As the excitement builds for the next season of Syracuse hoops, one potential area of strength is being overlooked: the center position. Yes, I know SU is stacked at forward, and if Andrew White III ever commits, the riches at the SG and SF position will be mighty impressive. That’s true, but most observers aren’t giving enough focus on what the Orange will have in the middle of the zone next season.
First off, fifth year senior Dajuan Coleman is back. Dajuan will turn 24 in October and will be the Syracuse version of, “THAT guy is still there?!” Last season, Coleman averaged 5.0 PPG and 4.4 RPG, not exactly stats that are going to excite anyone. That said, Coleman was coming off his second major knee surgery. Now fully healthy and working on polishing his game this off-season, rather than a brutal rehab, Coleman should at least be able to show some strides offensively.
Coleman is who he is. He’s not a great athlete and he plays below the rim, but if he has developed a go-to post move his big frame should be able to operate well in the paint. Dajuan averaged 16.8 minutes last year. I see him getting similar playing time with a slight uptick in production. I haven’t even mentioned the leadership and experience he’ll bring in anchoring what should be a formidable 2-3 zone.
Coleman will likely be the starter at center. I find it hard to believe Coach Boeheim is going to bring a loyal, hard-working fifth year guy off the bench. The player getting the bulk of the remaining minutes will be Paschal Chukwu, who has to be chomping at the bit to see the floor after sitting out last season following his transfer from Providence.
At 7-foot-2 and possessing the wingspan of a condor, the redshirt sophomore brings a dimension to Syracuse inside that has never been seen in Central New York. The big question with Chukwu is how much offense he’ll bring.
During his freshman season with the Friars, he averaged a meager 2.6 PPG in only 9.9 MPG. Chukwu is considered a work-in-progress, but is it unreasonable to expect 4-5 points and 4-5 boards per game? No way. Add those numbers to Coleman’s, and that’s not too shabby. Chukwu is a decent athlete with solid hands and a good motor, which should fit in well with Syracuse’s desire to play more up-tempo. You best believe SU guards are working on their alley oop passes, and are salivating at the idea of tossing them up to a guy that tall.
One of the things I alluded to is how good the Syracuse 2-3 should be this year. It’s almost always effective. Now picture it with a legit 7-footer manning the middle. A gifted shot blocker, who has already been complimented by JB for his prowess in that regard, Chukwu should make the zone a very nasty beast. Syracuse’s guards and wings should be able to gamble and extend this season, knowing that big eraser is protecting the rim.
Here’s another positive: the full court press has been used primarily in recent seasons as a way to get back into games (the University of Virginia may know something about that). Now, SU can use the zone as a weapon, when Chukwu is in the game, to fluster the opposition, create turnovers and get the running game in gear.
If Coleman and Chukwu are ineffective or in foul trouble, JB still has options at center. Sophomore Tyler Lydon garnered plenty of effective center minutes last season out of necessity. He is best utilized as a forward, but is obviously a proven option at center, if needed. Then there’s 6-foot-9 freshman forward Taurean Thompson, who is well-built and more than capable of giving SU some quality time at center too.
The 2016-2017 addition of Syracuse hoops should be a very versatile, deep, and talented squad. Let’s not forget the center position is pretty darn loaded, too.
Follow Vince on Twitter @IommiCuseFan