Rak Should be Mentioned Among Nation's Best

Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas is having a monster senior season and deserves to be mentioned among college basketball's best.

On Wednesday, the midseason Wooden Award watch list was released. It included 25 names, which ESPN dubbed “a diverse group of elite college basketball players.” But there was one name glaringly missing from the list. Rakeem Christmas.

Syracuse’s senior center has been fantastic this year. While those in Central New York have not failed to recognize the superb campaign he is putting together, his game has been largely lost on the national stage. Names such as Jahlil Okafor, Montrezl Harrell, Georges Niang and a plethora of others receive much more attention.

But who among them are as important to their team’s success as Christmas? There are many big time college basketball players who are vital to their squad’s accomplishments. Christmas, however, should not be ignored.

On a Syracuse team that is not as talented and deep top to bottom as they have been in previous years, Christmas has made them a team capable of competing in a loaded ACC. His 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds are not only impressive in their own right, but are more so when you consider where he has been over the previous three seasons.

Christmas averaged just 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game as a freshman. While his numbers improved over the next two years, his junior production was hardly enough to receive significant praise. He averaged a mere 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds last season.

In only nine more minutes per game as a senior, Christmas has tripled his scoring productions and nearly doubled his rebounding numbers. This while still shooting an extremely high percentage from the floor (58.8%) despite many more attempts at the basket.

Perhaps even more impressive is Christmas’ development at the free-throw line. During his first two years, he shot 57% from the charity stripe. Now he is a 73.5% free-throw shooter who makes them in clutch situations.

Without Christmas where would Syracuse be? Dare we go where Jim Boeheim said during the Orange’s magical 2006 run through the Big East Tournament and say not 10 (bleeping) games? That’s probably not far off considering the lack of depth up front and lack of interior scoring anywhere else on the roster.

When he lost his primary frontcourt mate and backup Chris McCullough for the season with an injury, he responded with a career high 35-points in an overtime win over Wake Forest. According to Mike Waters of the Post-Standard, that is the most points from a center in the Jim Boeheim era.

When you breakdown the importance of Christmas to the success of his team, it’s hard to argue there someone else more valuable in college basketball. When you further compare his numbers to the other 25 players on the watch list (see table below), it’s quite clear he belongs in the same breath.

Player

School

Points

Rebounds

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Justin Anderson

Virginia

14.9

4.6

1.8

0.6

0.4

Ron Baker

Wichita State

16.5

4.4

2.3

1.2

0.6

Ryan Boatright

UConn

16.3

4.7

4.5

1.8

0.3

Willie Cauley-Stein

Kentucky

9.7

6.8

0.8

1.7

1.9

Yogi Ferrell

Indiana

15.4

3.6

4.8

0.7

0.0

Jerian Grant

Notre Dame

16.6

6.3

3.1

1.5

0.5

Montrezl Harrell

Louisville

15.2

8.9

1.2

0.9

1.1

D'Angelo Harrison

St. John's

20.6

6.1

1.8

1.3

0.4

Tyler Haws

BYU

22.1

4.5

2.4

0.8

0.4

Buddy Hield

Oklahoma

17.1

5.6

1.8

1.3

0.3

Stanley Johnson

Arizona

13.9

6.6

1.7

1.6

0.3

Tyus Jones

Duke

9.4

3.4

4.9

1.5

0.1

Frank Kaminsky

Wisconsin

16.9

8.2

2.3

1.2

1.9

Jordan Mickey

LSU

15.9

10.6

1.9

1.1

3.5

Georges Niang

Iowa State

15.2

5.5

3.6

0.4

0.3

Jahlil Okafor

Duke

18.9

9.4

1.2

0.9

1.6

Kevin Pangos

Gonzaga

12.5

2.8

4.9

1.4

0.2

Bobby Portis

Arkansas

18.0

8.0

0.8

1.1

1.0

Chasson Randle

Stanford

19.3

3.3

2.7

1.3

0.1

Terry Rozier

Louisville

17.4

5.4

2.3

2.2

0.2

D'Angelo Russell

Ohio State

18.1

4.6

5.0

1.9

0.2

Juwan Staten

West Virginia

15.8

3.2

4.3

1.4

0.0

Melo Trimble

Maryland

15.9

4.1

2.9

1.3

0.1

Kyle Wiltjer

Gonzaga

16.4

5.1

1.5

0.3

0.7

Delon Wright

Utah

14.9

4.7

5.7

2.4

0.9

Rakeem Christmas

Syracuse

18.2

8.9

1.5

0.9

2.4

As you can see in the table, which shows the 25 names on the Wooden Award watch list compared to Rakeem Christmas, the Syracuse senior's numbers are quite favorable. Only three players on the list are scoring more points per game, and only two are better rebounders.

Christmas deserves to be mentioned with the best players in college basketball. His numbers and value to his team are clear, but it's about much more than that. It's also about his skill set. Christmas is as good in the low post as anyone in the country.

He can face up and hit a 15-foot jumper, he can power to the basket, has exceptional footwork in the lane and has developed a consistent jump hook. Christmas overpowered one of the better interior players in the ACC in Wake Forest’s Devon Thomas. He is strong on the glass and a natural shot blocker in the middle of the zone.

It’s time for Christmas to get his due. Not among the Syracuse fan base and not among the local media. But nationally. When conversations about the best players in college basketball occur, Christmas should be mentioned every single time.


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