Yesterday, Syracuse Orange basketball fans received the disappointing news that long-time target Thomas Bryant had committed to Indiana University. Syracuse had long been considered the favorite to land the talented center from Rochester, but his decision to go with the Hoosiers shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise. Given the murkiness of Syracuse’s scholarship situation and the apparent lack of communication between the McDonald’s All-American and the Orange staff, most fans could have predicted he’d wind up elsewhere.
Now, it just begs the question: what’s next for the Orange basketball team?
Obviously, this puts Syracuse in a bit of troubling situation at the center position. Bryant almost certainly would have started from day one, and with the additional hit of Chris McCullough going pro despite a season ending ACL injury, the Orange are left with limited options at the 5-spot.
Assuming he comes back healthy, Dajuan Coleman will be the starter at center for Syracuse. Coleman has plenty of talent, and we can’t forget that he, too, was a McDonald’s All-American and actually put up more impressive numbers in that game than did Bryant (Bryant scored nine points and grabbed three boards; Coleman had seven points and 12 boards in 2012). But obviously, the issue with Coleman is his health. He’s missed the better part of two seasons now, so it becomes a question not so much of how effective he’ll be when he’s on the floor, but whether he can get on the floor and stay on the floor in the first place.
After Coleman, the only center with any experience is Chino Obokoh, who showed last year that he’s still very raw and probably shouldn’t be counted on, at this point in his career, for more than 5-10 minutes per game at the most. Now, he could take a big leap in the offseason, but Syracuse fans shouldn’t be expecting him to come back as anything more than maybe Baye Keita – and I’m talking about Baye from his freshman and sophomore seasons, when he ate minutes, blocked a few shots, and picked up some fouls as an energy guy used for depth.
Now, this brings us to the freshman class, and Moustapha Diagne. Diagne is a little bit undersized for the center position, but he’ll almost certainly be pressed into action at that spot anyway. If Bryant had come to Syracuse, it’s a near certainty that you’d have only seen Diagne playing power forward, but now Jim Boeheim doesn’t really have any choice but to get Diagne some minutes at the 5, unless Coleman and Obokoh can somehow hold things down by themselves.
Diagne is an interesting talent. At 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, he’s a strong rebounder and solid shot blocker. He is a high energy player with an offensive game that has been rapidly developing to the point where you can realistically say he’s drastically underrated on that end of the floor. I’ve talked about Diagne before, and after watching him throughout the New Jersey high school playoffs and the Tournament of Champions, it just reinforces my take. Diagne is a much smoother offensive player than many seem to think, with a good looking jumper that he will be able to knock down pretty consistently out to 15 feet. He’s also a much more adept interior passer than he gets credit for.
The issue with Diagne will obviously be how smoothly he can transition to the Division I level, and more importantly, how quickly. He probably still needs to add some muscle if he’s going to bang on the inside with other centers, but he’s got a chance to be an impact player for the Orange. At this point, I would be more than a little surprised if he’s not the primary backup at center, ahead of Obokoh. He’s just so much farther along than the 6-foot-10 rising junior that it’s hard to imagine him sitting behind the older player.
As far as what to expect from the rest of the team next year…well, that remains to be seen, and is a much longer conversation. I don’t think that the Orange will be in as bad shape as many seem to believe, but it will take a lot of things going right to put Syracuse back in the NCAA Tournament next year. The pieces are there to win 20 games next season. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how well they fit together.