EDITOR'S NOTE: CuseNation.com publisher Mike McAllister was kind enough to do a content exchange with us this week as California prepares to face off against Syracuse at 6:30 pm Pacific tonight. Here’s the scouting report he gave us on the Orange.
The Syracuse backcourt features a true freshman and inconsistent junior. Kaleb Joseph runs the show at the point, taking over for Tyler Ennis. Joseph is a different type of player for the Orange, quicker off the bounce and more willing to push tempo. Early in his collegiate career, he struggles with turnovers at times. The upside and athleticism is there, but he has to improve his decision-making. That should come with experience.
Joseph is not a prolific outside shooter and is at his best penetrating and dishing or finishing at the rim. Defensively, his long arms are disruptive at the top of the zone, though he does make the wrong rotations at times.
Trevor Cooney is the best outside shooter for Syracuse, though he has gone through prolonged slumps in each of his two seasons. Cooney has frustrated Orange fans as he is prolific in pregame warmups and during practice, but that does not often translate to the court. Still, he is their best outside option, hitting nearly 38% of his attempts last season.
This year, he has added the dribble drive to his offensive game. Defensively, he is extremely underrated. Cooney is skilled at deflecting passes, preventing penetration and staying on shooters. He really helps the top of the zone.
Off the bench, Syracuse has two players who contribute in the backcourt. Michael Gbinije and Ron Patterson. Gbinije is a versatile player who can play the point, shooting guard or small forward. The coaching staff has raved about his improvement from last season.
Gbinije can shoot, attack the basket and handle a little bit. Defensively, he is long and athletic and plays the top or the bottom of the zone well.
Patterson is the fourth guard and his minutes are therefore inconsistent. He may be the most athletic guard, has long arms, and is a force on the defensive side of the floor. Offensively, he is a bit inconsistent but is at his best attacking the rim.
Rakeem Christmas, the starting center for the Orange, is the primary weapon offensively. Through the first two games, he has been a force in the post showing an array of offensive moves. Christmas plays physical basketball inside, is a natural shot blocker, and is improved on the boards. Syracuse will feed him frequently inside. If he is doubled, he is a willing passer to shooters on the wing. He is averaging 18 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.
Another true freshman is power forward Chris McCullough who is second on the team in scoring and rebounding at 14.5 points and 7.5 boards. While McCullough is still adding size to his body, he plays physically down low and isn’t afraid to his the boards hard on either end of the floor. He can hit from 15-feet and in and out of the post. McCullough has the most raw talent of anyone on the roster.
Small forward Tyler Roberson rounds out the starting frontcourt. Roberson is a true sophomore who played sparingly last season. This year, he has shown some ability but has been inconsistent. He has a mid-range jumper, but does not hit is as often as he should. Roberson has lacked a killer instinct and willingness to play inside. That has limited his impact on the game. The skill set is there, but he is still working on translating that into production.
Off the bench, B.J. Johnson has been the surprise of the early season. He is averaging 13.5 points and seven rebounds per game. Johnson has shown an improved offensive game both in his jumper and finishing around the basket. The biggest surprise has been his work on the boards. Despite a small frame, Johnson has mixed it up inside in the first two games. It remains to be seen whether he can continue that against better competition.
The primary backup at center is redshirt freshman Chinonso Obokoh. Obokoh does not offer much offensively, and is foul prone defensively. The coaching staff does not have a lot of confidence in him at this time, and therefore when Christmas is in foul trouble, McCullough often slides into the middle of the zone. Syracuse then plays small with Roberson and either Gbinije or Johnson at the forward spots.
The aforementioned Michael Gbinije also plays some minutes at forward.
Syracuse played very well in the season opener, but struggled in game two against Hampton. Offensively, they are limited and struggle to score at times. Their strength is clearly the frontcourt with Christmas and McCullough. Defensively, the inexperience shows at times, but as most Syracuse teams do, they have a lot of long athletes that can be very disruptive.
The key to beat the zone is solid shooting from the outside and strong interior passing.