Unproven DaJuan Coleman is the key for Syracuse zone

Coleman has been hurt the last two years
Coleman has been hurt the last two years

There has been a lot of talk around Syracuse basketball circles regarding the loss of freshman center Moustapha Diagne and what it means for the upcoming season. Most of the talk has centered around the impact his departure will have on Syracuse’s depth, now trotting out only nine scholarship players on a nightly basis.

Depth is rarely an issue for Coach Jim Boeheim, as he often settles into six or seven man rotations anyway. My concern, and I think the real sink or swim unease surrounding this year’s team, is what happens if DaJuan Coleman gets hurt and there’s no one to play the middle of the 2-3 zone.

Realistically, there are only two guys on the roster- not counting 7-foot-2 Providence transfer Paschal Chukwu, who is sitting out the year –capable of manning the middle on defense. One is Chinonso Obokoh, who did not even play a single minute in 18 games last season, and logged just 89 total minutes on the year. The other is Coleman. There is no one else. I repeat: THERE IS NO ONE ELSE.

After playing in only 37 games over his first three years on Syracuse’s campus , Coleman appears to be healthy again. I cringe typing that because his knee was so badly injured it had to be operated on to repair deteriorated cartilage.

Before the knee injuries that led to the surgery, Coleman was an absolute beast and the seventh ranked recruit in the country. He spurned Kentucky to play for the Orange, and he was supposed to be a star. Instead, he’s only averaged 12.8 minutes per game in which he’s scored 4.6 points and pulled in four rebounds per outing. Injuries hampered his first two season and completed wiped out his third. He hasn’t played a NCAA game in 21 months. And yet, he’s the Orange’s only hope at center.

» Related: Loss of Moustapha Diagne hurts Syracuse basketball’s depth

Don’t get me wrong, a healthy Coleman will be able to go for 26-30 minutes per night, and a line of 13ppg and 10rpg is not out of reach. Even if he just puts up the same stats as before, but in greater volume, that translates to nine and nine every night. But, once again, that’s only if he can stay healthy.

If he doesn’t, this season could be a complete disaster. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past 20+ years, you know Syracuse only plays zone. And the anchor to the zone is a crucial component. A strong anchor who can bottle up defenders, block shots, and rebound is essential to allow the long guards up top to pressure the ball, and the athletic forwards to extend on shooters and trap on the wings. Without that anchor, everyone needs to lay off and the zone is essentially useless.

If history repeats itself and Coleman gets hurt, Obokoh will need to step up. We don’t know if he’s capable, but he at least has the size. He’s going to be relatively useless on the offensive end, but the hope is the defense won’t completely implode.

But, and this is a scary but, if he isn’t capable, and Boeheim can’t trust him with minutes, there is no one else over 6-foot-8 to step into the position. And the only guys at 6-foot-8, Tyler Roberson and freshman Tyler Lydon, are skinnier, athletic type players, suited for the wings but certainly not the middle. Neither one of them will be able to stop any of the opposing big men in the ACC from grabbing offensive rebound after offensive rebound.

Diagne’s failure to arrive on campus has placed the Orange in the most precarious of positions. One injury to the most injury-prone player on the roster could send the season into an immediate downward spiral.

DaJuan Coleman has been telling people he wants to prove why he was so highly recruited, and show that he can lead a successful team. For this year’s ‘Cuse squad, the most important thing he can prove is that he can stay healthy and on the court. If he can’t, well… he just has to.

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About Matt Goodman 76 Articles
Matt worked for the Westchester Journal News, covering a variety of sports. He has also covered Syracuse University basketball from 2003-05 in both online and print. Matt graduated from Syracuse University in 2004 and currently resides in New York City.