After serving as a reserve during the 2013-14 season versatile guard Michael Gbinije was a key figure for the Syracuse Orange last season. Gbinije, who began his college career at Duke, accounted for 12.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 35 minutes of action per contest. And given the fact that the Orange lost a critical offensive piece in Rakeem Christmas, Gbinije will once again need to be a major contributor in 2015-16.
In addition to scoring Gbinije will need to be prepared to spend even more time on the ball. In an interview with Donna Ditota of the Syracuse Post-Standard, among the topics discussed was head coach Jim Boeheim’s desire to be able to use Gbinije at the point and what the rising fifth-year senior is doing to ensure that he’s prepared for the move.
DD: He has hinted that he wants you to play point guard. What are your thoughts about that?
MG: I kind of like it. It’s going to be the first time in my career I’m going to start at the point guard and then play it. It’s kind of exciting and I’m ready for it.
DD: So you’re planning to be the starting point guard at the season-opener?
MG: The decision is ultimately not mine, but if it could go that way, yeah, I would like that.
One year after having Tyler Ennis to rely upon at the point, things didn’t go as smoothly for the Orange in 2014-15. Another freshman, Kaleb Joseph, moved into the role left vacant by Ennis’ departure to the NBA and he struggled to reach the level of consistency Syracuse needed at the point.
Joseph averaged 3.8 assists per contest last season but had issues when it came to providing some scoring from the point, averaging 5.9 points per game and shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 20 percent from three. Moving Gbinije to the spot alongside fellow fifth-year senior Trevor Cooney (13.4 ppg) would give Syracuse an option opponents would have to account for as both a distributor and a scorer, not to mention the length the 6-foot-7 Gbinije provides defensively.
How Syracuse handles the point guard duties, and whether or not Gbinije proves ready for the shift, will be something to keep an eye on during the early portion of the 2015-16 season.
No. 7 Villanova’s wild rally forces OT, where they beat Syracuse (VIDEO)
Syracuse was rolling. They were up by as much as 14 points in the second half, having held the lead for the entire game despite the fact that Chris McCullough had basically done nothing for 40 minutes.
The Orange were about to put away the most important performance of their season — a win over No. 7 Villanova in Philadelphia — when disaster struck:
In the extra frame, McCullough, Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije all fouled out as the Wildcats held on for an 82-77 win in the battle between old Big East rivals.
Credit where credit’s due: Villanova really played well in the second half, forcing turnovers, getting to the offensive glass and making big plays when big plays needed to be made. JayVaughn Pinkston led the way with 25 points and 10 boards while Darrun Hilliard added 23 points and four steals, including a stretch of eight straight that he had early in the second half to spark the comeback.
Villanova beat the Orange on a day where they didn’t play anywhere near their best game. Syracuse is not exactly an ACC title contender, but they’re a pretty good team that played exceptionally well on Saturday, and Villanova won despite having an off night and making some uncharacteristic mistakes.
That’s a great sign for the Wildcats.
But that won’t make Jim Boeheim feel any better about the way his team dropped this game.
Because they finally looked like the Syracuse team that everyone (except me, it seems) had slotted in the preseason top 25. Rakeem Christmas was playing great in the paint, finishing with 18 points. Michael Gbinije had easily the best game of his basketball career, finishing with 18 points, eight boards and five assists, all career-highs. Kaleb Joseph had 10 points and 10 assists, making a number of tough, crucial plays — and more importantly, correct decisions — down the stretch.
It looked like everything was starting to come together, like all it took was a chance to beat Villanova for the Orange to figure it out.
But a late turnover and some foul trouble in overtime ruined that.
This was the last chance for the Orange to notch a marquee non-conference win. If they end up on the bubble in March, this game will be the reason why.
It was vintage Spike Albrecht on Tuesday night, as everyone’s favorite not-actually-a-walk-on point guard finished 11 points and nine assists without a turnover, hitting a three with 31 seconds left to lead No. 17 Michigan to a 68-65 win over Syracuse.
Albrecht had nine points and six assists in the second half alone. For a team with a back court that includes Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin, it’s surprising to hear that a kid who got his first scholarship offer — from UMass-Lowell — midway through his post-grad year was the star.
He wasn’t alone, either.
Ricky Doyle, another unknown on Michigan’s roster, shined as well. He finished with 12 points and six boards, five of which came on the offensive end of the floor. They also did this:
Back before the season began, I said that the play of redshirt freshman big man Mark Donnal would be the key to the Michigan season.
I was right and wrong. A different big man, Doyle, has a chance to be the difference maker for this group this year. What the Wolverines do not have on their roster this season is a Jordan Morgan, a strong, physical low-post presence that will defend hard, rebound hard, screen hard and do all of the dirty work while, you guessed it, playing hard.
