With James Southerland out of the lineup indefinitely, Syracuse must find a way to fill 26.2 minutes per game, to say nothing of replacing the senior’s 3-point shooting and rebounding. If Saturday’s win against Villanova is any indication, Jerami Grant will receive the lion’s share of new playing time. But considering the expectations DaJuan Coleman brought to Syracuse and his role as the starting center, one wonders if he will make a more meaningful impact by season’s end.
To answer the question, I’ve taken a look at the last five significant freshman post players SU has had – Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson, Baye Moussa Keita, Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas – and compared how they played during the first half of Big East play versus the second half of the conference schedule.
Collectively, their offensive rating (points per 100 team possessions) fell by 10 in the second half of the conference slate. While that is disheartening for Coleman’s prospects, their collective field goal percentage rose by 11 percent. That, however, could be because they took 60 percent fewer shots.
The general conclusion seems to be that a Syracuse freshman post player’s role in the offense will decline over the course of the season. This is backed by the fact that in the second half of conference play these players saw their percentage of minutes played drop by 8 and their percentage of team shots drop by 3. Of the five, only Melo increased his percentage of minutes played, not counting the three games in which he did not see action.
But when you begin to parse the players individually, it’s possible to find cause for optimism. Onuaku improved his offensive rating by 18 in the second half of the conference slate, while Melo saw his jump by 25.
Defense and rebounding showed more consistent improvement amongst the group. They collectively increased both their block percentage and defensive rebound percentage by 2 – which is a big deal for those statistics.
The big question mark for Coleman, who came in ranked as the 18th best freshman by the RSCI composite rankings, is whether he can develop post moves. He has thus far tried to out-muscle his defender using a power dribble that probably worked wonders against smaller high schoolers last year but has proved ineffective against college big men.
As many have noticed, Coleman also has a tendency to bring the ball too low where it can be stripped by the opposing defense. Although this seems like an easy problem to fix, it is a difficult habit to break for someone who has always been strong enough to overcome poor technique.
If past Orange freshmen are any indication, Coleman is not likely to significantly expand his role in the rotation as the season goes on. But when he does get the ball, history suggests he will begin to improve on the 44 percent of field goals he currently makes, which is way too low for a forward/center.
In terms of replacing Southerland’s production, it looks like Grant will need to do the heavy lifting.