In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics in Syracuse basketball. Today’s topic: What is Baye Keita’s role in 2012-13?
Wesley Cheng: Corey, there’s going to be a lot of centers on next year’s roster. With Dajuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita in the fold, what is Keita’s role for next year?
Corey Mallonee: I have to say, after a disappointing season, I was hugely impressed with Keita in the tournament. His offensive shortcomings are well documented, but there’s a reason why Jim Boeheim called him the team’s best defensive player early in the season, and—while obviously that was before we knew what we had in Fab Melo—he showed that against Wisconsin and Ohio State. If Keita can’t hold the middle by himself late in the Wisconsin game, letting the perimeter guys extend out on shooters, Syracuse loses in the Sweet 16. Two games are a small sample, and shouldn’t necessarily outweigh how disappointing he was for most of the season. But if he can take some confidence and build on that performance, he’s going to be closer next year to what we thought he’d be this year.
I’m not sold on Coleman as an impact player out of the gate, particularly given Boeheim’s recent track record with highly-touted freshman centers. I think Keita plays a similar role to this year, coming off the bench, but I’d venture to say that we’ll see him on the floor in tight games because of his defense.
WC: I like Keita in the starting lineup as a wing with James Southerland coming off the bench as an instant offense sixth man. Depending on the matchup, Boeheim can either bench Keita like he did with Christmas this year, or leave him out against the more rugged teams in the Big East. This is assuming that Coleman is ready to play 15 minutes off the bench as a freshman in a backup role to Christmas/Keita in the 5 spot. Assuming that Coleman is not ready, like you had hypothesized, I’d bring Keita off the bench much like how it happened in the NCAA tournament.
CM: Unless Christmas suddenly develops a post game, there’s no way he and Keita play more than token minutes alongside each other. You just lose way too much on offense with two unskilled big men on the court at the same time. Even if Coleman doesn’t get significant minutes, he’s going to follow in Melo and Christmas’ footsteps and start. Boeheim knows Keita’s capable of coming in cold off the bench and I don’t think he’s going to mess with that.
Outside of the question of whether he starts, I’m really looking forward to all the weirdo smallball lineups Boeheim will be able to throw out there with Keita at the 5. Keita—MCW—Triche—Cooney—Southerland would be an absolute nightmare to defend. Two guards who can both penetrate and shoot, plus two knockdown outside shooters. Wow, I’m getting excited for this team already.
WC: I think we saw Christmas really develop in the NCAA tournament and was more than just a defensive guy. Christmas next year offensively should become what Melo was this year. And Keita playing wing will give the same offensive production that Christmas did this year. So I’m not sure if I buy your argument of losing too much with both on the floor at the same time. Plus, if Boeheim chooses to give Keita the quick hook like he did with Christmas this year, then it matters less.
As to your second point, any time you have a team that runs nine deep, you’re going to have a lot of great lineup possibilities. I think you’re giving up way too much on defense with the lineup you just described, but even if you swap Fair for one of those guards, it’s still a very difficult team to guard.
CM: Point taken about lineup diversity in general. I do think that of the three centers on the roster right now, Keita is the one best able to make up for the defensive weaknesses in smallball units. I’m still not sold on playing him alongside Christmas, though, even if Rak makes the offensive jump this offseason we’re hoping for. I don’t have access to 2-man splits, but did Keita ever share the court with Fab this year? He makes much more sense as a 4 alongside Coleman, or as a 5 in a small lineup. Though I agree Christmas made significant strides in his offense. His jumper’s a little odd but it looked good during warmups in Boston, too.
WC: Out of all of the potential consequences of Nerlens Noel coming to Syracuse, Keita may come out of that looking the best. Had Noel come to the Orange, Keita would’ve been buried on his bench. As it relates to him, it’s good that Noel is taking his talents elsewhere.