He doesn’t need to be Frank Kaminsky or Jahlil Okafor, but he does need to be a guy that keeps possessions alive by getting to the offensive glass. He needs to be a presence in Michigan’s ball-screen action, a guy diving to the rim and dunking if defenses collapse on one of Michigan’s guards. He needs to block some shots and take some charges and do all that dirty work that Morgan did for so long.
And in recent weeks, he has been. In the last four games, Doyle is averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 boards. If he does that all season long, Michigan might end up being the second best team in the Big Ten.
As far as Syracuse is concerned, it was nice to see Trevor Cooney get it going offensively, and Chris McCullough did some really impressive things once he returned to the court after being in foul trouble, but nothing about this performance changes the way that I feel about the Orange.
Kaleb Joseph is not ready for the roll he is being asked to play, which is something I wrote about extensively from New York City last week. He’s going to be a good point guard down the road, but as of right now, he’s overwhelmed. Tonight certainly won’t help his confidence. In the final 15 seconds, he committed two turnovers with Syracuse down by just one point. He airballed a decent looked at a three at the buzzer.
NEW YORK — Syracuse survived Iowa on Friday night, 63-62, as the soon-to-be former No. 23 team in the country got 20 points, 10 boards and three blocks from Chris McCullough, taking home third place in the 2K Sports Classic.
I say survived because Syracuse allowed a not-very-good Hawkeye team to erase a deficit that was as big as 15 points and was 14 with 8:35 left in the game to evaporate. Iowa used a 15-2 run over a five minute stretch to cut the lead to 59-58, and the issues that plague this Syracuse team could not have been more evident; issues that were created by the unexpected early entry of Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant to the NBA.
The Orange don’t have a point guard that they trust. After Thursday night’s loss to Cal, head coach Jim Boeheim made it very clear just how much they miss Tyler Ennis.
“We got spoiled a little bit last year,” Boeheim said. “We had an unusual freshman point guard. They don’t come around. That’s a once in like a coach’s career that you get a freshman that can play with that kind of understanding of the game.”
Kaleb Joseph has a chance to be pretty good down the road, but as of now, he’s an overmatched freshman that is still learning how to run a team at this level. Joseph had three of the seven Syracuse turnovers during the Iowa run, one that was sparked by 1-2-2, one that may not have happened if Joseph was beginning his college career as a backup point guard.
Syracuse also does not have a backup point guard on the roster. The reason that Ennis was able to be a one-and-done freshman was that he starred as the only point guard on the Syracuse roster last season. He was forced into that role when Michael Carter-Williams turned into a lottery pick after his sophomore season, the first year the current Sixer got real minutes for the Orange.
“Kaleb’s a very good freshman point guard,” Boeheim said. “Very talented. But he’s got a lot to learn about the game. And none of this is going to happen by tomorrow, or two weeks after that.”
There’s more to it than simply getting stuck with just one point guard on their roster, however. The Orange have leadership issues. Joseph isn’t ready yet that guy. Neither is McCullough. Can Trevor Cooney? Rakeem Christmas? Michael Gbinije? Only time will tell, but I can say that Ennis would have been that guy.
Along those same lines, there is no go-to guy on this roster. Who do you run a play for when you need a bucket? Who do you trust with the ball in their hands in crunch time? For the last two years, it was C.J. Fair. This season, it would have been Ennis, but he’s gone.
Tonight, Joseph missed a jumper with 25 seconds left on the shot clock in the final minute with the Orange up 61-60. Cooney missed a couple jumpers and had three turnovers of his own during Iowa’s run. The answer might actually be the front line for the Orange — McCullough and Christmas have been quite effective at times scoring in the post — but the key to getting quality post touches is strong guard play.
“Chris and Rak were good, we just got to do a better job of getting them the ball down low,” Boeheim said. “We’ve certainly got a lot of work to do on the offensive end.”
“We realize we’re young,” Joseph said. “A little inexperienced. We made a few mistakes.”
This is the downside of early entry into the NBA Draft. When college basketball teams plan out who they are going to recruit, they do it years in advance. By now, most programs are going to know what positions they need to recruit in the Class of 2017, current high school sophomores, and have a good idea of who, specifically, they want to target. They will have already started the recruiting process for those players and should have a good idea of who they actually have a chance of landing in the Class of 2016, current high school juniors, and they should have at least a couple of commitments for the Class of 2015.
When you suddenly realize in February that you’ll be losing a player that you had planned on having in the program for at least one, if not two or three more years, this is what happens.
“There’s a little bit of pressure, but I think that’ll make me better,” Joseph said, who added that he thinks that being forced into such a major role so early is a good thing for him. There’s no one backing him up, which means he’s going to be forced to play through his mistakes.. “I’ll get tossed into the fire, I’m going to learn on the run. It’s great experience.”
