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Pitt - Syracuse: Q&A with Nunes Magician

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Had the chance to do a Q&A with John Cassillo over at SB Nation's Syracuse site, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician (TNIAAM for the veterans). John's a great follow on Twitter and be sure to check out the TNIAAM site as well. Over there, I answered some of John's questions and below are his answers to mine.

Obviously, the postseason ban is the big thing surrounding the Syracuse program right now. How is that affecting fans right now? Is it any consolation in that it's happening in a year when the team is kind of down?

We're a mixed bag at the moment. A lot of us over at TNIAAM (including the entire staff, really) are all for the ban if it saves next season. So yes, it's a consolation that it's a down year for the program, versus one with some very high expectations -- which we should have next year. Fans have a lot of questions about it all, and no one's really sure what the "right" thing to do is here. Should Jim Boeheim own up for the second NCAA issue the program's had under his watch? Was this self-imposed ban coordinated with the help of the NCAA? Are there more penalties coming? We're sort of in limbo right now, which has us all on edge as a group.
How do you expect the ban to affect the team's performances the rest of the season?
Either it galvanizes them as a group and they pull in a few nice wins, or it's the final nail in the coffin for what was already feeling like a bit of a lost season. These kids have fought pretty hard all year, though, and with Rakeem Christmas still looking to close out his playing career (and draft stock) in style, I wouldn't be shocked at all to see them play really well down the stretch.
By implementing the ban themselves, the hope is that it will (at least in part) help prevent additional punishment. It's early, but are there any expectations yet of the NCAA imposing more penalties?
We've tossed around possibilities within the fan base, and I think we're all convinced that the NCAA was involved here. They HAD TO BE, right? Given all the reports that said Syracuse was fully cooperative with the entire investigation, this would seem to be a stark departure from that. We'll lose some scholarships, perhaps, and maybe they take away some wins (whatever...), but I think it's a good bet that SU is not missing another postseason. I'm also of the opinion that sitting Fab Melo out of the 2012 NCAAs (when we were very assuredly a Final Four squad -- and almost got there without him anyway) helps us out here, too.
Talk a little about Rakeem Christmas. He's had an unbelievable rise going from a role player to the team's leader in just one season. How unexpected was the jump that he's made and what are his pro prospects?
We didn't expect THIS sort of jump, but we did see expect to see a step forward this season. With him being one of only a few returning starters and this year's offense designed to run through him, he was bound to put up better numbers. Beyond the gaudy stat line, however, you've seen him take enormous leaps as a leader and playmaker. He's always been one of the most athletic players on the floor. Now he knows how to use that and take over games. As a pro, I think he'll still need to add a bit of bulk, but he has the potential to be a very interesting 4 on a lot of NBA squads.
The flipside is a guy like Trevor Cooney, who by all indications, seems to have regressed a little from last season. I haven't yet seen him play this year, but judging by his numbers, he hasn't played as well as some would probably expect (at least in terms of efficiency - he scores a lot, but is also taking a lot of shots). What's his deal?
If you take a look at last year's stats, it started in ACC play last season, and then continued into the early parts of this year. Halfway through non-conference play he seemed to figure things out, but recent efforts have been hot or cold. As a shooter, he's just incredibly streaky, and Boeheim's fine with letting him fire his way out of slumps. There's no in-between with him, and there won't be on Saturday. Either he's going to set you guys ablaze from three, or he's going to be a liability -- and there are never any hints beforehand about which it'll be.
What's the outlook for Saturday?
I'd love to say that Syracuse can pull it together on Saturday and show some real guts in the face of a trying week. But I just think that this close to the whole situation -- and a rough game vs. Virginia Tech this past Tuesday -- there's just too much weighing them down. Add in the Pete, and well, it's a recipe for a loss, unfortunately. They'll fight, of course. Just think Pitt will want this one a little bit more. Pitt 69, Syracuse 64

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