Syracuse basketball may have ended its season early, but there is still plenty of positives to take away from the 2013-14 campaign. CuseNation.com hands out its awards from a historic year in Central New York below.
Best Game: Duke
What's the real question here? There is only one logical answer, and it may still stand as the best game of the 2013-14 NCAA season. It's Duke, when it traveled to the Carrier Dome on February 1. It literally featured everything from controversial calls, a buzzer-beater, several highlight dunks, some unconcious shooting from both sides, Hall-of-Fame coaches and close friends going at it, and a dramatic finish. Oh yea, this is all in addition to the historical perspective of it being the first SU-DU ACC matchup, the longtime freinds going against one another, the College Gameday-hype and much more. 'Cuse pulled it out in he end, despite neither defense being able to slow the other, in a 91-89 absolute thriller. The Pitt game (Ennis' shot), N.C. State game (Fair's shot) and Maryland game were all dramatic and close in score, but it wasn't near as good television as SU-DU Part I. Part II was also close, but the runner-up in this category may go to the blowout over Villanova (78-62) three days after Christmas.
Best Moment: Tyler Ennis buzzer beater at Pittsburgh
Riding a record winning streak to start the season, Syracuse faces perhaps its toughest test to date. A road matchup with Pitt, a longtime rival of the Orange who always gave them problems. This was a back and forth, old school Big East battle with physical play and points at a premium. Down one with only seconds remaining, this happened:
Worst Anatomical Part: Baye Keita's Hands
Syracuse center Baye Keita was never known for his offensive prowess. Throughout his four-year career, he often bobbled balls out of bounds or failed to grab rebounds cleanly. While this happened more than the norm for division one bigs, it reached epic proportions. It became comical how Keita would fumble the ball away. It could have something to do with a lingering injury. But as much as he helped defensively and on the glass, Keita's offensive skill set was lacking.
Most Valuable Player: Tyler Ennis
Ennis meant as much to this team as any individual player in the country. He gave the Orange leadership, poise and the ability to make plays in clutch situations. For a true freshman point guard, that says a lot.
Most Improved Player: Jerami Grant
Grant's jump from his freshman year to his sophomore season was enormous. The raw athleticism became more refined. He added a mid-range jumper that, while still inconsistent, gave defenses another weapon to worry about. Grant perfected his rim attacking ability, spin move and propensity to draw fouls. It's easy to see why he is a projected lottery pick.
Sixth Man of the Year: Michael Gbinije
When DaJuan Coleman went out with an injury, Grant was forced into the starting lineup. That made Gbinije the primary option off the bench. His versatility allowed him to play in the backcourt or frontcourt. He improved his ball handling as the season went along, providing Syracuse with a serviceable backup at the point. Gbinije still has to take steps offensively, especially hitting the outside shot. But it was a solid first season with Syracuse.
The Bench Baller Award (Mookie Jones Award): Ron Patterson
Syracuse had some laughers at the beginning of the season and some comfortable wins late in the campaign as well, and several younger players and/or reserves got some playing time. While it was seemingly for fun this season, it could prove big in 2014-15 provided there's as much roster turnover as there could be. Never afraid to hoist up a shot, perhaps the late reps earned by Russ Patterson will be an under-appreciated element of the Orange's first ACC campaign. He could be a key reserve next season on a team screaming for scorers, so any confidence boost picked up during his freshman season may be big going forward. It helped that his last appearance of the season was in the NCAA Tournament, during the Western MIchigan route, when he came in and knocked down a pair of late threes in four minutes of action.
Best Defensive Player: Rakeem Christmas
Few improved on the defense end as much as Christmas. His athleticism and natural shot blocking ability showed this season, though he did get into foul trouble too frequently. Still, when Christmas was patrolling the middle, the zone was much more affective. His footwork was better as well, as was his low-post defense.
Most Inconsistent Player: Trevor Cooney
Cooney started the year with a bang. Shooting over 50% from beyond the arc and showing the ability to hit shots consistently. Then, conference play began. Cooney's shooting ability seemed to fade, save for a few moments such as the performance against Notre Dame. Cooney must work on his shooting for next season, specifically the mental block he seems to have in games.
The What If? Award: DaJuan Coleman
While there are many, many avenues to take this category, we'll stick to personnel instead of actual traits of a player like his free-throw shooting ability, ball handling skill or defensive prowess. We'll stick to the people, or lack thereof, during the season. As you can see where I'm headed, what if Dajuan Coleman had remained healthy and available for the team all year long? Not saying it would have produced a Final Four run, but perhaps his size, growing knowledge for the position and decent offensive ability could have helped the Orange during its late season and postseason funk. Minutes were an issue, foul trouble was an issue, and offensive firepower was a major issue. Teams didn't have to count on a true big (Fair, Grant not included), being a true threat in the low post. Coleman wasn't as polished as his five-star status coming out of high school may have indicated, but he was easily the most talented big SU had with the ball in his hands with the ability to make post-moves, show a baby hook and even a decent 15-foot jump shot on occasion.
Most Popular Post-Game Interview: Tyler Ennis
After every game, reporters would bump each other for position to try to interview the freshman point guard. He was by far the most popular in the Syracuse locker room after every game.
Best Post-Game Quote: Jim Boeheim
Do we really need an explanation here? Boeheim press conferences are that of legend, and this year was no exception.
Funniest Moment: Boeheim Ejection
Maybe it wasn't as funny as it happened to Syracuse fans, but Orange faithful will look back on Boeheim's explosion and ejection with a smile. The nearly 70-year old head coach was furious with a questionable call on C.J. Fair at the end of the game at Duke. The reaction garnered countless memes and other comical exploits. Video below.
Best Individual Performance: C.J. Fair vs Duke
In what was the best college basketball game of the regular season, Fair came to play on the national stage. Syracuse's senior forward finished with 28 points on 12-20 shooting, including five rebounds and two blocks.
Best Dunker: Jerami Grant
Grant threw down highlight reel dunk after highlight reel dunk this season. He was a regular on the SportsCenter Top-10, and wowed Orange fans with his thunderous slams. Two of his best can be seen below.
CuseNation.com's Mike McAllister and John Garcia Jr. contributed to this report