It’s too early in the season to write off the Orange, not when you have the kind of talent up and down the roster that Boeheim does.
But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start wondering if this is an NIT team.
And if that happens, the blame should fall squarely on Tyler Ennis and the fact that he was better than anyone thought he would be.
We’re entering a new era in the ACC, as Louisville enters the conference while Maryland exits to the Big Ten. Some old rivalries will die as a result — the Duke-Maryland rivalry in the early-2000s was as good as it gets — but the ACC is now the best conference in the country. The top four teams in the conference are all good enough to make a Final Four and win the ACC regular season title. There are at least six more teams that will have a chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. It’s going to be a fun league to watch play out.
In: Louisville Out: Maryland
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. The top four in the ACC is clear-cut: Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia. Those are the four best teams in the ACC, and there really isn’t a debate to be had there. All four are ranked in the top ten of the NBCSports.com preseason poll, and all four are legitimate national title contenders. What order those four should be ranked is something we are all going to disagree on, but the bottom-line is this: no one else in the conference can even be called a consensus top 25 team. That said …
2. … the race for fifth place will be just as contested: There may not be another consensus top 25 team in the conference, but there are six teams in the league that could end up being ranked at some point during the season and earning themselves an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. All six could also end up missing the NCAA tournament. We have Notre Dame fifth and Miami tenth in our preseason poll. You could flip-flop them and I wouldn’t argue all that much. The middle of the league is going to be a mess.
3. The offseason talking points had more to do with students than athletes: Despite the fact that the ACC is home to four top ten teams, four players that made at least one appearance as a preseason first-team all-american and four hall of fame head coaches, the stories that dominated the headlines this offseason were all bad. Syracuse is staring down the barrel of an NCAA investigation into academic improprieties, improper benefits, failed drug tests and who knows what else. But those issues paled in comparison to what North Carolina dealt with this fall, as a damaging independent investigation into the academic fraud in the athletic department — the Wainstein Report — legitimized the questions surrounding Roy Williams’ program. It’s bad enough that there’s a real chance the 2005 national title could end up being vacated.
4. It’s been two years since a blueblood won an ACC title: For all the talk of the ACC’s bluebloods — Duke and North Carolina — and the storied programs the league swiped from the Big East — Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville — it’s mildly surprising that it has been a full two years since anyone of those programs have won an ACC regular season or tournament title. In 2014, Virginia won dual ACC titles. In 2013, Miami did the same.
5. Best point guard play in the country: You like watching elite ball-handlers? You’ll love the ACC this season. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Louisville’s Terry Rozier are going to get the majority of the attention, but that’s just the beginning of it. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant is talented enough to put together an all-american caliber campaign. Miami’s Angel Rodriguez was an all-Big 12 point guard before transferring out of Kansas State. Duke’s Tyus Jones is the nation’s best freshman point guard. Olivier Hanlan (Boston College), Codi Miller-McIntyre (Wake Forest), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (Florida State), Cat Barber (N.C. State). There are going to be some really good point guards that don’t sniff the all-ACC team.
PRESEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Jahlil Okafor is my pick to be the National Player of the Year this season, so it would only make sense that he is the Preseason ACC Player of the Year as well. I expect Okafor to have an impact as a freshman similar to that of Jabari Parker last season, as the 6-foot-11 center will be the most-skilled low-post player in the country.
THE REST OF THE ALL-ACC FIRST TEAM:
Marcus Paige, North Carolina, Jr.: Paige was dominant at times as a sophomore, as he learned how to playthe role of facilitator until he needed to take over.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, Jr.: Louisville caught a bit of a break when Harrell made the decision to return to school for his junior season. We know about his work in the paint, but he’s hitting threes now as well.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia, Jr.: Brogdon is one of the most underrated players in the country. He’s not flashy and won’t post huge numbers, but he’s consistent and the key for Virginia offensively.
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame, Sr.: Grant was having an all-american caliber season when he was suspended from school for the second semester. Expect him to pick up where he left off.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Terry Rozier, Louisville, So.
Angel Rodriguez, Miami, Jr.
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College, Jr.
Aaron Thomas, Florida State, Jr.
Tyus Jones, Duke, Fr.
BREAKOUT STAR: Terry Rozier had a handful of impressive performances as a freshman, but consistent minutes were tough for him to come by. Part of that was the result of playing the same position as all-american Russ Smith. But it wasn’t a secret that Rozier was the best pro prospect on Louisville’s roster last season, and using the 6-foot-2 combo-guard in a reserve role helped ensure that Rozier would be back for another season.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory is the obvious pick here, but it’s also the boring one. We know that the Yellow Jackets have not been good during his tenure, and when you’re the coach at an ACC school that isn’t winning, you’re job will be in jeopardy. What’s more interesting is the status of hall of famers Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams. Syracuse is currently dealing with an NCAA investigation into issues with academics and improper benefits while North Carolina is undergoing intense scrutiny regarding their use of “paper classes” and just how much of the cheating Williams was aware of.
