Well, let’s be honest here: even the apparent talking points didn’t really turn into talking points tonight. We knew the game would be a blowout, and it was. About the only interesting thing, other than seeing the team in a real game for the first time this year, was that Michael Gbinije sat out for undisclosed reasons. And now it appears it’s an internal team issue, and he’ll be back on Sunday. So…what can we talk about after a bit of a snoozer of a game?
For starters, we can talk about the post play. Two of the big concerns heading into the season were perimeter shooting, and the depth and consistency in the post. As far as perimeter play goes, well, the jury is out. Syracuse didn’t hit its first outside shot until late in the first half, but in fairness we weren’t really looking for a lot of perimeter opportunities. Frankly, we simply didn’t need them. We’ll see what happens as things move forward, but for now we still don’t have a very good handle on what kind of jump shooting team this will be.
What we do know is that this is one of the most athletically gifted frontcourts Syracuse has boasted in years. Rakeem Christmas, a guy I’ve long been shouting from the top of a mountain has the ability to become a damn fine scorer, showed flashes of becoming a damn fine scorer. Christmas hit 8-of-13 shots on his way to a new career high of 21 points, and added nine rebounds, six of which came on the offensive glass. This was not the biggest or most talented opposing front line, it should be noted.
Perhaps that’s why the Syracuse forwards, once they settled down and started finishing around the rim, was so dominant. Early on the Orange big men were awfully shaky with their shot attempts from inside of five feet, and for awhile it looked like Syracuse would set a modern record for the most missed layups in a game that didn’t involve six-year-olds.
Chris McCullough missed some bunnies early but wound up with strong numbers, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, and while Tyler Roberson struggled mightily in the first half to finish he added a double-double of his own, scoring 10 and collecting 10 boards. But for many, the real revelation was BJ Johnson. After all, this was a kid many, myself included, figured might find himself squeezed out of the rotation as the year grinds on. And while that may eventually come to pass, he certainly made a case for increased minutes even after Gbinije comes back.
And make no mistake, he was by far the biggest beneficiary of Gbinije’s absence. Instead of being the second wing player off the bench he was suddenly first in line, and he made the most of it. He’s still skinny as hell, but he’s athletic and active and made some great finishes and tip ins around the bucket on his way to 19 points, adding eight rebounds and four assists. He also hit two of the team’s four three pointers.
So the biggest takeaway from this game was that the forward position is, at first glance, a lot farther along than anyone could have hoped. Sure, we all knew there was talent there but the production level far surpasses anything any of us could have imagined.
The downside is that we still have no idea what to make of the guard positions. Kaleb Joseph got into foul trouble and was largely invisible, playing just 23 minutes and attempting only four shots on his way to a four point, six assist effort. He had four turnovers, which is way too high a number, but a couple of those were easily correctable and hopefully he’ll get a chance to see some film and realizes that he can’t make those kinds of foolish mistakes against better competition.
Trevor Cooney, who it just now occurs to me kind of looks like a jacked version of Haley Joel Osment but that’s neither here nor there, quietly scored 12 points, hitting 5-of-7 shots overall and 1-of-2 from deep. This was the kind of game where everyone knew the game plan was to pound the rock inside and use the massive advantage in the post to beat Kennesaw State into submission, one baby hook at a time. Buss Patterson got plenty of run and from a physical standpoint looked eerily similar to Scoop Jardine, so someone needs to sign up to watch him and make sure he doesn’t develop a Chipotle addiction or invite any shady uncles to town to stay with him at his Skytop apartment. As far as his production goes, he struggled to shoot, hitting just 2-of-9 shots and scoring five points, but he looked pretty confident handling the ball and gives us another option at the point should Joseph get into foul trouble again.
And obviously, we have no idea what’s going on with Gbinije, and his absence almost certainly changed up the rotation. If he is actually back on Sunday, it’ll give us a much better indication as to who will and won’t play, and who will wind up being the odd man out.
There’s really not much you can take away from an 89-42 victory, other than some free tacos. The real season doesn’t start until next Thursday. Let’s all just hope whatever is going on with Gbinije is cleared up by then, and our perimeter questions can be answered, at least to an extent, on Sunday in the Dome.