The Syracuse Men’s Basketball Team learned on June 28 that 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu would transfer to SU from Providence. After sitting out next season due to NCAA rules, Chukwu will provide much-needed depth at center and potentially anchor one of the tallest zones in Orange history.
The height and length of Syracuse’s players has always been a major factor in the success of the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone. Coach Jim Boeheim recruits tall players who will fit well in the defense, and their long arms have caused fits for opposing opponents. After Syracuse dismantled Indiana in the 2013 Sweet Sixteen, Hoosier guard Jordan Hulls famously said he was unable to see the basket all night.
The result has been remarkable consistency from SU’s defense. In the 15 years that KenPom.com has tracked adjusted defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions adjusted based on opponent), the Orange have averaged 31st in the country at 93.6. In that time, Syracuse ranked below 50th only twice, while in the last six seasons, SU’s average rank was 16th and never dipped below 20th.
The consistency in defensive results has been matched by consistency in the team’s height. In the last six years in which SU’s adjusted defensive efficiency has been in the top 20, the team’s average height has also been in the top 20.
KenPom.com calculates average height by weighting players who have played at least 10 percent of the team’s minutes based on minutes played, but this data only goes back until 2007. To take a longer view, I looked at the heights of players in Syracuse’s most-used starting lineup for each season going back to 2000. (Note: I used players’ listed height, which is in some cases taller than their actual height.)
In the last 16 seasons, the average SU starter has been 6-foot-6.6, while the total zone has been 393.1 inches. During that span, the total starting zone length has never been less than 386 inches in 2008 and 2009, and never more than 397 inches in 2002 and 2003.
This remarkable consistency in starter height is matched by both the frontcourt and backcourt. The average height of Orange starting guards has fluctuated by just 3 inches in the last 16 years while the average starter on the back line of the zone has fluctuated by just 2.7 inches in the same span.
With the 7-foot-2 Chukwu joining the Orange in 2016-2017, the Orange zone has a chance to get even longer. It is too early to say who will start for the Orange that season, but a possible lineup would be 6-foot-6 Tyus Battle, 6-foot-6 Malachi Richardson, 6-foot-9 Tyler Lydon, 6-foot-8 Tyler Roberson, and Chukwu. That lineup totals 403 inches, which is 6 inches taller than SU’s previous largest starting lineup from the 2003 National Championship team.
Of course, that lineup being together two seasons from now relies on many factors, including Battle committing to Syracuse, Richardson and Roberson not turning pro, and Lydon earning a spot as a starter. But many other possible combinations would also prove to be SU’s largest in a long time. For example, the shorter lineup of 6-foot-3 Kaleb Joseph, 6-foot-6 Franklin Howard, 6-foot-8 Matthew Moyer, Roberson, and Chukwu would still total 399 inches.
Given that the last time Syracuse’s starting lineup measured more than 397 inches the team won the National Championship, this is good news for Orange fans.