CuseNation Awards: Rookie of the Year

Rakeem Christmas

CuseNation.com brings you an objective look at the 2011-12 Syracuse basketball season, but we dial it back some in our initial reviews. Certain players had standout campaigns – and they will be recognized in the 2011-12 CuseNation hoops awards. In the first installment, we crown a Rookie of the Year.

There weren't too many minutes to go around for the rookies on the 2011-12 Syracuse men's basketball team considering how deep the team is – but one was able to make enough of an impact late in the season to garner the CuseNation.com Rookie of the year.

We would have loved to add Trevor Cooney to this list, but the sharpshooter was red-shirted prior to the season because of the depth the team had at just about every position. So the initial honor will have to go to one of just two options.

Nominees: Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams

Christmas started 35 of 37 games this season, only taking a back-seat to C.J. Fair in the two games during the Big East Tournament. While he had a short leash for most of the year, he showed mini-flashes here and there throughout the season even in limited time. While he would commit a bone-headed mistake early enough to see less than one minute of playing time in certain games, he had a big-time impact in others. Christmas ended up with just a 2.5 point-per-game and a 2.6 rebound-per-game average in his rookie campaign - but in games in which he played at least 10 minutes, he averaged nearly five points, five rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.

Carter-Williams played in far less games, just 26, but also showed considerable flashes on the floor. While getting spot-duty behind Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters to run the offense, MCW protected the ball and distributed well in the process. His lack of playing time down the stretch – he didn't appear in the NCAA Tournament – preserved a gaudy assist to turnover ratio of 54:16. The ratio of 3.375 would have placed him second in the country behind North Carolina's Kendall Marshall – though the numbers are skewed considering Carter-Williams played just over 10 minutes per game when he did get in there. MCW hit 7 of 18 shots from three-point range in the limited time, and he averaged nearly a steal for every 10 minutes of playing time.

Winner: Rakeem Christmas

Rak, as he is commonly known among his teammates, got better as the season went on and he got a chance to strut his stuff when the games mattered most. Carter-Williams will likely be the better four-year player, but he didn't get enough chances in big-time spots to snag the CuseNation.com Rookie of the Year award. It was the opposite for Christmas. The first big-time flash was in the middle of the season, when Fab Melo was ineligible for a string of three games. In those games, he averaged 18 minutes per and achieved regular-season highs against Cincinnati with three blocks and nine rebounds. The Melo issue came back entering the NCAA Tournament, and Christmas was again up for the challenge. He helped to get Kansas State big man Jordan Henriquez in foul trouble – which led to a win. He also helped to neutralize Ohio State's Jared Sullinger for a portion of the Elite 8 contest before the Buckeyes pulled away.

In the NCAA Tourney, Christmas averaged five points, just over five rebounds and nearly two blocks per game. He was the most passionate player in the four-game span, and his confidence was at its apex at the right time.

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