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Midpoint from Midway: The Daily Orange grades Syracuse’s 1st-half performances
Without Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters, Carter-Williams has filled in beautifully. He’s brought a unique blend of passing and individual athleticism that seems to make him almost un-guardable. At the midway point of the season, he is averaging 11.9 points per game and 9.4 assists per game — the latter is quite staggering. He needs to improve his jump shot in order for teams to guard him beyond the 3-point line, but other than that he’s been more than solid. Most draft experts already have him as a lottery pick after this season.
Fair has proven to be the most consistent player on the floor for Syracuse. He’s averaging 13.8 points and seven rebounds per game for the Orange. Fair has scored in double digits in the last seven games, including a dominant 25-point performance that essentially went to waste in Syracuse’s loss to Temple on Dec. 22. He has shown the ability to take control of the game when the Orange needs him, like he did against Villanova Saturday when he scored 11 of Syracuse’s first 13 points of the second half. Plus, he shoots 80.8 percent from the free-throw line. In his junior season, Fair has been an active defender and has given Syracuse a reliable scorer who can strike from multiple spots on the floor.
Of all of Syracuse’s starters, the most dependable was Triche going into this season. As a four-year starter, he’s easily the most experienced player for the Orange. Head coach Jim Boeheim believes he has the ability to be great in every game, it’s just a matter of making sure Triche believes that, too. He’s had some huge performances, like a 25-point game against Rutgers in which he drained five 3-pointers. He’s struggled in others, like his 2-for-10 performance at Providence, but still came up with five assists. While he’s been up and down from the field, he’s still been reliable.
Losing Southerland due to eligibility issues was a big blow for Syracuse. He’s the team’s third-leading scorer – averaging 13.6 points per game – and its best long-range shooter, accounting for 33 of the team’s 103 3-point field goals (32 percent). Southerland has won games for the Orange, most notably with his 35-point explosion on nine 3-pointers at Arkansas. He has provided a lift off of the bench as the sixth man, coming in to knock down jumpers and get the team going after a sluggish start. With Southerland out, SU loses a key element of its offense that no other player can duplicate. Although he’s streaky, the Orange needs its shooter back in the fold to contend for the Big East title.
The freshman has been impressive all season. Though Grant’s minutes have been limited – he averages 12.2 per game – he seemingly makes something happen whenever he’s on the court. The 6-foot-8, 203-pound forward has displayed his athleticism in getting to the basket and in finishing a variety of putbacks well above the rim. He can put the ball on the floor and has a good enough jump shot to make opposing defenses pay. It was all on display last Saturday against Villanova as Grant scored a career-high 13 points in 29 minutes of action – the increased time coming with James Southerland ruled ineligible until further notice. Without Southerland, Grant’s role suddenly becomes crucial, as SU will largely turn to him to replace its third-leading scorer.
Baye Moussa Keita
Moussa Keita has done what’s expected of him so far this season. He brings energy off of the bench, plays defense, rebounds and scores when needed for the Orange. It has all resulted in a modest statistic of 4.1 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game in 14 minutes of action. Moussa Keita’s main job is to spell Christmas and DaJuan Coleman, staying active and scrapping in the paint in his court time. But with an inconsistent and inexperienced frontcourt, Moussa Keita has been asked to do more at times, just as he did against Temple. With SU’s bigs in foul trouble, he logged 24 minutes, scoring 12 points and pulling down eight rebounds to help the Orange stay in a close contest it would eventually lose.
Christmas has been Syracuse’s most reliable big man, but he’s only a role player on this team. Offensively, he’s an afterthought, and SU rarely looks to establish his presence in the post. Defensively, he still hasn’t developed into a consistent force like Fab Melo did last year, despite ranking third in the Big East with 2.2 blocks per game. Christmas’ most impressive game thus far came against Providence last week when he scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 31 minutes of action. That performance was preceded by a two-point, three-rebound effort at South Florida. With conference play only getting tougher as the season goes on, Christmas will need to be more consistent down low.
Coleman is still learning and adjusting to playing college basketball. He’s going up against players who are bigger than any he has ever faced before, and that’s even more of a challenge with the physicality of the big men in the Big East. For Coleman, it has been an ongoing process to make the adjustment to the collegiate level. The Big East is a difficult league for freshmen, let alone freshman centers. But he’s shown glimpses of his potential. He made some nice plays against Villanova, showing that he’s learning to use his body to get to the rim. He’s scored in double digits four times this season. Coleman’s been able to stay on the floor for long stretches, he gets back on defense quickly and is improving with seemingly every game, despite some growing pains along the way.
Cooney has been hot and cold from the arc, but when he’s on, he can deliver daggers for Syracuse at just the right time. He drained two huge 3-pointers, one from the left corner and one from the top of the key, in the second half against Villanova Saturday to help the Orange pull away for the win. Boeheim said after the game that Cooney could be a weapon for the Orange when he’s shooting well. While Cooney has gone on stretches without hitting a 3, Boeheim said that’s usually the way it is for shooters, and Cooney is no exception. He can be big for Syracuse off of the bench as it heads into its toughest stretch of its Big East schedule.
It was always going to be a challenge to replace the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, the No. 4 pick in the NBA Draft and two proven, battle-tested seniors. But Boeheim and Co. have done it so far in 2012-13, leading the Orange to another top-10 ranking and a spot in the elite tier of the conference. Lately, though, the team’s play has dipped, with three straight wins by 11 or fewer points. The staff needs to find more offensive consistency beyond the fast break to avoid an unexpected loss or two.
There is no doubt that this team has a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. With the size and athleticism this group has, it is a difficult matchup for any team in the country. But the warts have also shone through at times this season, namely consistency from beyond the arc and a lack of depth in the guard position. If Southerland remains out for an extended period of time, it will be increasingly difficult for this team to advance past the Sweet 16. That said, there is plenty of time to work out the kinks and round into form. If this team can do that, there is potential for a run toward the Final Four in Atlanta.
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