Are they in danger of losing their jobs? Not unless they want to retire. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a pair of coaches in any league facing more pressure entering the season than those two.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The ACC might get four teams into the Final Four, but will anyone else win a game?
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Watching the top four teams in this league battle it out for a regular season title. The race for ACC Player of the Year will be fun as well.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. Duke: I have my doubts about Duke, but the Blue Devils have the single-toughest matchup in the ACC in Jahlil Okafor roaming the paint and a ton of perimeter depth to surround him.
2. North Carolina: Picking the Tar Heels here means two things: Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both lived up to their potential, and Justin Jackson played like the McDonald’s All-American he is.
3. Virginia: The ‘Hoos don’t look menacing on paper, but they return the majority of their roster from a team that won a dual-ACC title last season.
4. Louisville: Love Rozier and Harrell, but there are some real question marks elsewhere on the roster. That said, a fourth-place finish in the ACC could still yield a top three seed.
5. Notre Dame: Jerian Grant — and, to a lesser extent, Patrick Connaughton — good enough to get Notre Dame to .500 on his own. The Irish will be a tournament team if Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia improve.
6. Syracuse: The Orange are loaded with athletes, especially in their front court. But the inconsistent Trevor Cooney is the only proven scorer and Kaleb Joseph is the only point guard. I could see the Orange missing the tournament.
7. N.C. State: Cat Barber, Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey is a talented back court, BeeJay Anya has shed a bunch of weight and Abdul-Malik Abu could end up being an all-freshmen team player.
8. Pitt: Getting Durand Johnson back healthy is key, as is the return of Cameron Wright and James Robinson. How good will Sheldon Jeter and Michael Young be up front?
9. Florida State: Aaron Thomas is one of the most underrated players in the league and the addition of Xavier Rathan-Mayes should be key. If they address their turnover and defensive rebounding issues, a top five finish is feasible.
10. Miami: The quartet of Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, Deandre Burnett and JaQuan Newton gives the Canes a talented perimeter. But what about their front line?
11. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have had made a habit of picking off elite opponents at home, but they’ll need to shore up their defense and get help for Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas to finish in the top half of the league in Danny Manning’s first year.
12. Georgia Tech: Point guard play is still an issue, but DeMarco Cox and Charles Mitchell are both eligible up front while Marcus Georges-Hunt is underrated on the wing.
13. Clemson: The Tigers were a top 20 defensive team last season, and while they return a number of veterans, they lose K.J. McDaniels, their best defender and leading scorer.
14. Virginia Tech: The future looks bright in Blacksburg with Buzz Williams coming to town, but it’s going to take some time for him to get enough talent into the program to compete near the top of the ACC.
15. Boston College: The Eagles bring back Olivier Hanlan, but they lose Ryan Anderson, among others, and look destined for the ACC cellar.
Kaleb Joseph was recruited by Syracuse to be the backup to Tyler Ennis. However, Ennis’ freshman season ended the same as the ones for Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon with an early entry for the NBA Draft.
This puts enormous pressure on the 6-foot-3 freshman entering the 2014-15 season, as he is the only true point guard for the Orange. He is a taller and more athletic guard than Ennis. Joseph is also an absolute gym rat, whether it be at his home in Nashua, New Hampshire or during his time at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, where and UConn commit Jalen Adams won back-to-back championships. And through two exhibition games, the early reports have been positive.
“He’s gotta be a little more aggressive,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after Monday’s scrimmage, via Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com. “The first half, he had some opportunities. He’s gotta look to score when the opportunities are there. And I think he will. But he’s played very solid. I think he’ll find his opportunities. In the second half, he did. He’s had a couple good exhibition games.”
His stat line in those two preseason games:
vs. Carleton: 19 points, four boards, four assists, one turnover (26 minutes)
vs. Adrian: nine points, six boards, four assists, one turnover (27 minutes)
A good rule is you shouldn’t put too much stock in the preseason (good or bad), especially in the case of Adrian College (Michigan), a Division III program. But Carleton is Canadian powerhouse, winners of the last four CIS titles and 10 of the last 12. This summer, the Scrubb brothers, Phillip and Thomas, torched the young Memphis perimeter en route to a pair of victories in a three-day span.
ACC play will undoubtedly challenge the first-year point with a conference filled with talented guards from top to bottom. Joseph will also be tested in the non-conference against the likes of Ryan Arcidiacono, Rysheed Jordan, Derrick Walton and potentially Isaiah Taylor — all in the first five weeks of the season.
Joseph’s development will be one to track for Syracuse all season long, and it continues on Friday night in the regular season opener against Kennesaw State inside the Carrier Dome.