Syracuse Basketball Position Preview: Guard

CuseNation.com breaks down the Syracuse backcourt in anticipation of the 2014-15 season.

Depth Chart

Projected Starters: Kaleb Joseph, Trevor Cooney
Key Reserves: Michael Gbinije, Ron Patterson

2013-14 Statistics

Joseph: N/A
Cooney: 32.1 min, 12.1 pts, 1.1 ast, 2.1 reb, 1.9 stl, 40.4 FG%, 37.5 3PT%, 84.1 FT%
Gbinije: 14.6 min, 3.4 pts, 1.2 ast, 1.8 reb, 0.7 stl, 38.0 FG%, 34.9 3PT%, 64.6 FT%
Patterson: 5.4 min, 2.8 pts, 0.5 ast, 0.7 reb, 0.4 stl, 37.9 FG%, 31.6 3PT%, 0.0 FT%

What We Know

Gone is freshman sensation Tyler Ennis to the NBA, after a somewhat unexpected one-and-done career in Orange. To replace him is another true freshman, former four-star point guard Kaleb Joseph. Joseph and Ennis are different players, and those expecting Joseph to replicate last season’s success at the point may be disappointed.

But Joseph has a lot of upside and plenty of reasons to be excited. While Ennis’ game was based on taking care of the ball and efficient half court offense, Joseph is more of a full-court, up-tempo, transition type of point guard. Joseph may look for his shot a bit more and is quicker off the bounce.

The point guard position is in good hands with Joseph, it just may take him a little bit to get acclimated to the college game.

Trevor Cooney will be the other starting guard and is Syracuse’s best outside shooter. He has worked hard in the offseason to develop as a penetrating guard as well as consistency with his outside shot. Cooney’s defensive ability at the top of the zone is underrated, and could take another step forward this season.

Michael Gbinije is the top reserve and will spell both Joseph and Cooney at different times. He was solid off the bench last season and gives the Orange versatility to play in the backcourt or at small forward. Towards the end of last season, he showed improvement in his offensive game with a more consistent three-point shot and ability to attack the rim.

Gbinije’s production is very important to the Orange’s success this season. Especially if he takes that next step on the offensive end.

Ron Patterson provides even more depth at guard. He has worked hard in the offseason on his ball handling in order to give Syracuse another option at point guard if need be. Patterson is a very athletic, relentless defender who can provide a quick first step offensively. He may only get minutes as the fourth guard, but could be important depth at certain times this season, especially if Gbinije has to spend a lot of time at forward.

Biggest Questions

How will Joseph react to the college game? Regardless of what kind of publicity any prospect has out of high school, there is always an adjustment period for a true freshman. Being thrust into the spotlight of a major college program as the leader of the offense from day one is never easy, and will test the mental fortitude of the former Cushing Academy standout.

With so many questions on the offensive end, Joseph’s ability to master the system and be productive on the defensive end are critical.

Joseph should be more in line with previous point guards that like to run the floor, push tempo and get out in transition as opposed to last season when Syracuse did most of their work in the half-court.

The exhibition and early season games will serve as a way for Joseph to get his feet wet. He will have to play significant minutes this season as the only pure point guard on the roster.

Also of importance is Trevor Cooney’s ability to get out of his own way. Has there ever been a player who hits shots as routinely as Cooney does in warmups and then can’t find the bottom of the net during the game? It seems to be all in Cooney’s head, as the shooting motion, squaring of the shoulders and footwork are all there.

Syracuse is losing a larger percentage of their offense than they ever have before entering a season. Cooney has to be one of the guys who can make up for some of that production. It starts with a more consistent outside shot.

If he can’t, Patterson may have an even bigger role this season than originally anticipated.

Season Outlook

There are four players in the Syracuse backcourt rotation that can legitimately perform well for the Orange this season. The biggest key, as previously mentioned, is how Joseph plays and the improvement of Cooney and Gbinije. By the end of this season, as Joseph adapts to college life, this could be a very good backcourt if everything goes as planned.

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