Rakeem Christmas vs. Jahlil Okafor: Part Two


Okay, I’ll admit it.

Syracuse Orange
Syracuse Orange /

Syracuse Orange

In the first matchup between Syracuse and fourth-ranked Duke, which ended in an 80-72 Blue Devils victory, center Jahlil Okafor certainly got the better of his U.S. Basketball Writers Oscar Robertson Trophy finalist counterpart Rakeem Christmas.

He bullied his way through the low-post pressure of the Orange zone to the tune of 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 13 rebounds, depriving Syracuse of the perfect opportunity to knock off a top-five opponent.

Christmas, on the other hand, struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball, going just 5-of-17 from the field in 38 minutes of action, scoring 11 points to go along with six boards, five assists, and five blocks.

However, believe it or not, this is a different Syracuse team compared to the product which trotted onto the Carrier Dome floor two weeks ago, having defeated two top-fifteen rivals in the span of seven days. More importantly, this is Christmas’ last opportunity to make a statement against an upper-echelon opposing center before he turns his focus to June’s NBA Draft.

Feb 14, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils center Jahlil Okafor (15) controls the ball against the defense of Syracuse Orange forward Rakeem Christmas (25) during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing the stats of the two, they are virtually identical, with Christmas posting averages of 18.1 points  and 9.3 rebounds per game, and Okafor putting up 18.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. The pair does differ slightly in a few areas, with Christmas blocking 2.5 shots per game compared to Okafor’s 1.4, averaging 34.1 minutes per game to Okafor’s 31.1, and shooting 57% compared to Okafor’s 67%.

Despite missing Duke’s win over Clemson on Saturday due to a left ankle injury, Okafor returned with a bang in last night overtime victory over Virginia Tech, recording 30 points and 9 rebounds. He also displayed his toughness in the Blue Devils’ narrow 92-90 win over North Carolina last week, in which Okafor returned from nursing the same injury to post 12 points and 13 boards in 41 minutes of action.

A fully healthy Christmas is coming off of a few double-doubles of his own, following up a 29-point outing in an upset win over Louisville with a 20-point, 12-rebound showing in a loss to Pitt, and a 14-point, 12-rebound game in Tuesday’s 65-60 victory at Notre Dame.

Feb 14, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange forward Rakeem Christmas (25) controls the ball against the defense of Duke Blue Devils center Jahlil Okafor (15) during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Duke defeated Syracuse 80-72. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The key for success for Christmas against Okafor this time around? Gaining position in the post before catching the entry pass from the perimeter.

Far too often in the Valentine’s Day loss would Christmas receive the rock in a difficult spot beyond the block, leaving him unable to make a power move to the bucket or utilize his trademark spin move or righty jump-hook. Now that teams’ are forced to respect the shooting prowess of Michael Gbinije, perhaps him feeding Christmas from the wing could result in the big man getting the ball in a lucrative position, on from which he could actually make a scoring move.

Expect a more aggressive approach from Christmas as well, with this being the senior’s last opportunity to showcase his abilities against the best of the best at his position.