During the dog days of the season, things looked bleak for the future of Syracuse basketball. Every basket Elijah Hughes scored inched him closer to the NBA Draft. Jalen Carey and Brycen Goodine proved to be a pair of some of the most disappointing four-star recruits in SU history, and the Orange still didn’t have a reliable big man. But as the season progressed, so did the center position.
Next year’s man in the middle is not going to be Columbia transfer Patrick Tape. The 6’10” center is headed to Duke. It won’t be 2019-2020 freshmen Joh Bol Ajok or Jesse Edwards either. Both of them are still too raw for impact roles. Ironically, Bourama Sidibe is the big that Syracuse fans have been waiting for.
Make no mistake, nobody is going to forget Sidibe’s two points and one rebound in the loss to Penn State early last season when he fouled out in just 17 minutes. Syracuse fans will forever be haunted by the eight scoreless efforts in the final 10 games of the 2018-2019 season. But Sidibe is a different player now. Towards the end of this past year, he became Mr. Reliable, a center who would rarely foul out, and never be the reason SU lost.
In a year cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sidibe was playing the best basketball of his life. The Junior averaged 7.4 points per game in February, his highest scoring mark in a calendar month to go along with over seven rebounds. That stretch was highlighted by a few breakout games like his 13 points, 10 rebounds, a career high five steals and four blocks against Pittsburgh and his 17 points and 15 rebounds against North Carolina.
The February Sidibe will give Syracuse a chance night in and night out next season.
This is the version of Sidibe that fans were expecting when the former four-star committed to Syracuse. Freshman year knee problems did not mean he wouldn’t blossom for the Orange, just that he is a late bloomer.
But what changed? Sidibe developed what no other perspective center has. That’s chest inflating, fear inspiring, contagious confidence.
“The guys are driving more often and when the guy drives… the 5-guy has to help,” Sidibe said. “And if they help, I’m gonna be there…. I’m not gonna miss those chances and dunks.”
Sure enough, he didn’t miss those chances. The Mali native shot 72% from the field in February.
It might seem like all of this is based primarily off of one month, but Sidibe gradually improved from his collapse at Barclays Center in November to the cliffhanger in March. Throughout Sidibe’s career, fans have been thinking about what could be if he is healthy, if he stays out of foul trouble, if he scores a little bit more. Well, Sidibe is finally there.
The Orange don’t need a transfer. They don’t need to rush John Bol Ajok or Jesse Edwards into an impact role either. SU already has an elite shot blocker that knows how to play the zone and can score just enough. That is all Boeheim and the SU coaching staff can ask of him. Sidibe is no longer the problem.
Going forward, there will be a surplus of questions for Syracuse. Who will replace Elijah Hughes? Who will back up Joe Girard? But one thing is for sure. Bourama Sidibe will anchor the zone next season.