In one of the toughest Maui Classic fields in recent memory, the Orange came away with their 3rd Maui Invitational Championship. While it is difficult to pinpoint or limit what makes a team truly successful, here is a quick look at what made Syracuse’s tournament win so convincing.
- The evolution of CJ Fair as a complete player continues and the MVP performance he put on in Maui was special. Fair scored 54 points in the three games to go with 19 rebounds and 6 steals. Fair relied on his athleticism to get to the basket for the better part of three seasons, but the developing mid- and long-range jumper he started to show last season is still improving. Further, Fair’s length in the Syracuse 2-3 zone can be a problem, especially for teams looking to get looks in the lower gaps.
- Jerami Grant intrigued many last season where he showed off elite athleticism in limited minutes. The reins have come off this season and Grant started to show a bit more of what he may be capable of on the floor. In the semifinal against California and the final against Baylor, Grant scored 38 points on 15 of 23 shooting from the field. While his game is far from polished and he still isn’t much of a shooter, I feel that by the end of this season, we will see a pro player starting to take shape.
- Losing Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland was going to be a big blow to Syracuse heading into this season with a big decline in point guard play and perimeter shooting, but in Maui, the Syracuse backcourt of the near future started to take shape. Freshman Tyler Ennis is a tremendous playmaker and has a basketball IQ way beyond his years. Sophomore Trevor Cooney often seemed lost in his minutes last season, but he has come out shooting this season and you can see his confidence growing. Cooney shot 11 of 24 from three-point land during the tournament, including five threes apiece in wins over Minnesota and California, two teams with very experienced backcourts.
- The center position has been average at best for the Orange over the past few seasons, but the two men manning the position now, Rakeem Christmas and Dejuan Coleman, are doing a very good job playing within the system and giving a strong effort on defense. The duo is averaging a combined 10 points, 9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Not spectacular numbers, but given consistently over the course of a season, and you have a weakness disappear.
The Orange will have a few more tough match-ups between now and the start of ACC play, including a game against Indiana on Tuesday, and games against old Big East-mates St. John’s and Villanova. The Orange weren’t perfect in Maui, but they showed that Boeheim’s system endures, even if the turnover in players becomes more rapid. For now, this tournament is a nice boost for Syracuse and gives them some confidence as they head towards their first season in a new conference.