The Seminoles take to the road to face the Orange on Sunday's nights ESPNU ACC matchup. For the preview, we turn to John Cassillo of the excellent Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician. Make sure you head over there for my answers to their questions.
TN. Syracuse not only lost key players, they lost more possessions (to graduation and the NBA) than any other ACC team. Let's start at the point. Tyler Ennis had an incredible freshman season, but his replacement - Kaleb Joseph - was a pretty highly regarded recruit. How has he performed so far and what are his strengths and weaknesses?
TNIAAM: Joseph's struggled a bit, and in no way is he Tyler Ennis -- nor should he be, really. But without many (read: any) shooters around him on the floor, that's put a ton of pressure on him to produce at a high level. He hasn't been able to do that, unfortunately, and the result's been a recent decrease in minutes as Jim Boeheim's shortened his leash amidst struggles. At times, Joseph looks like a very capable freshman point guard. At others, he's turning it over a ton and missing passes he needs to make as the team's floor general. It's a work in progress still.
TN. With CJ Fair, the aforementioned Ennis, and Jerami Grant, you lost three of your top scorers. But now Rakeem Christmas has gone from 5.8 a game to 17.3. How has he become the focal point of the offense after being pretty quiet on that end in his first three seasons?
TNIAAM: Prior to the season, Boeheim predicted we'd see a jump in production for Christmas, and even told us Syracuse's offense would revolve around him. So some sort of jump made sense to us. But this? This is unheard of, even for an Orange program used to watching players take some pretty big leaps. Christmas has always been among the most athletic players on the floor, but now his shooting ability, confidence and strength all match that prowess. He's a freak of an athlete, and he's the only reason this team isn't sinking like a stone right now, honestly.
TN. As good as Christmas has been, the Cuse offense has not been good. They are currently 119th in efficiency which seems just fine to a Florida State fan, but doesn't really gel with recent seasons for the Orange. What's up?
TNIAAM: Well last year, we were pretty awful on offense, too. And the year before wasn't great either, though at least the 2012-13 team was efficient (hence how we got to the Final Four). As the program's defense has gotten better and better in recent seasons, the offense has taken a backseat. I don't really understand why both parts of the game can't coexist, but for some reason, it's been a rare feat for Orange teams to excel at both. This season, the issue is a complete and utter lack of a jump shooter from outside of 10 feet. When a player like Trevor Cooney or Michael Gbinije can get going from outside, that's when you see a huge difference. But otherwise, hitting shots is the primary issue, and has been.
TN. Have you guys figured out how to pronounce Michael Gbinije's name yet? If so, help a brother out.
TNIAAM: Just look to his nickname, "Silent G." Now prounce his name as you would without the first letter and you're good to go. "BIN-I-JAY"
TN. Syracuse has 6 straight seasons where they've earned a top four seed in the dance. Currently Team Rankings only gives them a 52.4% chance of dancing (which is barely 52% higher than FSU's chances). Where do you think they'll end up in March.
TNIAAM: Well, that really depends on what happens in this early ACC stretch. If we can win six or seven straight to start conference play (and that seems slightly feasible), then I think this is a team that squeaks into the tournament as an 11-seed or so -- though that still requires the Orange to pull an upset against one of the conference's top teams too. If Syracuse starts taking on water in these early games, I don't like their chances at all. No, we're not thrilled about this.
TN. What is the recipe for beating Syracuse?
TNIAAM: Shoot the ball well early. The Orange defense is great, but they've shown themselves susceptible to transition baskets here and there, and can get beat by a hot shooter outside. So if FSU finds themselves hitting shots early, that should bury Syracuse, unfortunately (for us). This is not a team that can play from behind very well, so take a look at the Cal game for the exact blueprint on how to simply put us away early. We will not be able to run on you at all, so a 10-point lead is nearly insurmountable.
TN. When will Jim Boeheim retire. Okay, not really. What I meant to ask was your score prediction for this game. Don't feel the need to go easy on us. We're a baseball school anyway.
TNIAAM: I mean, we haven't looked great in conference play thus far, so I just don't a lopsided game on Sunday. Syracuse will manage to shoot the ball better than they did against Georgia Tech (because how could you be any worse?), grab the edge on the boards and eek out a close 68-63 victory over the 'Noles. Rakeem Christmas is the star of the show yet again, and despite zero confidence on the part of its fans, the Orange get to 3-0 in ACC play.