Syracuse guard Michael Gbinije helps Nigeria clinch Olympic berth

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While Canadian Jamal Murray was not able to compete with his national team at their upcoming Olympic qualifying tournament, another current college basketball player was able to do so for the nation in which his father was born. And for Syracuse senior guard Michael Gbinije, his run with the Nigerian national team at the Afrobasket 2015 tournament in Tunisia was the first step towards wrapping up a roster spot for next summer’s Olympics.

Nigeria defeated Angola 74-65 in Sunday’s title game, thus clinching a spot for the team in next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Gbinije scored five points in the win, and for the tournament he averaged 7.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest. Gbinije scored in double figures in two of Nigeria’s eight games, one being a 15-point, five-steal outing against Gabon.

Of course, being part of the roster for Afrobasket doesn’t guarantee Gbinije a spot on Nigeria’s Olympic roster next summer. But to be part of a team that not only clinched its spot in Rio but also won its first continental title is pretty special as both he and his father discussed with the Syracuse Post-Standard.

“Playing on this team was a unique experience for me,” he said. “Overall, I enjoyed playing with these guys.”

Frank Gbinije watched today’s game via FIBA’s live feed and was thrilled to see Nigeria win and his son contributing to the team’s push to Rio.

“I’m pretty excited,” Frank Gbinije said by telephone. “I’m glad he had the opportunity. I think it’s been a wonderful experience for him and something he can carry into his senior season at Syracuse.”

Former Illinois State guard Champ Oguchi led the Nigerians, which finished the game with five double-digit scorers, with 19 points. Among those on Angola’s team was former SMU big man Yanick Moreira, who finished the title game with 13 points and six rebounds.

POSTERIZED: Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije throws down over defender in FIBA AfroBasket

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Before Michael Gbinije returns home to finish up his college career at Syracuse, he is trying to help the Nigerian National Team qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.

On Sunday, in Group A Play against the host country, Tunisia, the 6-foot-6 Gbinije took the hand-off, went down the lane and threw down a monster one-handed dunk over a defender. The highlight served as a consolation for Nigeria, as Tunisia won, 70-59, handing Nigeria its first loss of the tournament.

Gbinije finished with 10 points and three assists in 22 minutes off the bench, his best game of the tournament.

Nigeria finishes up Group Play on Wednesday.

Syracuse center Dajuan Coleman: ‘I feel like I’m ready to play’

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Dajuan Coleman hasn’t played a college game since Jan. 7, 2014, suffering a season-ending knee injury against Virginia Tech. Over a year later, Jim Boeheim announced that Coleman would redshirt the 2014-15 season, as he continued to rehab.

Entering this season, one of the main storylines for the Orange will be the status of the 6-foot-9 big man, especially with Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough in the NBA. Donna Ditota of the Post-Standard caught up with the rising junior center earlier this week, to update his recovery.

DC: 100 percent, yeah. Ready to go. I’m basing that on what I feel now.

DD: And what do you think you can contribute this season?

DC: Being one of the older guys — I’ll be a senior in the classroom, but a junior on the court — I’m going to be a leader. And definitely just being a low-post presence, rebounding and just being a hard worker.

Coleman’s health might not be the only key for the Orange next season. Syracuse will also need stable point guard play, which could result in senior Michael Gbinije sliding into the starting roleplaying alongside fellow fifth-year senior Trevor Cooney.

Through 37 games in his college career, Coleman is averaging 4.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.

Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije working towards move to point guard

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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.

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 7 Syracuse Orange

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 30-10, 11-7 Big East (5th); Lost to Michigan in the Final Four

Head Coach: Jim Boeheim (35th season Syracuse: 920-313 overall, 362-191 Big East)

Key Losses: Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche, James Southerland

Newcomers: Tyler Ennis, Michael Gbinije, Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson, Chinonso Obokoh

Projected Lineup

G: Tyler Ennis, Fr.
G: Michael Gbinije, So.
F: C.J. Fair, Sr.
F: Jerami Grant, So.
C: Rakeem Christmas, Jr.
Bench: Trevor Cooney, So.; Tyler Roberson, Fr.; B.J. Johnson, Fr.; Ron Patterson, Fr.; DaJuan Coleman, So.; Baye Keita, Sr.

