Bourama Sidibe is set to be SU’s man in the middle of the zone after multiple failed attempts to recruit a transfer that could contribute immediately. Like it or not, the Orange are riding Sidibe for one more season. The senior, however, could not stay on the floor last year. He led the country in fouls per game, and averaged nearly seven fouls per 40 minutes.
Marek Dolezaj served as Sidibe’s primary backup when the Mali native hit foul trouble, but mainly by default. Boeheim did not have many other options with John Bol Ajak redshirting and Jesse Edwards still too raw to contribute. SU is best when Dolezaj (6’10”, 185 lbs) doesn’t have to play out of position.
But Boeheim needs to trust either Ajak or Edwards for that to happen, and if history serves as a precedent, then it is one or the other. The Hall of Famer is known for playing a shallow bench. Assuming 4-star small forward Kadary Richmond contributes right away, SU is set to have a seven-man rotation with one of these two bigs getting consistent minutes.
Ajak and Edwards both came to the Hill like most Syracuse centers do. They were undersized and unaware of the intricacies of the zone.
After sitting out his freshman season, Ajak still has an uphill climb to get on the floor. He would likely have the edge over any fresh face the Orange bring in, like 2020 4-star recruit Frank Anselem. But Ajak still has to prove that he has the defensive awareness to anchor the zone. That won’t be easy considering he was on the scout team last year, and didn’t need to know the system as well as Edwards.
Edwards also proved to have a nose for the ball in limited playing time last season. The freshman blocked two shots against Louisville in eight minutes off the bench. Edwards has been there, and done that. The slight “eight-minute” head start will likely factor into Boeheim’s decision.
It’s important to remember why Edwards got the nod over Ajak last season. Edwards only had an inch on Ajak, with no additional muscle, but he was a more polished scorer. Unless Ajak drank some of Bugs Bunny’s special stuff during quarantine, that will likely be the case when the Orange return to campus. Edwards showed glimpses of his scoring ability inside when he posted 10 points against Bucknell in 14 minutes, and seven points against Georgia Tech in just seven minutes.
Overall, Edwards is the better player with better zone awareness. The backup center job is his to lose. But one thing is for sure. The entire season will be a tryout for the 2021 starting spot, a gold rush as soon as Sidibe graduates.