In Syracuse’s romp over Morgan State on Monday night, the story of the game was James Southerland’s shot. “He’s back,” The Post-Standard declared. But while the sophomore’s sweet stroke and 18 points deserved the limelight that night, his rebounding and defense will keep him on the floor when Big East play begins next week.
“My coach always said I’m offensive inclined and it’s always about what’s on the defensive end,” Southerland said after the game. “[Boeheim] wants me to be tough defensively, stay active and always crash the boards and rebound, and block a lot of shots.”
Southerland averages just three rebounds per game, but his defensive rebound percentage, an estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds a player grabs during his time on the floor, is 18.7 percent. That’s the second-highest percentage on the Orange, only behind Rick Jackson’s 24.2 percent. Although Southerland’s offensive rebound percentage is a more middling 4.5 percent, he has shown a nose for the ball when he’s seen minutes.
Against Morgan State, Southerland finished with five rebounds, two blocks and one steal. He was in the middle of several other defensive plays, including one where he was whistled for a foul but deflected the ball from behind to prevent a potential dunk.
Southerland’s block percentage, an estimate of the percentage of opponent’s two-pointers blocked by a player during his time on the floor, is 6.6 percent, about the same as Jackson’s 6.7 percent. Although not as high as Syracuse centers Fab Melo (8.9 percent) and Baye Moussa Keita (7.9 percent), this is roughly twice that of Kris Joseph (3.3 percent) and C.J. Fair (3.4 percent), the two players Southerland will likely be spelling.
With Melo and Fair banged up, Southerland’s defense and rebounding will become even more valuable. Brandon Triche appears to have found his shooting stroke, and the Orange has proven it can get points from a variety of options. Syracuse will need rebounding more than scoring when it begins to match up against the bigger bodies of the Big East.
The Big East Season will also mean more fouls. Although Keita and Melo have improved upon their early season foul woes, they may have trouble staying on the court against the likes of Pittsburgh and UConn. Last season, Arinze Onuaku saw his fouls per game jump from 2.67 to 2.94 in conference play. This means the Orange will likely need more big bodies, and Southerland fits the mold.
Back on Dec. 11, Southerland began to break out of his shooting slump in Syracuse’s 57-point win against Colgate. He finished three of six from the field, but more importantly grabbed a career-high nine rebounds.
After the game, when asked what he was focusing on to work his way back onto the court, Southerland responded, “mainly defense and rebounding.”
“I really wanted to try and get some steals here and there,” he continued. “My shot has not been falling, but I know eventually I will start to knock down the open looks. I’ve been shooting them well in practice. Every time in the game, it seems to be just in and out. They’ll start to fall.”
Monday night, they started to fall and didn’t stop. Let’s hope that continues, but when Big East season begins, if Southerland wants to stay on the court, he should continue to focus on defense and rebounding.
Jeff Irvine is a Senior Columnist for The Juice Online.