In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics on Syracuse basketball. Today’s topic: Syracuse has lost three of their top four scorers with CJ Fair, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant moving on. Who will pick up the slack? The Juice Online’s Steve Auger and Wesley Cheng explored.
Wesley Cheng: Steve, now that CJ Fair, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant have all moved on to professional ranks, who do you think will lead the team in scoring next year?
Steve Auger: Those three guys represent a few very large sets of high tops to fill. I think there are two obvious candidates to step up as the Orange’s leading scorer next season. My crystal ball is telling me that sophomore-to-be Tyler Roberson is the heir apparent to being the next BMOC. Both forward spots are there for the taking. At 6′-10″, super frosh Chris McCullough seems a natural to grab the reigns of starting power forward. That leaves Roberson to slide right into the small forward role vacated by Fair. Along with Ennis, Roberson was one of two crown jewels of SU’s 2013 recruiting class. If not for an NCAA eligibility issue (along with playing second fiddle to Fair and Grant), Roberson probably would’ve seen a lot more playing time last year. Yes, he only played in 20 of the team’s 34 games, but at 6’8″, 212 lbs, Roberson certainly seems to pass the eyeball test. I think he’s destined to become the next Orange player to make The Leap in his sophomore year a la Michael Carter-Williams, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, and Hakim Warrick to name a few. What are your expectations of Roberson next year? Or, do you see Trevor Cooney taking the baton on the scoring front?
WC: I have two guys that I will be looking at to take over the scoring reigns. I definitely agree with you that Roberson is in for the sophomore bump. He had the most potential of last year’s class outside of Ennis and now he’s got a full year under his belt. You also have to add in the factor that with no one really pushing for time behind him, Boeheim will allow him to work through his mistakes. Now, my dark horse candidate that you didn’t mention is Kaleb Joseph. By all accounts, he has more of a scoring mentality than Ennis did, and he also plays at a faster pace. Boeheim gives his point guards a lot of leeway, and Joseph will get plenty of playing time with no other true point guard on the roster. As for Cooney, he’s still going to be the only true outside threat on next year’s team, so I really see the same thing happening this year that happened last year. Opposing teams will not give him a clean look, and his scoring average (and shooting percentage) will take a hit. Do you have any dark horse candidates?
SA: I agree with you about Joseph. Like you said about Roberson having a long leash because of no one pushing him for minutes, the same applies to Joseph. I’ve read as well that he is more of a scoring lead guard who will push the tempo more. A return to the transition game seems to be on the Orange’s To Do list for next year. To some extent, that should solve the scoring issues SU dealt with last season. While Ennis was exceptionally stingy at turning the ball over, Syracuse’s fast-break offense paid that price. You raise a fair concern about Cooney. What’s to prevent teams from getting in his grill all season long to limit the amount of good looks he has from beyond the arc? The ACC’s worst kept secret last year was that SU’s 3-point production lived and died with Cooney. I am cautiously optimistic that either Ron Patterson, B.J. Johnson or both will earn enough minutes to be a productive rotation member. Both players are supposed to be able to drain threes. Throw in some increased long-range production from Michael Gbinije and teams won’t be able to solely focus perimeter defense on Cooney. What are your expectations from Patterson and Johnson?
WC: I expect one or both of them to play a larger role. Of the two, Johnson appears to be the best candidate to become that second shooter to complement Cooney. You could see that he just wasn’t ready from a physical standpoint to compete in the ACC last season, but I’m sure he will be in the weight room plenty this summer. If either of them can play a larger role from the perimeter, you’ll definitely see a spike in Cooney’s production. But the one guy we haven’t spoken about much is McCullough. Roberson was my favorite, and Joseph was my dark horse, but I would consider McCullough to a strong second candidate behind Roberson. I had a chance to see him practice and play at the Jordan Brand Classic in April, and he’s got plenty of potential. I particularly like his ability to score in the post, which should help balance out SU’s attack. What are your thoughts on McCullough?
SA: And at 6’7″, Johnson is tall enough to not only get his shot off with ease but he should be able to see over most defenders a la James Southerland. If Syracuse wasn’t subjected to such heavy personnel losses (remember, Baye Moussa Keita is a senior as well), Chris McCullough might be the only subject of speculation heading into next season. As it is, he’s able to fly under the radar a bit; if that’s possible for a 5-star recruit. Syracuse fans should be licking their chops over McCullough’s potential. Jim Boeheim said McCullough’s potential is “unlimited.” And since Boeheim tends to throw freshman compliments around like manhole covers, the fan base should be forgiven if the hype machine blows out its transmission before the first practice in October. McCullough will certainly be counted on to score. Ideally, he’ll be able to score effectively in the post. Syracuse has lacked someone to score down low since Rick Jackson departed at the end of the 2010-11 season. If McCullough replicates Jackson’s senior year stats (13.1 PPG, 10.3 RPG), I think the Orange faithful will be ecstatic. With all that being said, what is your bottom line for who will lead the team in scoring?
WC: OK, so here’s my final answer. I think Roberson and McCullough will be the team’s one-two punch in scoring, while Cooney continues to fill his tertiary scoring role. That said, Cooney will be more consistent, as well as Rakeem Christmas. Meanwhile, Joseph has his ups and downs, but fills into the point guard role nicely toward the end of the season. Your final thoughts?
SA: My crystal ball tells me that Roberson makes The Leap and McCullough contends for ACC Rookie of the Year. Joseph will reignite SU’s transition offense after JB hands him the keys to the car and Cooney will continue his shooting ascent similar to players like Southerland and Andy Rautins. Johnson and Patterson will begin to develop solid roles off the bench. I think the team as a whole takes a step back from the past few seasons due to the talent drain of early defections finally catching up with them. This will be a year to gain valuable experience that will bare fruit in the 2015-16 season. Combine that with an already loaded recruiting class for 2015 and Syracuse will be back in the conversation about net cutting ceremonies.