Next year’s Syracuse men’s basketball team has big shoes to fill. The departing quartet of CJ Fair, Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant and Baye Moussa Keita played 58 percent of the team’s minutes and scored 63 percent of its points last season.
While questions abound about who will step up to shoulder the load on offense, an equally pressing concern is who will lead the Orange in rebounding next season. The team must replace its top two rebounders, Fair and Grant, as well as one of its most effective in Keita, who was second on the team in rebounds per 40 minutes.
The top returning rebounder is Rakeem Christmas, who averaged 5.1 boards per game. Christmas seems a likely candidate to assume the mantle of leading rebounder, especially considering his play in the second half of last season. After grabbing 5 or more rebounds in just two of SU’s first 13 games, he managed the feat 12 times in its last 21.
But Christmas’s problem has been consistency. Although he reached double digit rebounds four times during conference play, he also had two games where he grabbed just one because foul trouble relegated him to the bench.
Additionally, center is a challenging position to rebound from in the 2-3 zone. Syracuse’s starting center has led the team in rebounding just once in the last 12 seasons. That was Fab Melo in 2011-2012, and he only managed to corral 5.8 rebounds per game.
Although DaJuan Coleman is a center, if he is healthy, he will be a strong contender for the team’s leading glass cleaner. Coleman has led SU in rebounds per 40 minutes each of the last two seasons. His impressive rate of 12.8 rebounds per 40 minutes last season was even better than Rick Jackson’s in 2010-2011 when he became the last SU player to average more than 10 rebounds per game.
But Coleman has not received enough playing time to translate his effectiveness on the boards into high production. He averaged just 4.2 rebounds per game last season. Coming off his second knee injury in two years, it seems likely he will continue to play a limited role, negating his chance at leading the team in rebounding.
Going back to Carmelo Anthony, SU’s leading rebounder has been a forward in every season except 2011-2012. This suggests that either Tyler Roberson or incoming freshman Chris McCullough might inherit the title from Grant.
It is always challenging to project the rebounding ability of incoming freshmen because they spend much of high school dominating smaller opponents. At 6’9’’ with a 7’3’’ wingspan, McCullough certainly has the length to be a dominant rebounder. In the 2013 AAU season, he finished second on Team SCAN with 7.5 rebounds per game.
Roberson, on the other hand, will have had a year to adjust to Syracuse’s system and a summer to bulk up in the weight room. He rebounded well in limited minutes last season, averaging 9.4 rebounds per 40 minutes, which was third on the team after Keita and Coleman.
Of the two, the leading rebounder may come down to whom receives more playing time. McCullough comes to Syracuse as one of the most heralded recruits since Anthony, but Roberson has more experience and even started a game last season when Grant was out with an injury.
Anthony was the last freshman to lead the Orange in rebounding, but don’t put your money on McCollough to duplicate the feat. It will be Roberson who dominates the glass next year for Syracuse.