In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics on Syracuse basketball. Today’s topic: Who should start for the 2015-16 team? The Juice Online’s Saugat Sen and Wesley Cheng explored.
Wesley Cheng: Saugat, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman released his too early top 50 rankings for college basketball earlier in the month, and Syracuse came in at No. 34. The ranking itself isn’t particularly surprising, but the one thing that stood out to me was that Goodman started Michael Gbinije at point guard with Malachi Richardson as a starter. He left incumbent point guard Kaleb Joseph on the bench. Do you like the idea of starting five consisting of Trevor Cooney-Gbinije-Richardson-
Saugat Sen: Not only do I not like it, I see no way that Jim Boeheim will let that happen. From Gerry McNamara to Brandon Triche, we all know that once Boeheim starts a freshman point guard, he is going to keep him the starter the next year unless something drastic happens, and nothing drastic has happened. Joseph played like a freshman point guard. He will get better and the last thing he needs is a blow to his confidence by getting benched. That being said, Gbinije is our best scorer next year and he should not be wasting his time bringing the ball up the court. Malachi Richardson will be used the same way Boehiem used Dion Waiters and James Southerland—a spark off the bench.
WC: While I certainly agree with everything you just said, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate for just a moment. What is the best lineup available to the Orange both offensively and defensively? Offensively, let’s say Joseph raises his shooting averages by five percent, he would be shooting 42 percent from the field and 25 percent from downtown. Richardson has been recruited as one of the best pure scorers in his class, so I would think the advantage goes to Richardson to start. Defensively, Joseph is 6’3″ 165 pounds while Richardson is 6’6″ and 210 pounds. Just from the eye test, Richardson is a much better fit at the top of the zone than Joseph. If you go strictly by a “start your best five guys” approach, it really should be Richardson-Cooney-Gbinije-Roberson-Coleman with Gbinije playing point forward duties. At the very least, do you think that this is the lineup that closes games?
SS: That is a strong case and hard to argue against, except I will argue against it by saying Boeheim doesn’t always start the best lineup. He proved that many times, even with guys like Fab Melo who started for a few mins as a freshman and then got yanked a short time into the game. I think the starting lineup stays: Joseph-Cooney-Gbinije-Roberson-Coleman. But I do agree with you. Joseph will be on a short leash and Richardson will be checking in within minutes depending on how the game goes. Maybe Moustapha Diagne or Tyler Lydon will surprise us and grab significant minutes down the stretch as well.
WC: The ceremonial starter tag also applied to Craig Forth in his senior season and Rakeem Christmas in his freshman year. Going back to your earlier point, you’re 100 percent correct that Boeheim always likes having a spark off the bench. It wouldn’t surprise me if Joseph plays the first 3-5 minutes of the game before getting pulled for Richardson. Personally, I just don’t see Diagne or Lydon playing a significant role in critical minutes unless Coleman gets in foul trouble. You can always slide Richardson to the back line of the zone while playing Joseph up top if Roberson or Gbinije get in foul trouble. The best case scenario is if Joseph can make a big leap in his sophomore year and move into the 45/35/80 (FG/3PT/FT) territory.
SS: The only other change to the lineup I can see doesn’t come from Joseph being on the bench. If Coleman isn’t available to start the season (or at any point, really), Boeheim will have to choose between Chinonso Obokoh and Diagne at the starting center position. I think he would probably start Obokoh in this case because he has had more college experience.
WC: Can’t argue with that, although Coleman not being able to play would be absolutely the worst case scenario. I agree that Obokoh would start simply because Diagne is a little undersized for a center at 6’8″ and will probably be raw as a freshman.