Much like a magician, Syracuse center Paschal Chukwu has a great trick. At any given moment, the seven-footer can vanish from a game. In SU’s latest defeat against UNC, Chukwu scored just four points, while pulling down a measly four rebounds. He was on the court for 18 minutes, nine minutes less than any other Syracuse starter.
His play has steadily decreased since his peak against Duke at Cameron Indoor earlier this season. In the past six games, Chukwu recorded more than four rebounds just once. Some of that has to do with his decrease in playing time, but he’s only getting pulled because of Marek Dolezaj’s gritty mentality.
To be fair, Chukwu tries to make hustle plays. But instead of diving for loose balls, he slowly falls to the ground as his height works against him when knocking elbows on the hardwood. But there’s no excuse for his inefficiency on the glass. Oshae Brissett is out-rebounding Chukwu on the season, and Elijah Hughes isn’t too far behind. It’s unacceptable for a couple of wing players to be rebounding just as well, or better, than the center in the middle of the zone. But unlike Chukwu, they refuse to be pushed around down low.
No coach wants to pull a seven-footer, for a guy who weighs just 180 pounds. But that’s the situation Jim Boeheim has been forced into as Chukwu is a complete non-factor on offense. Too often this season, Chukwu starts the game, only to be pulled in favor of Dolezaj after the Orange start slow. The Slovakian then proceeds to be the spark plug Syracuse so desperately craves until he needs a breather and Chukwu returns.
Chukwu isn’t in the game to score the basketball, he’s in the low post to protect the hoop. Earlier in the year he was doing a tremendous job as a rim-protector. In four games stretching from Georgia Tech to Miami, Chukwu averaged 3.5 blocks per game. He had just been benched and called out by Boeheim, so he likely had a chip on his shoulder. But after reassuring his starting position, it seems like he’s becoming complacent again. In the past four games he has just two blocks.
Against a Zion Williamson-less Duke, RJ Barrett took over and exploited the soft spot in the middle of the 2-3 zone, ending the night with 30 points on 70 percent shooting from the field. While the middle part of the zone is a natural weakness of the defense, Chukwu has to do a better job of stepping up and contesting Barrett’s shots. But he didn’t and SU went on to lose a heartbreaker after leading at halftime. It’s starting to look more and more likely that Chukwu is slipping back into old habits at the worst time possible.