Our week-long series tracks the lack of interior depth for Rick Jackson that finally sunk the Orange.
In our week-long look at the failings of the Orange, we’ve established that 2010-2011 Syracuse basketball didn’t have a dominant scorer, and the Marquette loss was a microcosm of the season, But equally as pivotal to the Orange’s underwhelming regular season campaign and all-too-brief postseason run was lack of interior depth.
The Fizz’s “What Went Wrong” Series
- Marquette Game was a Microcosm of Season
- SU Lacked an Elite Scorer
- FizzCast: Team Coverage analysis of the Early Exit
Rick Jackson is as good underneath the hoop as you’ll find in the Big East. He deserved a spot on the All-Conference First Team. He also deserved some help from his fellow Orange bigs. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any, and despite the remarkable improvements he made to his conditioning during the previous summer, RJ looked burnt out in the loss to Marquette that terminated his collegiate career.
Jim Boeheim has talked about it all year – SU needed something from Baye Moussa Keita and Melo, if for no other reason than to lighten the load on Jackson. The power forward from Philly logged a full 40 minutes of action against the Golden Eagles. Baye and Fab combined for nine. Not only was Rick forced to go the whole way without a breather, he spent over 75 percent of his floor time playing out of his natural position. At a certain point, there’s a limit to how much conditioning can help, as we saw with RJ down the stretch this past Sunday. Admittedly, Marquette isn’t a great matchup for Jackson anyway, but he still looked about two steps slow most of the evening.
Center in the 2-3 zone is a demanding position. Having only one quality player to man the middle is simply not enough. Melo was supposed to slide in seamlessly for Arinze Onuaku and be Quality Big Guy #2 along with Rick. Before he even set foot on the Carrier Dome hardwood, the Brazilian freshman was deemed a key to SU’s Final Four hopes by Boeheim.
Problem is, the Per’fesser drastically overrated Fab’s readiness to compete at the D1 level. This summer, he called him a “strong contender for national rookie of the year.” Ouch, Coach, don’t think you could have been more wrong about that. In reality, Fab would have been better off using a redshirt season, but his coaches were apparently too busy gawking at the 7-foot, 250 lbs frame, and the 18-foot jumpers he was knocking down in empty gyms.
Melo’s season began with a fastbreak slam in a scrimmage against Kutztown. From there, it went almost completely downhill. Just twice all season did he grab more than four rebounds in a game (vs. Cornell and DePaul). It wasn’t until March that he was able to score double-digit points in a game. Staggering, especially when you consider that offense was arguably his stronger side of the ball (do they keep stats on upfakes Fab fell for, or and-ones he gave up?).
As frustrating as Fab was, it looked like he started to turn things around during the final week of the regular season. But DePaul is DePaul, and though he was extremely entertaining to watch, the fist-pumping Fab of the St. John’s victory now looks like a fluke. In the final three games of the season (UConn, Indiana State, and Marquette), Melo committed eight fouls. Combined points and rebounds in those games was just nine. Needless to say, that’s not a very flattering indication of how the freshman finished off his year.
How about Baye, though? Earlier in the season, Fab’s disappointing play was somewhat negated by Baye’s unexpected brilliance. But that was then. Recently, the Senegalese youngster’s production had tailed off. In Syracuse’s last eight games, he hauled in more than three rebounds only once (you guessed it, against DePaul). Never much of a scorer, Baye was a guy for most of the year that Boeheim could turn to for hustle, energy, and weakside shot blocking.
It appears the skinny center’s body started to break down during the season stretch run. Moussa Keita wrapped up his freshman campaign with four straight games in which he totaled eight or fewer minutes played. Prior to that season-ending streak, Baye hadn’t even gone two games in row playing less than ten minutes.
Keeping things in perspective, the floundering freshmen centers were only part of the reason why the season ended on such a low note. It was always the upperclassmen that were going to carry the Orange deep into the NCAA Tournament, and they couldn’t.
But come next November, Fab and Baye will be far more important to their team’s success. Rick, and the 20 minutes per game he occupied at center will be gone. So will his low post scoring and his presence on the glass.
On a team with a surplus of talented guards, the biggest question mark is going to be the play of the centers. If Melo, Moussa Keita (and Dashonte Riley) follow their graduating teammate’s example and put in the necessary work this summer, that will go a long way toward answering it.
Posted: Andrew Kanell