Last season, the pitfall of Syracuse basketball was it’s defense. Okay… a lot of things weren’t great about that team, but defense was one of them. The Orange allowed over 71 points per game last season, which was about average in the NCAA but terrible for Syracuse standards. SU hadn’t allowed that many points per game since 2009, and it caused the Orange to miss its second NCAA Tournament in three years. The 2-3 zone wasn’t as scary as it had been in previous years; SU was without a true, functional center and frequently had to rely on Tyler Lydon and Tyler Roberson to play the middle of the zone. This year wasn’t supposed to be any better after the Orange’s best big men and top five rebounders (Lydon, Roberson, Taurean Thompson, Dajuan Coleman and Andrew White III) all either graduated, left for the NBA or transferred. Nobody knew what to expect from the Orange’s new cast, and most predicted it would be another down year for the Orange. That still may turn out to be the case, but through six games the new big men in Boeheim’s zone have revived Syracuse’s defense. Oh, and the Orange is still undefeated.
Monday, Syracuse gave up 70 points for the first time this season in its 72-70 victory over Maryland. The Orange is allowing just under 60 points per game in its first six wins of the year, which would be the least on a season since SU started 25-0 in the 2013-14 season. A big part of that has to do with the two shot-blockers who have swatted their way onto the scene early in the season: Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe. We knew Chukwu would get his hands on some shots at 7-2, but nobody knew he would be this good. Chukwu is averaging three blocks per game and almost six rebounds. He even has a respectable 5.5 points per game to his name, which at least means teams will have to think about him on defense (better than what you could say of Chukwu last season). The bigger surprise is Sidibe’s 1.2 blocks per game. At 6-10, he and Chukwu are both bigger, longer and more adept in interior defense than anyone the Orange has put in the middle of the zone in years.
In addition to the Orange’s two new centers, newcomers Marek Dolezaj and Oshae Brissett have helped picked up the rest of the rebounding slack left behind from last year. Dolezaj does a little bit of everything; he averages just under six points, seven rebounds, two assists and a block per game. He’s also 6-9, which makes Boeheim’s zone even longer. Brissett, on the other hand, is a double-double machine. He is third on the team in scoring and leads the team in rebounds with 12.2 and 9.8 per game, respectively. If he can keep up that production at 6-8, Brissett could be this year’s Tyler Roberson with better scoring production.
Syracuse basketball’s opponents are shooting just 37 percent from inside thee three-point line this season, which is Top 5 in the country. SU still has a long way to go before its ready to call it’s defense “elite”, and I’m sure the Orange will learn a lot about itself this weekend against Kansas. But for now, the shot-blocking, “not-in-my-house” 2-3 zone of old is back.
Posted: Nathan Dickinson