Baye Moussa Keita had the textbook definition of an up-and-down season.
Charged with providing solid backup minutes to Fab Melo to start the season, Keita found himself essentially out of Syracuse’s rotation by the time the Big East tournament rolled around after his defense, rebounding and offensive prowess all seemed to regress.
He averaged just six minutes a game during the last three games of the regular season, and then played just a single minute during the Big East tournament.
But what made Syracuse special last year was its freakish depth.
When Melo was deemed ineligible for the NCAA tournament, Keita and Rakeem Christmas were charged with manning the middle of the SU zone. Keita responded with two of his best games of the season against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 and Ohio State in the Elite 8.
The Badgers shot an obscene 14 for 27 from 3, yet SU still held on for a 1-point win. Keita was a huge part of that, as the Orange trusted him to hold down the middle of the zone as it extended out to Wisconsin’s shooters.
He pulled down 5 rebounds and blocked a shot in 28 minutes of burn, and helped hold the Badgers to 7-of-22 shooting inside the arc. He also added 4 points before he fouled out with just under a minute to go.
Keita continued that solid play as SU was eliminated by Ohio State, with 10 rebounds and three blocks in 24 minutes.
His emergence was a glimpse of Syracuse in the post-Melo era.
“Rakeem and I went to the tournament last year and a lot of people weren’t expecting us to do well,” Keita said. “We got most of the job done, just me and him, so this year we are going to be fine.”
They should be, especially with the addition of DaJuan Coleman.
But what will Keita’s role be on a team that seems to have a surplus of big men?
“You play what you are asked to do,” Keita said. “Every game you have the same purpose, so you do it.”
Inside Shot: “Keita hustles and is a solid defender in the heart of the zone, but his hands are made of stone and when we have the ball in half court sets, it’s almost like playing four on five when he’s on the floor. But if he can replicate his impressive performances from the Wisconsin and Ohio State tournament games, Keita should be able to crack the rotation at the five.” —Nate Federman
- Hometown: Saint Louis, Senegal
- High School: Oak Hill Academy
- Position: Center
- Class: Junior
- Height: 6’10″
- Weight: 215lbs