Orange Watch: Does Syracuse basketball have its ‘back’ against the wall?

Item: Down to a regular seven player rotation, and with the health of Jerami Grant’s uncomfortable back a major concern reducing that number to six (plus whatever an emerging Tyler Roberson can contribute), there are two games left to regroup before single elimination kicks in.

As seniors C.J. Fair and Baye Moussa Keita (along with reserves Nolan Hart and Russ DeRemer) prepare to take to the Dome court one final time in SU uniforms Tuesday night against Georgia Tech (7:00 p.m. ET / ACC Regional Network), all eyes will also be on Grant and whether his physical state necessitates a decision to rest 11 days until the likely ACC quarterfinal round on March 14, or give it a go against the Yellow Jackets and/or Florida State next Sunday afternoon.

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Syracuse has lost three of four games

Like any team, Syracuse needs to be at full strength as the NCAA Tournament rounds into view, so until Grant is ready to continue to show the athleticism down low that has wowed Orange Nation the last two seasons, the major questions about an Orange offense that has had trouble shooting the ball as February turns into March and the loss of the team’s leading rebounder, will remain.

» Related: What has caused SU’s recent string of close games?

“Jerami is a key part of this team, and I thought Mike (Gbinije) came in and stepped up and Tyler did a good job coming in,” Tyler Ennis said after Saturday’s most lopsided of the three defeats this season at Virginia. “(But) you can’t really replace Jerami Grant in the low post.”

You play with the players you have, so if Grant can’t go the final week of conference play it will be interesting to see how Jim Boeheim shuffles playing time and experiments with lineup combinations.

“He’s been one of our best players all year,” Boeheim said of Grant after the Virginia loss in explaining the displeasure of being forced to shift gears late in the season. “Obviously, you don’t want to lose a guy like that, we’re not the same team. Sometimes those things (injuries) happen and you have to try and adjust as best you can.”

The theme of moving on and shaking off the biggest point differential of the three defeats over the current four game stretch, is the only way the players want to think about getting ready to finish out what’s turned out to be another standout regular season.

“It’s important to move on whether you win or lose (at this point of the season),” Ennis said after his first foul-plagued game as a collegian versus UVA. “You’ve got to learn from each experience (in) each game and just focus on the future (schedule).”

Key losses due to injury or suspension hurt a potential deeper NCAA Tournament run for the ‘Cuse in 2010 (Arinze Onuaku) and 2012 (Fab Melo), all Orange Nation can hope for is not to see a repeat due to another key injury this season.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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