“They’re just too big for us inside. We got beat up in the paint.”
Jim Boeheim said this after SU’s 81-75 loss to North Carolina, a game where the Tar Heels had 42 points in the paint, 24 second chance points, and 24 offensive rebounds. 16 of those boards came in the second half, and the last two clinched the game for Roy Williams’s squad.
SU had just closed an eight-point deficit. With 1 minute and 22 seconds remaining, UNC is up three. SU’s best rebounder Quincy Guerrier fouls out, sending Carolina Center Armando Bacot to the line. Bacot misses the free throw, but Tar Heel guard Andrew Platek chases down the rebound. UNC swings the ball around, misses a three, and Bacot hauls in the board over two SU players and lays it in. Five-point lead, Syracuse turns it over, that’s the game.
Now, Armando Bacot is one of four excellent Carolina big men. They all stand 6-foot-10 or taller and outweigh SU’s starting big Marek Dolezaj by at least 20 pounds. This is not the case for 99% of teams around the country, let alone the ACC. But Pitt also dominated the Orange on the glass in the second half while missing its leading rebounder. SU’s opponents are grabbing almost 31% of potential offensive rebounds, second-worst in the conference behind Notre Dame.
The Orange are still without usual center Bourama Sidibe, and to make matters worse, Boeheim said repeatedly that Sidibe “can not play” in his post-game press conference. The senior from Mali is still recovering from surgery on a torn meniscus. Sidibe has been practicing with the team, and SU was hoping he’d return in time for the Pitt game, but he is still feeling pain in his knee. At this point, there’s a chance Sidibe might not return for the forseeable future.
Quincy Guerrier is doing his best to fill the void left by Sidibe. Guerrier is averaging 10 rebounds per game, second-best in the ACC. However, he needs help. Dolezaj is 28th, with 5.8 boards per contest. There are four UNC players between Guerrier and Dolezaj. No other Syracuse player is in the top 40.
Boeheim is not ready to play the young centers, and for good reason. Jesse Edwards saw seven minutes of action against Carolina and recorded more turnovers than rebounds. John Bol Ajak was outmuscled by Rutgers. Frank Anselem hasn’t put on a uniform since the second COVID break. At this point, SU’s head coach has just accepted that SU has to survive while small.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to play with what we have.”