It’s Time for Syracuse Orange’s Centers to Step Up

Howard Smith – USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange enter the Atlantic Coast Conference with high expectations. After all, this is a team coming off a Final Four appearance that returns several key players and welcomes some heralded newcomers. However, the success of this year’s Syracuse team could very well hinge on the play of the team’s post players, who thus far have failed to live up to lofty expectations coming out of high school.

The Orange boast something not many schools can match, and that’s a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans on the low post in Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman. However, they’ve been something of a disappointment over the past two seasons.

As a freshman, Christmas started at the center position but was frequently yanked within the first few minutes, often never to return to the floor. Last season, Coleman suffered a similar fate, and that was not helped by a midseason injury that sidelined him for a number of weeks. By the time he was back and healthy, his place at the end of the bench had already been cemented.

During the last two seasons, its been the center position that has provided the yearly whipping boy for Jim Boeheim, and it’s often been unheralded Baye Keita who finds himself manning the five spot more than his much more acclaimed and decorated counterparts.

Of course, as hard as Keita works, and as much of a team leader as he has become, the team’s ceiling is considerably lower with him playing center than either Christmas or Coleman.

In truth, Christmas, now a junior, is probably better suited to play the power forward spot with his combination of size and athleticism. However, he still lacks the offensive capability to be a true scoring threat in the block, and his shot-blocking ability makes him better suited to protect the middle of the zone than one of the wings.

On the other hand, Coleman has battled weight issues, but is a much more polished and natural low post scorer who lacks the same sort of explosiveness that a guy like Christmas brings to the table. The sophomore Coleman is a guy many people expect to blossom this season, and whether or not he does so will help determine whether Syracuse has what it takes to make another run at the Final Four and a potential championship.

At this point, you know what you’re going to get with Christmas. He shows flashes of being an offensive threat, but chances are he will never be more than a guy who gets out in transition and finishes alley-oops.

Coleman, however, has a chance to be the best low post scoring threat since at least Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku, and maybe going all the way back to a similar Syracuse center like Otis Hill back in the 1990s.

His transition from Jamesville-DeWitt High School to major NCAA Division I basketball was a little rocky, and he still needs to adjust how he approaches the offensive end of the floor. He’s got natural talent, but brings the ball down way too much and tends to rush through his moves, which is a recipe for disaster at this level.

One thing the Orange won’t have to worry about too much from the center spot is rebounding, particularly from Coleman. The 6-foot-9, 280-pound big man is one of the most natural rebounders Syracuse has had in years, and last year he hauled in 4.0 boards per game in under 13 minutes per contest.

Another good sign for Coleman is that on a four game trip through Canada in August, he posted averages of 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 62.5 percent from the floor. That’s the kind of development that can make his high school comparisons to Jared Sullinger more than just wishful thinking.

In any event, Boeheim knows that he has a pair of stars at forward in C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, and early rumblings are that Tyler Ennis will emerge as a star early in his career at the point guard spot. Shooting guard will be a bit of a question mark with Trevor Cooney and Duke transfer Michael Gbinije getting most of the run there, but the center spot could potentially make or break the season for the Orange.

It’s time for Coleman and Christmas to step up and rise to the occasion.

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