They’ll be good because …: Once again, this Syracuse roster is loaded with the kind of talent that fits perfectly into the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim utilizes. He’s got seven front court players on his roster, and with the exception of DaJuan Coleman, all of them are terrific athletes with wingspans reminiscent of a pterodactyl. The back court isn’t quite as deep, but Boeheim still has a slew of bigger guards on his roster, and while it will be difficult to replace Michael Carter-Williams’ disruptiveness on the defensive end of the floor, the Orange still figure to be tough to score on in their zone. The fact that they’re making the move to the ACC, where most of their league opponents won’t be accustomed to playing against that zone, certainly doesn’t hurt.

The offensive end is going to be tougher to figure out. C.J. Fair is one of the nation’s most underrated players, as he averaged 14.5 points and 6.9 boards for a Final Four team a year ago. The 6-foot-8 lefty should be Boeheim’s leading scorer this season. It will be interesting to see who steps up in his supporting cast. Jerami Grant played a lot of promising minutes when he got the chance last season, Trevor Cooney is a better shooter than he showed last year, Duke transfer Michael Gbinije was a top 30 recruit coming out of high school and Tyler Ennis has all kinds of promise. Looking at this roster optimistically, there’s a lot to like here.

C.J. Fair (Getty Images) and Tyler Ennis (Syracuse Athletics)

But they might disappoint because …: Outside of Fair, there really isn’t a proven commodity on this roster, meaning there is a lot that can go wrong. What is neither Cooney nor Gbinije become reliable perimeter shooters? What if Grant doesn’t take the jump we all expect out of him? What if Boeheim continues to struggle to find any kind of consistency from his trio of centers?

The bigger concern revolves around Ennis. He’s a freshman. He’s also the only true point guard that Syracuse has on their roster, and he’s replacing an all-american that averaged 7.3 assists and 2.8 steals. Carter-Williams had his flaws, and they were exposed late in Big East play last season, but he was still an insanely talented player — he got the Orange a lot of easy shots and was a terror defensively — that played some of his best basketball during the NCAA tournament. Those are big shoes for Ennis to fill, especially when you consider that Syracuse does not have a lot of guys that can create for themselves. The pressure on his shoulders this season will be immense.

Outlook: The ACC is loaded this season, particularly at the top of the league. While most will peg the Orange a contender alongside both Duke and North Carolina, it’s important to note that both Notre Dame and Virginia are good enough that they could end up piecing together a top two or three finish in the league. In other words, the margin of error for the Orange is going to be pretty small, as it was in recent years in the Big East.

I like the Orange this year. I think they have the pieces to put together a successful inaugural run through Tobacco Road. But there are a lot of new parts on that roster, and it’s easy to see how some of those pieces could have some trouble coming together. If Ennis is overwhelmed at the point and Cooney and Gbinije struggle offensively, the Orange aren’t going to be able to score the ball. But if Ennis lives up to the hype, Coleman and Grant have breakout sophomore seasons, and Syracuse is able to knock down some perimeter jumpers, this is very much a team that can make a run to the Final Four.

Twitter’s @TheRealGbinije is none of the above

image courtesy Syracuse Athletics
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The Twitterverse is littered with appelations like @RealSkipBayless and @NotTheFakeSVP, and for good reason. Smart-alecks the world round enjoy pretending to be famous people, and according to internet law, if you nab the name first, it’s yours, even if it’s, you know, not really your name.

Beyond that, even some of the so-called “@Real” and “@NotFake” accounts are ersatz. The only way to know which tweets really come from your favorite writers and athletes is to look for the checkmark that notes a verified account. (Side note: should I be offended that nobody out there is pretending to be me?)

With that in mind, if you see anyone claiming to be Syracuse sophomore Michael Gbinije on Twitter, know right now that it’s not him. As the Syracuse Post-Standard is reporting, Gbinije doesn’t even have a Twitter account, so @TheRealGbinije is, well, full of it.

Gbinije, the Duke transfer who sat out this season at SU because of NCAA stipulations, has learned to laugh at these kinds of misrepresentations. He quit Twitter while still at Duke, he said, around the same time the first fake Gbinije account surfaced. TheRealGbinije is fake Gbinije account No. 2.

All this by way of saying that as you search for anything college hoops-related at all during this long off-season, beware your sources. In fact, it’s probably best just to check in with CBT throughout each day if you want the straight scoop on anything.