With the announcement that Syracuse freshman forward Chris McCullough is out for the year due to a torn right ACL, the Orange will have to adjust their rotation in order to make up for his loss. They are already thin up front, having only two players who have manned the power forward position.
Let’s take a look at how Syracuse will likely move forward without their freshman star.
Roberson Must Step Up
Sophomore forward Tyler Roberson has come alive since sliding over from small forward to power forward. Head coach Jim Boeheim has said that is his more natural position. With the loss of McCullough, Roberson will be counted on to play 35-plus minutes per game.
The good news is that Syracuse has already used him in a similar role this season. McCullough was in a slump over the last several games, and Roberson has produced when given extended minutes.
On the season, Roberson is averaging seven points and six rebounds per game. Not that far off from the 10 and seven that McCullough was contributing. But in games where Roberson has played over 25 minutes, he has pushed those numbers to 10 points and 11 boards per outing.
The biggest area where Roberson has to pick it up is on defense. While McCullough was still learning the zone, his length gave opponents fits. He was averaging two blocks and two steals per game. Roberson has not had that type of production defensively this season.
With the loss of McCullough, Roberson will have to step-up his game on both ends of the floor. He has shown flashes of being able to do that, but the loss certainly hurts their depth. Roberson is the last true power forward on scholarship who is available to play. That makes his production of critical importance.
”Tyler’s been playing,” Boeheim said. “He’s played a lot. It wasn’t an unusual thing for him to be going into the game.”
More Time For Obokoh
Not only was McCullough the starting power forward, but he was the primary backup for senior center Rakeem Christmas. During different times this season, Christmas has battled foul trouble. The natural move in those scenarios has been to slide McCullough inside and bring Roberson off the bench.
The loss of McCullough means redshirt freshman center Chinonso Obokoh will have to fill that role. Obokoh has played sparingly this season, having only been on the floor for a total of 43-minutes.
That signals that the coaching staff does not feel he is ready to contribute. He has no choice at this point. Syracuse does not need a lot of production from Obokoh, they just need basic defense and rebounding without hurting their interior defense within the zone.
Against Florida State, Obokoh played five minutes while filling in for Christmas. He committed four fouls during that time and only snagged one rebound. He has to be better than that in the five minutes or so per game he will be playing going forward.
”The difference now is that Chinonso’s got to play more,” Boeheim said. “Chinonso’s got to do a better job. He got right in foul trouble right away. They’re going to go at him so he’s got to be better. He’s got to get going on defense. We just need him to play defense and rebound. He’s got to do that for us moving forward.”
Listen, an injury is never a good thing. You hate to see players go down with serious injuries, especially ones that prematurely end their season. But if you’re looking long-term, from strictly a Syracuse perspective, this may end up being a blessing in disguise.
Not because of its impact during this season, but because of what it could mean for the 2015-16 campaign. The Orange’s 2015 recruiting class is one of the best in the nation with four top-100 players currently committed. That is a lot of talent to add to a roster, which should already have Kaleb Joseph, Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, Ron Patterson, Tyler Roberson and DaJuan Coleman coming back.
McCullough’s injury makes him staying for a second season on the hill much more likely than it was if his strong freshman season had continued. Adding him to that already strong roster next year will put Syracuse right back where they have been over the last few years: A national championship contender.
That doesn’t even include the potential of adding four-star center Thomas Bryant.
Once again, no one wanted McCullough to suffer a serious injury and certainly no one is happy about it. But to look at this from a positive standpoint, it could be a benefit to next season.
During Monday's ACC Teleconference, Boeheim gave a glimpse into what the rotation will be going forward. The guards will stay as is, with Roberson moving into the starting lineup at power forward. As mentioned, Chinonso Obokoh will be the primary backup to Rakeem Christmas at center. Roberson is not a candidate to slide in there, according to Boeheim.
The backup at both forward spots, previously a role held by Roberson, will be sophomore B.J. Johnson.