some players by transfer or graduation. Both Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney will be fifth year players, having lost a year to a redshirt. It’s hard to picture either player leaving, but Gbinije at least left the door open that he may leave.

As for transfers, Ron Patterson, BJ Johnson and Chinonso Obokoh are potential candidates to leave. All three were in and out of the rotation and various points, and Patterson was essentially told to stop shooting by the coaching staff. Johnson didn’t appear in six games this season and averaged just 14.6 minutes per game. Obokoh was used even more sparingly, playing just 13 games at 6.8 minutes per game.

WHO’S IN:

  • Malachi Richardson: The sweet-shooting New Jersey wing is the prized recruit of SU’s 2015 class. He’s the only McDonald’s All American, and continues a strong pipeline for Syracuse in the Jersey area. Richardson’s ability to shoot should take some pressure off Trevor Cooney, which in turn should free up some more open looks.
  • Franklin Howard: A combo guard who is still learning the point guard position, Howard seemingly has shaken off the rust from his junior season, when he tore his ACL. He could compete for back-up point guard minutes behind Kaleb Joseph.
  • Moustapha Diagne (pronounced ‘JENG’): Diagne is another highly-touted player from the Jersey area, and has been described as having a high motor. He may be counted on to ease the loss of Christmas.
  • Tyler Lydon: Lydon is projected more as a stretch four with above average athleticism. The main knock on him is that he’ll need to gain some weight, but his height and range should certainly help solidify Syracuse’s front line.

» Related: There’s still a silver lining to sanctions imposed on Syracuse basketball

WHO MAY BE IN:

Syracuse still continues to recruit 5-star center Thomas Bryant despite not having an open scholarship. Depending on your reading of the NCAA’s sanctions against Syracuse, the Orange would either need to open up two scholarships (they are currently at the limit, plus they have a self-imposed one scholarship limit) or they would need to have four open spots because of the three-scholarship a year penalty. The first interpretation of the sanctions would obviously be more favorable to Syracuse.

WHO’S BACK:

  • DaJuan Coleman: It’s been a season and a half since Coleman has suited up for Syracuse. The big man came on to campus with high hopes, but injuries have really derailed his college career so far. He would be a prime candidate to take over at the center position with Christmas gone – if healthy.
  • Trevor Cooney: For two seasons now, Cooney has been SU’s primary (and at times, only) outside threat. Cooney shot just 30.9 percent from downtown this season, but that percentage may rise with outside shooting help on the way.
  • Michael Gbinije: Gbinije ended up being SU’s top gun from downtown (39.2 percent), and showed he could defend multiple positions and score in a variety of ways. He could very well be SU’s top scorer next season.
  • Tyler Roberson: Chris McCullough’s ACL tear thrust Roberson into a starting role, and by the end of the season, he proved to be one of SU’s best rebounders. If Roberson could develop a consistent mid-range jumper, he could be a reliable scorer.
  • Chris McCullough: Any talk of McCullough being a one-and-done was erased with his ACL injury, and he probably won’t be back until December. But the slender big man showed promise and is another prime candidate to be SU’s top scorer next season.
  • Kaleb Joseph: It was a baptism by fire kind of season for Joseph, who was recruited to back up Tyler Ennis. With Ennis making an early leap to the NBA, Joseph played big minutes and looked rattled at times. But with a full season under his belt, he’s primed for a sophomore leap.
  • Ron Patterson: It’s hard to imagine that Patterson was recruited to Syracuse to be a scorer. He averaged 2.6 points on 31.3 percent shooting from the field, 17.3 percent from beyond the arc, and 28.6 percent at the free throw line.
  • BJ Johnson: Johnson looked to be the odd man out of the front court rotation until McCullough got hurt. He showed some ability to shoot from distance (26 percent) and could find more playing time if he becomes more consistent.
    Chinonso Obokoh: Obokoh still looked very raw in the 13 games he played. Surely, Boeheim wanted to get more minutes out of him, but was often forced to play Christmas despite foul trouble.

EARLY MVP: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said that Gbinije was the player “we thought he would be” after Gbinije dropped 27 points against his old squad on Valentine’s Day. Gbinije will have every opportunity to be SU’s best player next season, and has four years of college basketball experience under his belt.

EARLY MIP: Joseph needs to add more muscle and improve his outside shooting in the offseason. If he can do that, he can certainly have a bigger impact on next year’s team.

EARLY DARK HORSE: This player averaged 14 points and nine rebounds in his last three games of the season. While this could be describing Christmas, these were actually Roberson’s numbers. He could be one of SU’s most effective players next season.

BURNING QUESTIONS:

  1. Jim Boeheim will be suspended for the first nine games of conference play. Presumably, Mike Hopkins, SU’s coach in waiting, will be SU’s coach during that time. How good will Hopkins be in the main seat
  2. This is SU’s final season with having a full scholarship roster before the sanctions, but will the punishment in any way affect the team?
  3. Who will replace Christmas’ production? Certainly McCullough, Roberson and Coleman can pick up the interior production, but will it be enough?
  4. Will Coleman ever be healthy? He’s had two knee surgeries since he’s been at Syracuse, and hasn’t played in a game in more than a year.
  5. Will anyone transfer? As stated earlier Boeheim sees changes in the offseason, which could include players from the rising junior class.
  6. Can SU land Bryant? Doing so would put SU in consideration for a deep NCAA run.

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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