The 2014-15 Syracuse basketball season has come to an end without the possibility of postseason play. So it’s time to look back and put but a proverbial bow on the year. With that in mind, we hand out our CuseNation.com awards for the season.
Who else could this be other Rakeem Christmas? The first team All-ACC selection had perhaps the best season for a center in program history with 17.5 points, 9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He was one of the best players in the country all year and the biggest reason why the Orange were able to get to 18 wins.
Biggest In-Season Improvement
Michael Gbinije has to be the guy here. After an early three-game stretch where he scored a total of eight points on 4-17 shooting, Gbinije turned it around to become Syracuse’s second most consistent weapon. He had a four game stretch late where he seemed to make every shot he took, could not miss from beyond the arc, rebounded well, found open teammates and was strong on the defensive end. His season numbers are solid at 13 points, 5 rebounds, nearly 4 assists and two steals per game while shooting 39% from deep and 46% overall, but they don’t tell the tale of how valuable he was.
Tyler Roberson had an up and down sophomore season, but really started to blossom late in the season. Eight points and seven rebounds per game is solid given that he was often the fourth or fifth option. But his aggressiveness late and comfort on the defensive end of the floor was the most impressive part. Roberson become a rebounding machine and looks to have a breakout junior campaign. He finished the season with three straight double-digit scoring efforts.
Sixth Man of the Year
Yes B.J. Johnson’s contributions were not consistent by any means. In fact, there were many games when he did not play. But he finished the season with 4 double-digit scoring efforts, three more than fellow bench mate Ron Patterson. Johnson was also critical in two road wins, at Boston College and at Notre Dame.
It may be a little unfair to call Kaleb Joseph the biggest disappointment this season. Expectations were admittedly far too high based on Tyler Ennis’ stellar rookie campaign. Even with that as the background, Joseph still disappeared and looked lost far too often. Now, plenty of freshmen suffer from those same symptoms and turn out to be fine collegiate basketball players. In fact, I expect Joseph to do just that. But for this season, his play was too erratic and there was not enough development from start to finish.
Game of the Year
Syracuse vs Wake Forest, an 86-83 overtime win for the Orange. This was a fun game to say the least. Up-tempo, both teams playing at a high level offensively, full court, rhythm, flow, just like basketball is supposed to be played. Add to that a comeback in regulation by Syracuse, a sharp shooting unknown for Wake and clutch plays in overtime. Christmas had a career high 35 in the game to lead the Orange.
Can Syracuse’s 46-45 win over Georgia Tech really be considered a basketball game? Technically, I guess it is, but man was that ugly. The teams combined to miss 76 shots and turned it over 26 times. It was far from pretty.
The Carrier Dome game against Duke was the clear winner here. Syracuse came out hot behind an unbelievable first half from Michael Gbinije. The Orange fell short in the end as Duke was too talented, but the atmosphere inside the Dome was electric throughout.
Most Disappointing Loss
Without question this was the road loss to Villanova. Syracuse was in control throughout the game, holding a double-digit lead multiple times. After Villanova had closed the gap late, Syracuse was still in perfect position to pull off a huge road win over a rival. Two Trevor Cooney free throws pushed the lead to five with 17 seconds left. Then Josh Hart hit a quick three, Villanova stole the in-bounds pass and scored to send the game into overtime. The Wildcats would pull away in the extra frame. The end of the game was marred by questionable calls, or non-calls as it were, which angered the Syracuse fan base.
With the season winding down and Syracuse facing top 10 team after top 10 team, the Orange were able to hit the road and pull off a major upset. Syracuse won 65-60 by holding Notre Dame, one of the nation’s best shooting teams, to under 35% from the floor and just 3-22 from beyond the arc. B.J. Johnson had a career game with 19 points off the bench.