Syracuse basketball needs more from its group of centers

Four games into the Syracuse basketball season, some of the preseason observations and predictions are starting to take shape. Others are falling by the wayside.

After losing Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, most figured the backcourt would take a step back this season. However, all the returnees on the frontcourt were supposed to join forces to create the strength of this team.

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Syracuse needs more offense from the 5 spot

C.J. Fair, you may leave the room now. I’m not talking about you. You have been fabulous and have lived up to your billing as ACC Preseason Player of the Year.

Jerami Grant…this doesn’t concern you, either.

I’m looking straight at the three-headed, big-man monster of DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita.

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Last season, the three totaled averages of 13.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game. This year, the averages are much the same: 13.8 points, 15.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

But weren’t these guys supposed to improve?

For most big men (including those throughout Syracuse’s program), it takes two or three years to grow into the college game where they are no longer head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.

In the case of this troika, Coleman was billed as the most skilled offensively, a big body with nimble feet, good hands and a soft touch around the rim. After missing nearly half of his freshman season last year, though, the big fellow is still getting his feet wet at the college level. So far this season, Coleman has been equal parts promising and frustrating (24 total points in two games, two points in the other two).

For Keita, his production during the Big East and NCAA tournaments (nearly six points per game) was more than double his career norms. But alas, Keita has returned to his prior form, more defense and rebounding than offense.

Christmas’ offense has been an X-factor, never truly expected but always welcomed. He scored in double figures just once his freshman season. In 2012-13, he recorded at least 10 points seven times, with the Orange winning all seven games. But, the way he gets his points is not one that can always be counted on. Rather than having a true post game, his offensive production is predicated on lobs, dunks and putbacks. Those are all things that can’t be counted on night in and night out.

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Honestly, it’s tough to read too much into anything at this juncture. Throughout the years, we’ve seen Syracuse sludge its way through the non-conference schedule, looking dominant on certain nights and having their off nights where teams have been able to hang around and St. Francis nearly pulled out a win.

A year ago, Coleman, Keita and Christmas accounted for 15 percent of Syracuse’s shots. This season? Twelve percent thus far.

They’re putting up similar offensive production with less opportunities.

To take the burden off a point guard in Tyler Ennis just getting his first taste of college hoops and a shooting guard in Trevor Cooney seeing consistent minutes for the first time in his career, the team should be able to lean more on those guys to provide more than they have so far.

If the team wants to reach its full potential this season, the Orange may have to come to expect more from their big men on the offensive end of the floor. It was thought to be a strong point before the season started and that opinion should not be changed just four games in.

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Matt Dagostino

About Matt Dagostino

Matt currently works as an on-air talent and producer for Turner Sports in Atlanta, where he is from. Among his responsibilities are voicing over highlights for NCAA.com, NBA.com, WNBA.com, and PGA.com. He has also served as an associate producer for TNT’s coverage of the NBA Playoffs and TBS’s coverage of the MLB Postseason. Matt also has experience as a minor league baseball play-by-play announcer and as a PA announcer in D-I college athletics. Matt graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @MattDags28.
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