G/F Michael Gbinije – Syracuse: Although he might get the recognition he deserves, Michael Gbinije is playing some of his best basketball for Syracuse right now. In his last five games the junior is 11-of-16 from beyond the arc and hasn’t shot lower than 42.6 percent from the floor overall in that same stretch. He’s averaging 9.9 points-per-game for the season in just over 30 minutes-per-game. All of the attention goes to senior center Rakeem Christmas and junior guard Trevor Cooney, but Gbinije has been one of Syracuse’s most important players this season.
C Rakeem Christmas – Syracuse: Is there anything Rakeem Christmas can’t do? Well, he’s not a great offensive player when facing the basket, but that’s not something he’s asked to do. But when he catches the ball in the post he’s nearly unstoppable this season. In Christmas’ last five games he’s shooting an impressive 58 percent from the floor (36-for-62.) In that same span the senior center has pulled down 47 rebounds and added 10 blocked shots. Christmas is the clear focal point of the Orange offense each and every game. That shouldn’t change against Florida State.
G/F Montay Brandon – Florida State: Standing 6’7”, Brandon will provide some size mismatches on the perimeter and in transition for the Seminoles. Through 15 games this season, the junior guard is second on the team with 13.5 points-per-game and actually leads FSU with 5.5 rebounds-per-game. In his last two games, Brandon hasn’t played up to par. Against Mississippi State, Brandon attempted just five shots in 38 minutes, finishing with 8 points in a 62-55 Seminoles loss. Four days later in a win over Virginia Tech, Brandon again attempted just five shots, finishing with 10 points to go with 8 rebounds. Expect him to be more aggressive offensively against the Orange.
PG Devon Bookert – Florida State: Devon Bookert is one of the most experienced guards in all of the ACC. Having played in 70 career games (38 starts) for the Seminoles, Bookert brings a good shooting touch from beyond the arc. In Florida State’s last five games, Bookert is red-hot from beyond the arc. Over that span, the senior guard is 16-for-33 (48.8 percent) from beyond the arc. If Florida State wants to knock off the Orange at home they’ll need Bookert to remain hot from beyond the arc.
SYRACUSE OFFENSE VS. FLORIDA STATE DEFENSE
Syracuse’s offense will play through Christmas like it has all season. With the senior center taking a huge step forward in terms of development, the Orange will look to feed him in the post early and often. That game plan should see Florida State bring extra help into the post, which should free up Syracuse shooters Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije.
As mentioned above, Gbinije is on quite some tear in the past five games for Syracuse. All of the notoriety will go towards Christmas and Cooney building up to this game, but Gbinije has been equally impressive despite limited touches. A slashing wing that has developed a steady shot from beyond the arc, Gbinije has provided the Orange with an added dimension alongside Christmas and Cooney, especially with the struggling Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough. Gbinije likes to play off of the ball and does his best work moving without the ball. At times in this game he’ll be asked to handle the point guard duties, but he’s very good at penetrating and finding the open man.
With Christmas drawing tough size matchups down low against Michael Ojo (7’1”), Boris Bojanovsky (7’3”) and Kiel Turpin (7’0”), the Orange will need Cooney and Gbinije to be on top of their respective games around the perimeter to give Christmas, McCullough and Tyler Roberson some space in the paint. Ron Patterson will also be counted on off the bench for his 3-point shooting prowess.
FLORIDA STATE OFFENSE VS. SYRACUSE DEFENSE
Syracuse catches a big break in this game with the Seminoles missing Aaron Thomas due to ineligibility. The junior guard was easily Florida State’s best player and was the Seminoles’ leading scoring at 14.5 points-per-game before being declared ineligible on Dec. 12.
With no Thomas, Florida State will need Devon Bookert to create some space in the 2-3 zone by knocking down some shots beyond the arc. With Bookert attempting to create space, Montay Brandon and freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes will look to penetrate the zone in the high post and along the baseline, which could create havoc for Syracuse, which has struggled against the high post this season.
The 2-3 zone should be able to force FSU into a few bad mistakes which will allow Kaleb Joseph, Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije to get some easy buckets in transition. Not forcing turnovers and sitting back against Florida State could spell trouble for Syracuse, much like what happened to Florida against Florida State, Dec. 30.
Syracuse narrowly escaped upset-minded Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech in their first two ACC games of the year. Look for the Orange to bounce back from a poor shooting performance against GT with Michael Gbinije leading the way. This game will be much closer than people expect. It could come down to the last possession. Syracuse 56, Florida State 54.