Oshae Brissett may only be 6-foot-8 but the forward has the tools to play the five for Syracuse. The Canadien is averaging 8.3 rebounds per game and just snagged 14 on Tuesday against Northeastern.
Meanwhile Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe are bringing down about 9 boards combined. Besides their mediocre rebounding stats, the bigs are averaging a combined eight points. Now, SU has a bunch of guys who can score the ball, so the team doesn’t need much offense from the centers. As long as they are playing good defense, that’s enough. But they aren’t doing their job on that side of the floor either.
In three games against big-time programs (UConn, Ohio State, Oregon), the Orange have allowed opposing big men to average 17 points and 10 rebounds. Of course, one of those matchups was against Oregon star Bol Bol, who will be a lottery pick. He destroyed Syracuse for 26 points and nine rebounds.
However, UConn’s Eric Cobb also had a field day with 13 points and 13 rebounds. On the season he’s averaging just over six points and under five rebounds. At 6-foot-9, he should not be bullying the 7-foot-2 Chukwu inside.
However, against the Buckeyes, Chukwu hustled all game. From diving for loose balls to getting back in transition, the big man was giving his all. But he had trouble matching up with Kaleb Wesson. Like Cobb, Wesson is just 6-foot-9 but has about 50 pounds on Chukwu. That extra girth helped the forward get to the line for 14 foul shots, and grab five offensive rebounds. As hard as Chukwu fought, there’s not much he can do about an extra 50 pounds.
While playing Brissett at center forces the Orange to give up length, he plays an inside-out game. He can shoot the three, but he’s at his best when he’s attacking the basket. Going with a small ball lineup also allows for more spacing on offense. Too many times, Syracuse has passed the ball along the three-point line for the entirety of the shot clock with one of the wings eventually chucking up a contested three. Playing Brissett at the five opens up the floor, allowing guys like Tyus Battle or Elijah Hughes to drive the lane. Either they get to the bucket, or dish to an open teammate as the defense collapses. That lineup also gives fan favorite Marek Dolezaj more time on the floor.
After coming on strong late last season to help SU navigate to the sweet sixteen, Dolezaj has seen his minutes dwindle. At 180-pounds, he isn’t strong enough to play center, and there’s a log-jam at power forward. But putting Brissett at center allows Dolezaj to play power forward. Unlike last year, teams have to respect his ability to score as he’s shown increased range, and can take it to the hoop when needed.
So, Jim Boeheim has a couple of options. He can stick with the current lineup, or he can put Brissett at the five and Dolezaj at power forward. With Brissett’s strength and leaping ability, he can hang down low. As ACC play approaches, the Orange need a better solution in the paint.