By John Rader on March 17, 2014
Syracuse began the season hot and took the ACC by storm, starting 25-0 and 12-0 in the conference. It went on to lose five of its last seven games, including a loss in its first game of the ACC tournament. It enters the NCAA tournament with a 27-5 record and much uncertainty in its ability. Despite its recent struggles, Syracuse did not lose by double digits and are 7-3 this season against teams that made the tournament.
Rakeem Christmas may not have the greatest stat line with 5.9 PPG and 5.0 RPG, but he is the ultimate team player. Syracuse is a defense-oriented program and Christmas knows his role. It does not rebound very well and it will need him to eclipse five RPG if it hopes to make a run. Christmas is outstanding defensively and leads the Orangemen with 62 blocks this season.
Syracuse is not a very good shooting program, ranked 206 in field goal percentage, so it will be very important for Trevor Cooney to shoot well in the tournament. As a team, the Orangemen only made 160 3-pointers and Cooney accounted for greater than 50 percent of their 3-point baskets (86). Cooney is very reliable, only turned the ball over 24 times this season and accounted for 60 steals.
The Orangemen are not the biggest team and often struggles to rebound and require everyone to chip in. Jerami Grant leads the Orangemen in rebounding averaging 6.9 boards per game. Considering Syracuse features a suffocating defense and a poor shooting offense, the Orangemen need to bring in as many rebounds as possible for more second-chance baskets on offense and fewer opportunities for opponents.
Tyler Ennis is arguably the Orangemen's most important player and will need to bring his A-game for Syracuse to bounce back. He has played very well down the stretch despite the team’s results, and they will rely on him to move the ball offensively. He averages 12.7 points, 5.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game.
C.J. Fair averaged 16.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and has been Syracuse’s most reliable scoring threat this season. In their losses to Duke, Virginia and NC State, Fair struggled to score and averaged only 10.7 points. If he struggles to score in the tournament, then Syracuse will be in big trouble.
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