Any enthusiasm Syracuse generated by outclassing Florida State on Sunday night was overshadowed by concern over the potentially serious knee injury Chris McCullough suffered midway through the first half.
McCullough's right knee appeared to buckle as he planted it attempting to catch a pass from teammate Michael Gbinije in transition. The highly touted freshman forward did not return to the Syracuse bench in the second half and will undergo tests to determine the severity of the injury on Monday.
A prolonged absence for McCullough would be a huge blow to Syracuse even though the 6-foot-10 New York native has slumped offensively over the past few weeks.
McCullough's length, athleticism and activity makes him a disruptive defender in the two-three zone and a capable rebounder. He scored at least 10 points in Syracuse's first eight games of the season but has not hit double figures since then, a product of erratic shot selection, tentativeness and an inability to finish at the rim.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was hard on McCullough even when the freshman was playing well, telling reporters he had a better chance of winning the lottery than McCullough had of being selected in the lottery in next June's NBA draft. The criticism has only gotten more scathing as McCullough's production and playing time has tapered off.
"Chris started out great (this year)," Boeheim told the Syracuse Post-Standard after a win over Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. "He played great. Great! Now we can't get him to play bad. We'd like to get him to play bad. That would be a step up from where we are."
The problem for Syracuse is that it needs McCullough in spite of his inconsistency because there aren't better options behind him. Tyler Roberson would be the obvious choice to enter the starting lineup alongside Rakeem Christmas in the frontcourt, but that leaves the Orange without promising options off the bench as DaJuan Coleman is redshirting with an injury and sophomore center Chinoso Obokoh has only played in six games this season.
Syracuse isn't as certain a bet for the NCAA tournament as usual this season as the Orange (12-4) lost four non-league games before exploiting a soft early ACC schedule to start 3-0 in league play.
A formidable defense has helped offset an erratic offense lacking threats besides Christmas and Trevor Cooney. McCullough had the potential to reemerge as Syracuse's third scorer, but now there's a chance the Orange will need to find someone else to fill that role.
Video of McCullough's injury:
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